IMG_1133Three days with my son, Austin, in a cottage in the woods of Southern Maine. I wasn’t sure he would join me. I wasn’t sure we were ready for that kind of time together. The previous few years had been full of drama, from moments that seemed to tear us apart for good, followed by a reconciliation, only to be pulled apart with anger and misunderstanding a few months later. Such is the nature of fathers and sons, at least those who try to build a relationship and don’t give up.

His job was to grow up in his own way, to be with the people he wanted to be with, to do whatever that growing up entailed. My job, from my perspective, was to do everything in my power to keep him alive until he gained the perspective to recognize what a remarkable young man he is.

He has been my best teacher over the past few years. And I hate that. The lessons seemed just too hard. The details are his to tell, not mine. All I can do is report how excruciating it was to stand firm, to let him rail against me, and then to be available to pick him up when he needed me to.

Judy encouraged me to make this trip possible, regardless of the cost. If he was willing to join me, she encouraged, the experience would be worth the expense. “A chance to reconnect.” To my delight, he readily agreed.

The cottage is a rustic frame house in the middle of 8 acres of woods, on a river, and out of sight of any neighbors. There is no electricity, so when the sun goes down, kerosene lanterns provide the only light. It is spooky and mystical at the same time.

IMG_1148In those three days, we ate well, cooking some of our own, letting Portsmouth restaurants do the rest. We did some sightseeing, going back to some places he remembered from family vacations more than a decade ago. Mostly, we sat by the fire. Early in the day, from waking up until almost noon, we sat by the fireplace. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we did not. Sometimes we dozed off. All the time it was comfortable.

In the afternoons and evenings, we sat by the outdoor fire pit. Same thing. Talking, not talking, sitting at ease. The main difference between morning fires and evening fires is that in the morning we drank coffee. In the evening we switched to beer, Jamesons, and peanuts.

Our conversations ranged from silly to serious, from global and political to personal. I decided from the beginning that this would not be a time to debrief the past few years, to try to make sense of what’s happened. That will come eventually. For now, be together in the same easy space at the same time.

The conversations were remarkable, but the silences seemed the most important. “Like rests in music, they don’t have to do anything, but their presence makes the piece of music complete.” That’s a quote from Jeanne, my Aunt Janet’s dear friend, and that’s what the silences were for me, making the rest of the conversations complete.

At night, we each bundled in the sleeping loft to endure nights that got down into the 40s. Again, no heat, but with enough blankets, we slept very well. I was up first to start the coffee and the fire. To my amazement he was up within 30 minutes to join me, a radical departure from his schedule of staying up until 4 a.m. (he works until midnight most nights) and sleeping until noon. I felt honored each time got up, clearly before his usual waking time, and come slowly down the stairs making grunting noises about wanting coffee.

The bottom line of the trip, from my perspective, we did not need to get reconnected. The connection had never been broken.