Rob always hated it when I told him how much I worried about him.
“You don’t need to worry, Dad,” he’d assure me, having no idea that I didn’t have a choice. I worried about him from the day he was born until the day he died.
I’m a worrier by nature and, in Rob’s case, by nurture. I worried about him when he was a baby and wailed like a banshee. I worried about him when he didn’t have that many friends in grade school. I worried about him when he was hanging out and doing who knows what with his tight group of friends in high school. I worried about him the day he got his driver’s license and shortly after that, when he got into a fender bender the first time he drove the new car we’d just bought for him. I worried about him when he first went off the deep end at 17 and had to be hospitalized. I worried about him when he and his girlfriend Taylor moved to Binghamton, and a few years later when he returned to Long Island. And of course, I worried about him the day he told me he was moving to Los Angeles, and every day afterward until we finally ran out of days.
I’m not sure what any of my worrying ever accomplished. Part of it was just the way I’m wired, part of it was PTSD from my own shitty childhood and part of it was girding myself for the inevitable bad news. But worrying is more than the sum of its parts.
When you know that the shitstorm is approaching, when you can see it coming right at you and your heart is beating out of your chest while your head’s ready to explode, worrying about someone you love is the most natural thing in the world.
Worrying about Rob was always just part of the deal.
It was my job as his father mainly because he gave me plenty to worry about. I rarely worried about Zach, except when it came to his relationship with Rob. I worried that Rob would someday hurt Zach and I worried that Zach would someday retaliate and hurt Rob, but I mainly worried that they would eventually become disconnected from each other. I don’t know if I could’ve dealt with that fissure (which happens to run in my family), and thankfully I never had to.
I can’t think of a time when I didn’t worry about the idiot. When things were copasetic, I worried that he would suddenly spiral out of control. When he was out of control, I worried that things would get worse. When things got worse, I worried that we would lose him.
“You don’t need to worry, Dad.”
I did most of my worrying with Caryn, and our corresponding anxieties fed off each other until we were completely debilitated. And then we’d continue to worry about Rob separately. I can’t imagine any parents who worried about their kid as much as we did.
I worried about Rob with my friends Tony and John, with my sister Patti and in recent years with Maura. Sometimes I worried about him with Zach, but I tried to keep that to a minimum. Still, it makes sense to worry about someone you love with the people you love.
What prompted me to write about this worrisome topic was an email I received from an old friend who lost her brother several years ago. She mentioned how her parents struggled with many of the same problems that Caryn and I had to deal with, and how worrying about their son became a full-time job. But there was one sentence in her email that cut to the heart of the matter:
My dad said, “I’d give anything to have one more day full of worrying about him.”
That one line sums up my grief more than the 100,000 words I’ve written about Rob over these past 11 months. That one line sums up how I feel and will continue to feel for the rest of my life.