Sometimes things don’t go as planned. We all know that. Over two decades ago my daughter Joy and I learned this in spades, vexing her to no end while I felt reassured by developments.
She was a new college graduate, having finished her undergraduate degree in Madison, Wisconsin, a few months after she got really fed up with high-stepping through snowdrifts to get to class. She worked that summer in Champaign, Illinois, not far from our home in Danville, and she drove back and forth in an old, faded-blue Oldsmobile Cutlass that she had never taken on a long trip.
Near the end of summer as she was preparing to move to Austin, Texas, to continue her education, she decided over my futile objections to hitch a trailer behind her old Olds and take her things there by herself on a hard two-day drive. I say I objected to her decision because, as she and I had often discussed, I had planned to rent a small truck and drive her to Austin with her things. This was a deep natural instinct on my part to protect my darling daughter as she moved to a new part of the country to a strange place.
I thought Joy’s innate frugality and increasing independence were beyond reason in this case. She was convinced it would be cheaper to rent a small trailer than a truck, plus she wanted to drive her car and do this all by herself. While I worried about her decision, I could not help but admire her moxie.
When moving day came, she headed south to Texas, alone. So I prepared myself for at least two days of constant worry.
About two hours after she left she called me from Effingham, quite upset. Her car had overheated with the trailer behind it on the interstate highway and had to be towed to a repair shop. The mechanic found several problems with the engine and it would take over a day to get the parts. He noted the high mileage on the old car and advised Joy not to drive it to Texas.
We quickly agreed that I would drive to Effingham, we would transfer her things into a rental truck, leave her car there for repairs, and I would switch off with her on the long drive ahead. While Joy was greatly disappointed, I had to restrain my happiness that I would make the trip with her, as I had wanted to do all along.
Since late summer was prime moving season, the only rental truck available in Effingham was a 24-footer, far larger than needed for Joy’s move. We had no practical choice but to take it. As we transferred her possessions to the truck, we spread out her boxes and plastic tubs of belongings in a single layer on the floor of the truck bed, along with a few small pieces of furniture and her bicycle. Even spread out this way, there was a lot of bare floor space left in the truck.
Joy got over her initial disappointment soon after we left Effingham and the move went uneventfully from there. We found interesting new restaurants along the way and I think we both had a good time.
But she continued to fret over the logistics that lay ahead for me. Instead of my flying directly back home, I flew to St. Louis, Missouri, which is considerably closer to Effingham, Illinois, than two connecting flights that landed first in Chicago before I could fly back south to Champaign. So I took a bus from St. Louis to Effingham to retrieve Joy’s car from the repair shop, then drove it back home.
This story is a clear case of a young adult daughter’s desire for independence and a perhaps over-protective father’s desire to shield her against the hazards of the world. Now I can think of countless instances in which Joy and her brother Bob struggled mightily for independence while I struggled mightily to protect them. Inevitably, they won their independence as adults while I had to back away from my hard-wired efforts to protect them.
This is the universal dilemma of parents and children, regardless of their ages. My two children have now been adults for over twenty years, and I still worry about them much as I did when they were young. Silently usually. At arm’s length usually. But always running somewhere in my consciousness.