By Logan Hansen
My then-two-year-old son and I are seen here in late September 2012, sitting on a picnic table in my parents’ front yard. The picture is an innocent one; it doesn’t tell you I was visiting home for the first time since I’d left for school a few weeks earlier, or that that school happened to be the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, a solid four-hour drive from my hometown and this little guy.
When I said goodbye to him that first time — at the end of August — I didn’t know it was going to be so hard. Sure, I could try to prepare myself by repeating, This is not going to be easy, inside my head, but that doesn’t become real until it’s really happening. I buckled him into his car seat, gave one last hug, and watched him and his mother drive away from my parents’ house, my eyes watering all the while.
His mom gave me one final look before they pulled away though. Her glance seemed to be saying, “This moment didn’t have to happen; you didn’t have to decide to go to college that far away.”
That was true, of course, and in all honesty, it was a decision I made on my own, one that basically forced her to remain up north with our son and take most of his care upon her shoulders. Perhaps to assuage my own guilty feelings, then, I promised the both of them that I would call to talk to him every day I was away.
“It was in January 2010, after a couple of anxiety-filled months, that I found out I was going to be a dad at the age of 16.”
It was in January 2010, after a couple of anxiety-filled months, that I found out I was going to be a dad at the age of 16. My mom cried. I cried. My dad couldn’t believe it for a while. My friends were astonished.
Seven months later, I held my newborn son in my arms for the first time at the hospital. I knew everything about my life was going to be different from then on. I was perhaps the most awkward person around babies and little kids, but I like to think I got the hang of things with my son pretty quickly. During junior and senior years of high school, he would go back and forth between his mom’s house and mine. Then, when I decided to go away for college, things changed.
I arrived in Ann Arbor at the end of August 2012, met my roommate, tried to get my bearings; that initial adjustment period was maybe two and a half weeks. But right off the bat, I was already breaking the promise I’d made to keep in touch daily. I’d get wrapped up in my newfound existence and forget to call before it was past my son’s bedtime each night.
And somehow I thought it wasn’t a big deal.
Yes, I was just an 18-year-old kid with my toes hardly dipped into life’s ocean, but even I should have known not only was it a big deal, it was the biggest deal. At a time when I was constantly bombarded with new experiences and new people and new everything as a college freshman at a large university, I should have known that talking to him on the phone each day wasn’t just for his benefit; it was for mine, too.
When I came home to see him after the first few weeks away at school and we took the photograph above, I was on the precipice of some of the darkest days I’ve ever experienced.
The year 2012, in fact, was undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve ever had, beginning with my son’s mother and me breaking up badly in March, only two months before I would graduate from high school.
In the months following September, I discovered that I didn’t care for any of the engineering courses I was taking at U of M. I’d snooze my cell phone alarm again and again until I could look at the clock and say, “Well, there’s not much point in going to class now; I’ll be super late.” And so I’d roll over and go back to sleep. I skipped a lot of classes that first semester (and eventually changed my major to psychology).
What was worse, though, was that I missed my ex-girlfriend — my son’s mother. It was weird how it worked: She would want to get back together and I would be unsure about it; then I would want to get back together and she’d be unsure about it. The pendulum swung back and forth like that, and in December I found myself on the crappy end of it, the wanting-to-get-back-together end.
She was not for it, and combined with my complete indifference toward my classes, it was difficult to get out of bed at all sometimes.
Through all of this, I was neglecting to turn to someone that would always want me, that would always be there to brighten my day: my son.
All the things that went wrong during that time, all the things that made me wonder why I should get out of bed at all in the morning, could have been fixed if I had just taken the time to be his dad, to call him each day like I’d promised, rather than whenever I happened to remember. I was having a shitty time at school, but it didn’t mean I had to be a shitty parent.
I don’t know if I’ve forgiven myself for that just yet, but at the start of the new year in 2013, I began taking my promise seriously: I created a reminder on my phone to call my son every day before his bedtime, and I started making those nightly phone calls happen. Even if only for a minute or two, we talked each day, whether via phone or Skype, and on the rare occasion that I missed a day, it actually almost felt like the end of the world — it was that important. Thank God I finally realized that.
I continued to call my son each day I was away throughout the rest of my undergraduate career at U of M, and I still call him any time we’re not together. Sometimes he tells me about something that happened at school; sometimes he surprises me by asking rather astute questions; sometimes we don’t have all that much to say, but we talk anyway. Of course, I try to be with him in person as much as I can, too, which is fortunately quite often.
Because I know now that whether it’s a phone call, an internet video chat, playing catch in my parents’ backyard or basketball in their basement, being there is what counts — not just for him, but for both of us.
Logan Hansen is a recent graduate seeking a job in the field of journalism, looking to be based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.