My Son will get in his 1996 Volkswagen Jetta today at about 1:30 in the afternoon, and make the most dangerous drive in America, from Princeton, NJ to Short Pump, Va. via I-95. He is coming home for the three days of July 4th to sleep in his old bed, eat some home cooking and see his family and for this I’m very grateful. But, beginning at 1:30 today, my stomach will be in knots and every time my phone rings my heart will skip a beat. Every parent of a college-aged kid reading this knows exactly what I mean, when I say that I worry more about my kids when they are on the highways coming home than at any other time. It is a dreadful thing, one of the few curses of being a parent.
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not one of those helicopter parents who can’t let their child out of their sight for two seconds. If anything I have always been quite lenient with my kids, anything but overprotective. My wife might even accuse me of being negligent with their safety. I’m the guy in that awesome commercial that keeps telling his kids “Don’t tell Mom!” Pam was always the one who held her breath while I was doing some crazy thing with the kids. But something strange comes over me when one of them gets behind the wheel and disappears down the street. It all started in 2006 when I endured the most terrifying 30 seconds of my life.
I was in my office with a client, wrapping up a presentation when the phone on my credenza behind my desk rang. Usually, calls don’t come through to me when I’m with someone, so I thought this call must have slipped through by accident. I apologized to my client for the interruption and asked his forbearance. When I picked up the phone, a man whose voice I didn’t recognized asked me, “Are you Mister Douglas Dunnevant of Richmond, Virginia?”
What came next was nothing short of the most horrifying words any parent could hear. “Mister Dunnevant, I’m Sergeant Tom Smith with the Ohio State Police, and your daughter Kaitlin has been in an accident.”
In that terrible instant, all the air rushed from my lungs, my heart began to beat loudly in my ears and according to my client, all the color drained from my face. Everything seemed to be going in slow motion. His next line wasn’t any better than the first, “She is in the hospital and I am here with her.”
My hands started to tremble; all the moisture in my mouth was gone. I said nothing. Then the wonderful words from the Ohio State Trooper, “Don’t worry Mister Dunnevant. Your daughter is fine, she hardly got a scratch, she’s only here for observation. Would you like to speak with her?”
Everything after that was a blur. She had hydroplaned off of an on-ramp to the interstate in a downpour, tore up the guardrail and her car, but I hardly heard any of that. My daughter was unhurt, and my heart started beating again. Ever since that day, I dread travel days. I stay busy, fiddle with things, sit still even less than normal, while the minutes crawl by. Every phone call sends my blood pressure reading into the stratosphere. Then they pull up to the curb in front of the house, and I breathe again, and feel silly for all the worrying. But, something tells me I’m not the only parent who goes through this. It’s part of the territory.
So, from 1:30 this afternoon until around 7 tonight, please don’t call me on my cell phone. Give a father a break!