It turned out that the other kids had not done their own work-their parents had made their exhibits. As the judges went on their rounds, they found that these other kids couldn‘t answer their questions. Daniel answered every one. When the judges awarded the Albert Einstein Plaque for the best exhibit, they gave it to him.
His finest hour, though, came at a school science fair. He entered an exhibit showing how the circulatory system works. It was primitive and crude, especially compared to the fancy, computerized, blinking-light models entered by other students. My wife, Sara, felt embarrassed for him.
Baseball gave him his earliest challenge. He was an outstanding pitcher in Little League, and eventually, as a senior in high school, made the varsity, winning half the team‘s games with a record of five wins and two losses. At graduation, the coach named Daniel the team‘s most valuable player.
How fast the years had passed. Daniel was born in New Orleans, LA., in 1962, slow to walk and talk, and small of stature. He was the tiniest in his class, but he developed a warm, outgoing nature and was popular with his peers. He was coordinated and 6)agile, and he became adept in sports.
Now, as I stood before him, I thought of those lost opportunities. How many times have we all let such moments pass? A boy graduates from school, a daughter gets married. We go through the motions of the ceremony, but we don‘t seek out our children and find a quiet moment to tell them what they have meant to us. Or what they might expect to face in the years ahead.
Again, words failed me. I mumbled something like, "Hope you feel better Dan." And I left.
In his room, Dan lay stretched out on his bed as I started to leave for the trip home. I tried to think of something to say to give him courage and confidence as he started this new phase of life.
A decade or so later, a similar scene played itself out. With his mother, I drove him to William and Mary College in Virginia. His first night, he went out with his new schoolmates, and when he met us the next morning, he was sick. He was coming down with mononucleosis, but we could not know that then. We thought he had a hangover.
What is it going to be like, Dad? Can I do it? Will I be okay? And then he walked up the steps of the bus and disappeared inside. And the bus drove away. And I had said nothing.
What made it more difficult was that I knew this was not the first time I had let such a moment pass. When Daniel was five, I took him to the school-bus stop on his first day of kindergarten. I felt the tension in his hand holding mine as the bus turned the corner. I saw colour flush his cheeks as the bus pulled up. He looked at me-as he did now.
But nothing came from my lips. No sound broke the stillness of my beachside home. Outside, I could hear the shrill cries of sea gulls as they circled the ever changing surf on Long Island. Inside, I stood frozen and quiet, looking into the searching eyes of my son.
It was a transitional time in Daniel‘s life, a passage, a step from college into the adult world. I wanted to leave him some words that would have some meaning, some significance beyond the moment.
In the doorway of my home, I looked closely at the face of my 23-year-old son, Daniel, his backpack by his side. We were saying good-bye. In a few hours he would be flying to France. He would be staying there for at least a year to learn another language and experience life in a different country.