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Measure of love drawn in worry lines.

Byline: Bob Welch / The Register-Guard

My father used to say he loved me with three words: "Drive carefully, Bob."

Part of that, I suppose, is a generational thing. With few exceptions, World War II-generation fathers spoke a love language that was no less genuine than today's; it just took more interpretation. And didn't always include the "L" word.

But part of that, too, is the language of fatherhood, period. In part, we express our love through worrying about our children, whether they're 2, 22 or 52. Were my father still alive, I'm sure he'd still be telling me to "buckle up."

As fathers, we express our love through a linguistic code: "Look both ways. Wear your life jacket. Keep your nose clean."

As another Father's Day arrives, I find myself pondering this fathers-as-worriers theme more than usual. On Tuesday night, my older son was walking the Yachats coastline with his wife and their 6-week-old son when they heard a faint siren.

It was, of course, the tsunami warning. At the time, they weren't sure; to them, it didn't sound much different from an ambulance or firetruck. But back at our beach cabin, a cell phone message from home sent them heading for the hills.

And so, as a father, I now add "tsunami" to my worry pile.

Fathers don't talk much about that pile. But on a weekend men's retreat, in the woods, you'll hear the stories: the man who was 5 when his father killed himself and, now a father himself, finds himself on a journey with no beaten path to follow. The man whose daughter, a surgical technician, is in Iraq. The man whose son is on the streets.

We worry if our sons and daughters will make the team and, if they do, whether they'll ever make a goal. If they'll survive a fourth-grade teacher who's a drill sergeant in a dress. And, like the father in "A River Runs Through It," if they'll start running with the wrong crowd.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about hand-wringing, "you-shouldn't-take-risks" kind of worrying. Parenthood is all about letting go; our job is, in essence, to work ourselves out of jobs. I'm talking about your basic "we-want-you-to-stay-safe" worrying.

Last weekend, watching Younger Son play in what was probably his last nine-man tackle football game, I cheered wildly when he got up after making a tackle on the game's last play. He'd survived two seasons without a serious injury. For me, winning isn't everything; avoiding the ER is.

The next day, I worried as I watched the same son surf with a friend. I worried about sharks. Riptides. The two of them getting sucked out to sea.

The current was pulling them north and I worried myself for nearly a quarter-mile. Time and tide, apparently, wait for no (worrying) man.

At times, I feel guilty for worrying, but then I remember a young man I interviewed in Washington nearly 20 years ago. On the night he should have been graduating from high school, he was, instead, sitting in the newspaper collection box he called home. He was a street kid, abandoned by his father and having grown tired of stepfather after stepfather who didn't seem to care whether he lived or died.

So he'd slipped into a swirl of drugs and staying out all night. "Just once," he told me, "I wished someone had loved me enough to say: `Be home by midnight.' '

Sounds weird: a kid asking for a curfew. And yet maybe loving someone means worrying about their well-being. And maybe being loved means the privilege of being worried about.

At any rate, before Younger Son got in his car Wednesday and left for the summer - he's an intern at a Central Oregon camp - I ended a note to him with not only the "L" word, but two others. Words that, handed off like some genetic baton, I couldn't not say:

"Drive carefully."

Bob Welch can be reached at 338-2354 or at bwelch@guardnet.com.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 19, 2005
Words:668
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