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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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A Father's Journal: Advice from the airport bathroom

Published 6:26 am, Thursday, August 21, 2014
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When I left home, my father took me to the airport. As we drove, he offered advice. Advice that has helped me throughout my life.

"Remember, nothing is ever as good as it seems, or as bad as it seems," was the advice he gave me that day. He also bought me a watch. I think he was mildly irritated that I didn't own a watch. How was I supposed to get anywhere on time without a watch?

When he dropped me off at the airport, I hugged him. I told him I loved him. But no one cried, and I had a new watch. About two months later, I was doing something stupid and I broke the watch.

Last week, I dropped my wife and our oldest daughter off at the airport for the freshman-year trip to college. We cried the whole way. Caroline uses her phone as a watch, so there was no stopping, except for gas and some Slim Jims. On the way there, I felt obligated to give some advice -- to cram the last 17 years and 9 months into some profound and worldly wisdom. As I started to warm up my vocal cords for the marathon, Caroline said, "Oh Dad, you're not going to give me the bathroom advice again are you?"

I was not. I was preparing to give advice that was more universal. Something she could tell her children, maybe grandchildren about. I had no family watch to pass down to her, so this was a big deal. Not the bathroom advice.

Caroline has grown very tall, and one day she said that it was very unnerving to see other people over the top of public bathroom stalls. I am a tall man and I told her what I did. I told her to duck and look down when you enter or exit the stalls. Don't make eye contact. It was "throw away" advice, not the kind of counsel you give your daughter when she is leaving the nest.

So now on the way to the airport I had to say, "Don't tell your grandkids about the stall thing. Make up something better." I never got the chance to give her great advice. On the car ride, I repeated what my parents told me. We cried a little, tried to back away from the bathroom advice, and next thing you know we were at the airport.

Years ago when my wife Laura got dropped off at college, she was the one offering all the advice. Laura had a little sister, Deborah, who was 9 years younger. My wife considered herself a second mother to Deborah. So Laura took my mother-in-law aside and doled out advice on how to take care of Deborah while she was off at college.

Caroline did not give advice on how we should deal with her younger sister Julia. So we were without a playbook, until my sister Ellen offered some suggestions. Ellen was the youngest in our large family. Our sister Ann was the second youngest. They were very close, like my daughters are. Aunt Ellen suggested we spend some attention on our younger daughter Julia because she has just lost her best friend. My younger daughter disagrees. She does not want us to focus, like a white hot laser, on her. She would like less focus from us and she would like us to give her more money.

My sister wrote me that dropping her older sister off at the airport was a Top 10 Traumatic Moment in her life. Here is what she wrote me:

"Anticipating being the last child at home with my parents made me very sad. So sad, in fact, that I had a serious meltdown in the bathroom at the Denver airport after my sister Ann boarded the plane.

"Ann, my advocate, protector, cheerleader and best friend, was leaving and taking half of our closet with her.

"Lifesavers was running an ad campaign that year about being a lifesaver. A woman came up to me in the bathroom and said, `Looks like you could use a Lifesaver'-- not super-witty but straight from the commercial, and she actually had a pack of Lifesavers with her. I accepted because this was before my germ-a-phobe years, so accepting candy from a stranger in a public bathroom was acceptable. Her offering distracted me enough to get myself together for at least a few hours. So be gentle with Julia."

That reminds me. I have to put an addendum to my bathroom advice for three years from now when Julia will head off. Don't make eye contact in a bathroom and don't accept candy from strangers.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com .