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A selection from the book

Sunday, October 3, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:18 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

I started grieving when Rob went to intensive care. Back home, I painted the exterior of our home and did yard work after taking Carol to work — taking breaks to walk around the block with tears dripping down my face. Soon guilt kicked in.

Why hadn’t I left immediately for L.A. when I learned that he was sick? Should I have taken Carol to L.A. to await the end? During many replays of Rob’s early phone calls about his illness, I recalled that he had said that he was having trouble breathing. Shouldn’t that have been enough to jump-start me to L.A.? Father’s Day had been horrible because I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t in L.A. for him. I reviewed his entire life trying to pinpoint where I had gone wrong.

I focused on the things we did that seemed to be in his best interest, particularly those related to health and emotional balance. The alternatives to our choices were not guaranteed to succeed. What, for example, would have resulted from the counseling his school recommended for his “feminine behavior”?

When I couldn’t identify a major, wrong decision, I turned to general issues of upbringing and support. Judging from his last nine years, I hadn’t developed a strong moral character in him, nor taught him sound work habits. (But for 20 years, he was a good citizen, and strongly self-motivated in his schoolwork and theater activities.) Clearly I hadn’t achieved good father-son communications, nor done enough to get him established in Chicago and L.A.

Every time I concluded that I had acted well, I recalled the auto-safety expression, “You can be dead right, but you are still dead.” Believing that my decisions were right couldn’t change the fact that Rob was dead. (I often told myself, “Your son is dead.” And I repeated this to my mirror.) I must be guilty because I had had control of a loving, sensitive, talented son in superb health. I must have failed to exhaust the possibilities for preventing his self-destructive conduct and early death from a preventable

disease.

I recalled holding young Rob’s wrist between my two front fingers with my thumb superimposed when we walked along busy streets. (My arm would be torn from its socket before my grasp was broken.) My swimming pool had a high fence around it, plus a lock no child could open. When we went to Florida beaches, I made sure that he was safe. After age 20, however, I had neither control nor influence respecting his lifestyle. Although a parent should never give up, early training is obviously crucial. Why hadn’t I anticipated Rob’s problems that surfaced after age 20?


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