Last year I made my son the beneficiary of a $100, 000 dollar life insurance policy. It was something I had been meaning to do for some time, but didn’t get around to it until last year. I think it might have been around the time of Hurricane Irene, but I’m not certain. However, I knew that it was something I needed to do, both to fulfill the obligation in my divorce decree, but more importantly, to fulfill my obligation to my son. There is a part of me that rests much easier knowing that money is there for him should anything happen to me. At the same time as I took out the policy on myself, the agent convinced me to take out an additional policy for my son. She couched it in terms of money he could use at the maturation of the policy, and although it seemed perfectly sensible, the idea of the policy made me very uncomfortable: not the policy, really, but the thought that I might someday be the one to collect it.
Any responsible person with kids will tell you that their greatest, most universal fear, is the death of their child. Just the thought of my son being harmed gives me the fantods. I never ever read stories about child abductions/assaults/murders in front of others because I become too emotional: the mixture of fierce anger and almost inevitable tears is something I’d rather keep to myself. There is something deeply personal yet ecumenical about parental love that allows it to be bestowed on all children, and the suffering of any child, even one you’ve never met, becomes crushing. The thought of losing your own child, however, is one that is truly unthinkable, and not because it’s unfathomable, but because it would in fact drive you crazy. Yet, as Hurricane Sandy bears down on my son, who lives in NJ with his mother, while I sit fecklessly tuned to The Weather Channel, I can feel the fear, and the crazy, slowly seeping in.
The fact that I choose to live 1,400 miles away from my boy doesn’t diminish the fact that he is the single most important thing in my life. I was the first one to hold him when he was born. For four years I worked a brutal restaurant night shift so I could care for him during the day. I didn’t want him to have to go to daycare. So I worked from 3 PM until 1 AM, got home by 2AM, slept for four hours, and then picked him up. Five days a week for four years. Thankfully my mother took him on Sundays so I could sleep in. He is always my first consideration. One of the main reasons we moved here is because with the more affordable cost of living and some better job opportunities, we thought we could finally buy a house and save some money. Unfortunately, things didn’t totally work out the way I’d hoped, but we are still committed to the plan. And every 4-6 weeks I fly, drive, or take a 30 hour train ride back up to NJ for a week or more and do nothing but be daddy. It’s a hard life — I won’t lie — and I’m envious of those that get to see there kids every day, but now that he is in school, I’d be on the divorced dad track of alternating weekends that end all too soon. At least this way I get him for long blocks at a time, and hopefully the entire summer this year. And why I’m wishfully thinking, I just hope I get to see him again. He is supposed to visit with my parents for Thanksgiving, and I’m aching for that visit, even as I know he’ll reject my perfectly cooked turkey in favor of Grandma’s soupa.
It is hard for me to concentrate today, though. Part of this has to do with the two large track-hoes tearing down the Katrina blighted house across the street from me. It’s loud, and the occasional unsettling thuds are jarring. Out of the corner of my eye I can see it come down. I imagine the birthday parties, Thanksgivings and Christmases that house probably hosted and I get a lump in my throat. They probably never imagined it either… never really saw it coming. I hope my ex-wife, her new husband, and the rest of my family and friends are better prepared. I hope my son stays safe and dry in his fourth floor apartment in notoriously flood prone Hoboken, NJ. I hope, and I wish, and I wish, mostly, that I was there. I am that deluded soul that thinks I could in some way challenge the tide or change the course simply through my presence. Or if not change a thing, simply hold the one thing I love more than anything, protect him, wade through the floodwaters with him held above my head, exchange my life for his, if need be. But I can’t do any of these things, and this decision that I’ve made now seems myopic and selfish, and I’m left to swim in the eye of its uncertainty.
Across the street, the house falls piece by piece, reminding me that there are no sure things, and that every hello is a blessing and every goodbye a prayer.