Son goes off with books, batteries, dad's advice

May 22, 1999|By Rob Kasper

THE SPEAKER was anxious to share his insights.

The audience was anxious to flee.

While the scene may seem similar to ones currently being played out at area school commencement ceremonies, this one recently occurred in our kitchen.

I was the insight-laden speaker and our 18-year-old son was the audience. The kid was going to Germany for a couple of weeks. It was a leave-taking, a familiar occurrence in the coming weeks as schools close and kids scatter. And, as dads do, I felt the need to give my offspring some last-minute advice on how to handle himself.

I had done this years before, on a smaller, going-away-to-summer- camp scale. Back then the kid or his younger brother would be edging toward the car, gleeful at the prospect of spending several nights free from their tyrannical parents. Before they left, I would sit them down in the kitchen and try to give them words to live by.

"Mind the extension cord," I would tell them as I pointed to the thick, insulated cord that always seemed to be a necessity at the college dorm room that would be their camp residence. There it would be hooked up to a window fan. "Don't put the cord in the middle of the floor where you will trip over it," I told them, adding, "be sure to unplug it when you leave the room."

This kind of practical, but highly charged, advice served me well me when the kids were younger and were only going down the road a piece, to camps in Emmitsburg, Gettysburg, St. Marys City and College Park.

But the other day when I was about to send an 18-year-old across the Atlantic Ocean as part of a student-exchange program, I felt the need to give the kid something deeper -- some worldly wisdom to carry with him.

So I told him that as he travels down the road of life, he should have a stash. I handed the kid a folded-up $20 bill. "Hide this somewhere," I said. "Don't tell anybody where it is. Don't spend it unless it is an emergency."

"Some tacticians," I told the kid, "might call the hidden $20 bill `a fall-back position.' Most dads would call it `cab fare.' "

The kid paid attention to this bit of fatherly wisdom. At least he grabbed the $20 bill. The rest of my advice, however, seemed to sail right past him. But it was such good stuff, or so I thought, that I wrote it down, and may repeat it at future leave-takings, graduations or any journeys into the wider world.

Some things to remember:

* It is a cold world, so carry a sweat shirt, especially on nighttime airline flights when the cabin temperatures can dip into the 60s and you might not be able to snag a blanket from the flight attendant. The days of someone wrapping you in a warm blanket are over. The time has come for you to figure out the ways to keep yourself warm at night.

* Seize the moment, the aisle seat and your overhead compart- ment on planes and trains.

* Sip water to fight jet lag, chew gum to keep your ears from getting plugged up and read widely to avoid brain lock.

* Stay in touch, but choose your messenger wisely. E-mail your parents, send your grandmother postcards.

* Ensure a high energy level. Buy extra batteries for your Walkman so even when you are in a strange place you can hear familiar tunes.

* Start with the outside fork. Sample everything. Compliment a good cook.

* Pack novels. Even an unpleasant waiting room seems tolerable with a good book.

* Don't worry your parents. They will do virtually anything you ask, even tape your favorite TV shows -- if you say "please" and "thank you."

* Don't worry about your rival. Your brother has already raided your room.

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