Stay With Your Vehicle

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
~ Cat Stevens, “Father and Son

It was all over so quickly.

University_of_Notre_Dame_Golden_DomeFirst Years moved onto campus at Notre Dame today, including our son – so exciting! However, unlike those coming to South Bend from out of state, we’re only 20 minutes away, so despite the momentous occasion, it was a pretty typical morning for us. At first.

I was up early as usual, made the coffee, and went for a run. Nancy and the other kids were rousing by the time I got back, and I saw a light under Ben’s door telling me he was up as well.

There was a rush for bathrooms and showers, some hurried breakfasts and lots of last-minute lunch-packing and homework-finishing. Since I had the morning off to help Ben move, I engaged in a bit of daddish banter – commenting about current events, nagging the kids about doing their dishes, giving Ben a heads-up about the Roger Ebert documentary showing on campus in a couple weeks – acting like everything was normal, everything was the same.

But it was different, and I knew it in my gut. Plus there was an unusual trickle of siblings coming by Ben’s room to bid him farewell. “Good-bye, Ben,” said Katharine, his littlest sister, “have fun at college.” Cecilia stopped by Ben’s room as well. “See ya’, Ben,” she said. “I’ll miss you.”

“I won’t be far,” he said, grinning. Yeah, I suppose.

Once the high-schoolers made it out the door, and Nancy herded our three grade-schoolers toward her car, it was just Ben and I. We got to work and loaded up our dilapidated Plymouth Voyager.

“Do you think I’m bringing to20140814_122120_resizedo much junk?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I replied. “I can always come pick up the stuff you don’t need. That’s one nice thing about being from town.”

We were done loading by 8:00, but Move-In didn’t start until nine. I drifted upstairs to my computer. Ben plopped down at the piano in the living room and worked his improvisational magic. I checked email and The Weather Channel, but mainly I listened to Ben’s music. What a gift he has. What a privilege to have been privy to it over the years.

At about 8:15, Ben called up to me. “Hey, dad! What are you doing?”

“Stalling,” I said from the landing, my eyes welling. “Why the hell did you have to grow up?”

“‘Nothing I could do about it,” came the laconic reply. “It’ll be OK, dad.”

Ben let me drive to campus – which might’ve been a token of filial deference, but I knew better.  By not driving, he gained complete oversight of our musical backdrop – Animal Collective, some Jack White, “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys.

“I heard Coldplay is in the running for the Super Bowl halftime this year,” I said, trying to sound relevant.

“Who cares?” he replied. “They’re just a Radiohead ripoff.” So much for relevance.

Up north on Eddy Street, a cut over to Notre Dame Avenue, and then straight toward the Dome. We were directed to the DeBartolo parking lot and maneuvered into the queue for Alumni Hall. Don, one of the volunteer parking ushers, came over with a parents’ packet for me. “Alumni was my dorm,” he said as he pumped our hands. “Welcome to Notre Dame!”

When it was our turn, we continued the crawl up Notre Dame Avenue toward the statue of Our Lady of the University in the Main Circle. Another volunteer usher beckoned me to the curbside right in front of the dorm. Immediately, we were swarmed by returning Alumni Hall residents (i.e., “Da20140814_121725-1_resizedwgs”), and the usher came over to my window. “Your son can unload, and the guys will help him carry it all to his room,” he said, adding firmly, “and I’ll need you to stay with your vehicle.”

Stay with my vehicle? No father-son moment of transporting his past into his future? No profound parting words? Not even a firm handshake and a “God bless you, son”?

Nope. I tried to assist, but the Dawgs kept saying, “That’s alright, sir, we can get that. That’s alright, sir.”

Pretty soon, I glimpsed Ben walking away amid a stream of new dorm mates. The traffic usher, with a wistful smile, motioned me along and encouraged me to go park in lot ‘C’ by the Joyce Center. When I looked back one more time, I heard the usher murmur, “He’ll be alright, sir.”

Yes, he will.

Leave a comment


  1. Barclay

     /  August 22, 2014

    It was nice to read your sweet memory of moving your son into Notre Dame. I pray he enjoys his college freshman year. The first one to go is always so hard.


  2. Chris

     /  August 24, 2014

    He will!! We enjoyed the help from the Stanford men as well. Our boys are home!! And we only live an hour away so we’ll be returning often. Isn’t driving down Notre Dame Avenue a great welcome to college?!?!


  3. Lisa

     /  August 24, 2014

    Oh Rick. This made me cry. I will be doing this in 11 short months.
    And my 9th grader Nicholas dreams of attending Notre Dame. His birthday (15th) is tomorrow and while he is at school I am painting his bedroom wall gold with “Fighting Irish” and “ND” in navy and green…. To surprise him.

    I will keep your Ben in my prayers.
    And you too.


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