Away from Home
Marty didn’t know much about the world. All he knew was he wanted to get away. So when he got a scholarship from the lowest ranked of the public universities, he followed his father’s suggestion to take the money since it would mean less out of his father’s pocket, even though the school was almost a 3 hour drive away.
Between academic years, Marty came home for the summers. Between his sophomore and junior years, he met Christy. She was going into her senior year of high school in Marty’s home town. They started dating that summer and it seemed like her parents liked Marty, probably because he was in college, in the Honor’s Program and had even made Dean’s List once. They probably liked Marty because he seemed to have had his life together far better than the other guy Christy’d gone with. In other words, Marty seemed like a far safer bet.
When Marty first left for college almost 150 miles from his home, his father explained he’d help him move in and out at the beginning and end of the year, but that would be the extent of his help. He told Marty he’d need to make a friend with a car that lived close to home to get his rides back and forth for the holidays. Or make a friend whose parents were going to transport their kid across the state and tag along with them. And if all that fell through, then he’d have to catch a bus or something.
Marty’s father explained he was teaching his son a lesson about responsibility – if there was a problem or a difficulty to face, then it was going to be on Marty, as an adult, to solve it for himself. But, by his second year through college, Marty figured he’d already proven his responsibility. Not only had he not flunked out, he was thriving, though the first few months of being 3 hours away from everything he knew were tough. He’d shown responsibility above and beyond most other kids. He’d slung food during high school and still made good enough grades for a scholarship. He was in the top 10 percent academically in college while holding down a job. Yet, his father still refused any help, which Marty grew to understand had far less to do with a lesson in responsibility than his father’s laziness and lack of desire to drive nearly 6 hours round trip for anything, including the opportunity to spend time with his son during the holidays. From his father’s perspective, if that precious holiday time couldn’t come at little to no expense to himself, then it simply didn’t need to come, which would have been fine with Marty if the school didn’t shut down the dorms.
Christy and Marty dated through most of the summer of 1991. Then Marty went back to college while she went back to high school. During his junior year, Christy’s parents grew worried that, being so far away and gone for so long, maybe Marty’s fondness for their daughter would wane. So they offered to pick him up from time to time and drive him back home to spend the weekend with their daughter.
Marty couldn’t believe it. Drive six hours for someone that wasn’t even related? And for him to spend the weekend having sex with their own daughter? It was unbelievable. Obviously, they were ready to lay a pretty big bet on Marty, with her father explaining he drove a truck for a living so six hours on the road – twelve total if you considered the return trip – wasn’t anything.
It was too much of an offer for Marty to ever refuse, though he wasn’t sure how his father would take it that Marty and this girl, still in high school, were getting on the way they were, even though it was with her parents’ consent. Christy explained this to her mother, who said Marty could stay with them. He was an adult, after all. He was mostly independent. In college. A Dean’s list student. Had a job. Etc. She didn’t see any need to clear it with Marty’s father.
So everything was set. Her parents loaded Christy and the rest of the family in the van and drove all the way to Terre Haute to pick up her beau. And they went back home for a delightful weekend.
While he was home, Marty ran into his aunt and uncle who regularly ate the restaurant where Christy worked. They asked Marty what he was doing home. Marty explained he was with Christy for the weekend.
A week or so later, Marty called his father. He left a message. His father never returned the call.
Weeks passed. Marty received a postcard from his father, finally explaining the call that went unreturned. His father explained how he’d gotten word that Marty had been in town but hadn’t come by to say a single word to his father. He said a father who was helping his son through college deserved better.
Marty returned a postcard, replying, “We’ll spend some precious time together if you ever decide it’s worth your time and effort to come and get me like Christy’s parent’s do. Until then, you don’t get a taste from what they’ve earned.”
Writing the reply, Marty imagined his father’s response.
“To them you’re an investment,” he’d say. “An investment worthy of their time, effort and energy.”
To which Marty wanted to say, “Maybe you should think of me as an investment too. One that’s going to look back in 20 or 30 years and comparison shop. Who’s justly going to return what was given – a little bit of something, but never a lot.”
It wasn’t heartlessness or selfishness that kept Marty from seeing his father. It was knowing beforehand that his father’s upset had far less to do with not seeing his son than losing face to his sister who then knew, even in coming to town after an absence of months, how Marty didn’t want to make time for this father.
It wasn’t a heartless or selfish thing that kept Marty from seeing his father. It was the acceptance that all of his father’s efforts – though minor compared to many – even then were always and ultimately more about himself than his son. Marty knew – like getting the best deal on a car – this was his father’s way of thinking and feeling when it came to everything, including relationships: how to get the most out of the cheapest cost?
It wasn’t heartlessness or selfishness that kept Marty from seeing his father. It was a refusal to show any heart or sentimentality to a person treating him as a product or commodity to be bargained for.
And that’s the way it was for them nearly 30 years ago. And the way it still is today.