Out of nowhere early Wednesday afternoon, the text message sent from my younger son to me and his mom read: “I don’t know if you guys heard anything from the school but I’m okay.”
That is the kind of conversation opener that parents just love.
This child is a freshman student at Wabash College. The campus was put on lockdown for a couple of hours this week during a search for Lucius Hamilton III, a suspect in a horrible double murder that occurred in Zionsville early that morning. Hamilton was an employee of the college and it was believed that he may have been hiding from law enforcement on the campus.
The suspect was eventually cornered in an Indianapolis hotel, where the incident ended with Hamilton committing suicide. He had murdered his niece and her young son in their home that morning. The crime has been described as being financially motivated, but mental health issues almost certainly played a role as well.
Far lower on the scale of importance, Wabash cancelled classes for the first time since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And hundreds of parents from around the country had the hell scared out of them by cryptic messages like the one we got from our son.
Admittedly, I communicate for a living and I am not sure what would be the most graceful way to open this conversation with parents. “Your child’s school is locked down and armed SWAT officers are all over the place in search of a murderer on the loose” doesn’t seem calming either. My friends in crisis communications probably have advice here.
I never considered myself a worrier, or particularly protective of my two sons. But I have been thinking about it a bit more these past few days and I have come to the conclusion that I am. I don’t think I worry any more or less than the next dad, but I was reminded this week that no matter how old I get, this curse will be with me forever.
Many people have recurring dreams. When my kids were young, my dream was always some version of them falling down the stairs. It would usually happen in painfully slow motion, or sometimes in dreamland, on an incredibly large flight of stairs.
The huge staircases would sometimes be like the ones in stadiums or museums, but always with a horrific side view so that the fall could be viewed in its entire splendor from the top step all the way to the bottom. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever slept long enough to see the landing. But more often, it would happen on staircases that were familiar to me like the ones from any of the houses I ever lived in, even ones my kids never even saw.
I don’t have that dream very often any more. And it’s important to note that neither of my boys ever fell down any stairs. This is symbolic worry with no connection to actual events. That dream will ruin a night’s sleep sometime soon I fear, thanks to the jolt of fear I got this week.
Last weekend, we celebrated my older son’s twenty-first birthday. He’s a busy young man and he was working the night of his actual birthday so we took him out to a grown-up, civilized brunch at a snooty country club the Sunday after to celebrate. He and I took my wife with us so I got to kill two birds with that stone on Valentine’s Day.
This boy and I largely communicate by texting as well, but he will call me every once in a while. Much like that horribly worded message from my younger son this week, just seeing my older boy’s name pop up for a call sends a flash of adrenaline through my veins.
I would love to say that this worry comes from two decades of his childishly tormenting behavior, but it doesn’t. I think it is just the way life is for parents. I would also like to have an element of advice to give this week and though I am surprisingly blank on that, I will try.
Children of the world need to do their dads a favor and be careful on the stairs. We worry about you even when we shouldn’t.
I really hope my kids read my column this week.
And as a public service, I hope yours do as well.