On Saturday January 9, 2016
my daughter Alexandra
left. She moved to Washington DC from
California where she's been living for the past eight years, to accept
a long overdue and well-deserved promotion in the company with whom she
(which have been extensive) started shortly after I
my first of two stints at college. It was January of 1971 in Cape Town,
where I grew up. It was a different era then - both in the annals of
And one of the things which was radically different then was how we
viewed hitch-hiking and its associated risks.
at the side of the
with a backpack, sticking your thumb out, and accepting rides from who
knows who, going who knows where, may seem like an incredibly dangerous
occupation these days. But back then, it was not only not dangerous: it
was quite accepted, a
rite de passage.
I was twenty years old: bold, bullet-proof, and
- naïve too maybe, but you couldn't have convinced me of that. And
I was setting out to hitch-hike nearly fifteen hundred miles along
south to north east coast - the fabled Garden Route. I asked
me out of town to the N2 main highway going east to north
along the coast (we called it the National
in those days) and drop me off there, from where I would begin my
They did. They dropped me off, and I walked about a half a mile down
with my backpack without looking back,
at the side of the road, stuck my thumb out at the passing cars ...
and waited for one to stop and give me a ride. And after I had been
there for about three quarters of an hour, I looked back and noticed
there in their car (it was a black Ford Zephyr 6
sedan, license plate number "CA 62624") at the side of the
they were still there. I wondered
they hadn't gone home yet.
left for Washington DC, it was the culmination of and the
of many things. Although I could probably get myself to visit her in
Washington DC by plane faster than I could
when she lived there, I experienced the eightfold increase in distance
between us (from three hundred and fifty miles to two thousand eight
hundred miles) as a decisive break in the rich, ever-developing process
which started when she was born, and went on to include everything I
did from then on to provide for her and for
my other children,
private schooling, down payments on their first cars, college funds for
all three, and hopefully there was also some time left over to impart
to them a bit of what it takes to be decent
Now, Washington DC seems like a long, long way away,
doesn't it? and will she be alright? and will she be safe?
and will she have everything she needs? and will she be protected? and
I just want to be near her so I can take care of her, and Oh
I miss her so much already ... you know, it's an endless
stream ie it's a barrage of automatic
concerns which, in spite of myself, I know I'll have to let go of.
That Was Me
I'm experiencing that je ne sais quois bittersweet feeling
which is equal parts
and equal parts
accomplishment, triggered by my darling
leaving me, gone away to live her own life. And what comes
mindout of the blue (having not thought about this particular
at the side of the
watchingme leave them.
That was it: I did leave them. When I hitch-hiked away from
them that day, my childhood with them and everything they had invested
in it and provided for me, was over - I was hardly ever back with them
after that. That was me leaving them.
Back then, it was a
for me too, taking off that day, hitch-hiking by myself along the
Garden Route. I'm
that was the day my
life started - even though I may not have articulated it in
quite those terms in those days.
That's the sweet component of the bittersweet
experience of saying goodbye to a child you've raised. But what I
back then, was the bitter component of their experience.
It was more than that actually. It was I didn't realize there
was a bitter component ... until I experienced it myself
when my own child left me. And when I
that (it took me forty five years to
it - but I did get
it), something very profound in my
finally clicked into place: I saw (at a
new level) how much they
me, how much I
them, and how much I appreciate what they did for me.
of this realization, I saw
how like them I
I apologized (like a
to them for (inadvertently, it would seem - if not innocently) how
inconsiderate it was of me to ride
over their losing me, totally crass and insensitive to their loss, all
in the name of the start of my big adventure.