The novel coronavirus’ effects in New York City have ranged from harrowing to mildly inconvenient. For the most part, my experience has been the latter. I’m fed up with the fact that I can’t drop in at my favorite pubs in Brooklyn for a brew, how I have to line up for an hour to get into my grocery, how the lockdown measures have drained the vibrancy of the world’s most vibrant city.
But mostly, I miss my 10-year-old son, and that’s far more than a mere inconvenience.
It’s been two weeks since I last saw him, and I have no clear idea when I’ll see him again. His mom and I decided that it was best for the two of them to go to her mother’s place on the Jersey Shore and wait out the pandemic in more bucolic environs.
Though we made the decision in haste, his mother and I are certain it was the right one — not only on account of the threat of infection, but because Brooklyn has turned into a strange and eerie place.
There, he has a roomy deck to himself and ocean breezes; here, sparsely populated streets feature mask-hidden faces and a constant wail of sirens rising above the newly hushed city din. Kids these days know the thrill of post-apocalyptic TV shows and video games; but living through what feels like a mini-apocalypse is quite another thing.
The magic of smartphones is a big help. His face pops up on my phone. “Hi, Captain,” I say. I call him the Captain.
“Hey, Dad,” he answers. He shows me the fort of blankets he made in the living room. He tells me about the books he’s reading. We chat. But inevitably, there’s a lull, and he says, “I really miss you” and asks me when this will all be over.
“When can I come back?”
There are few worse feelings than not having a very good answer when your kid is scared. I have tried to be honest, letting him know that it will probably be at least another month before this surreal situation abates.
But equally, I attempt to reassure, explaining that it seems like a long time, but soon he will be back on my couch playing “Rocket League” with me.
In short order, this will be the longest we’ve ever been away from each other. The other day, I called my cousin, who raises his family while frequently deployed in the Army. I think I’d hoped that he had some kind of magic trick. But no, there isn’t one, he informed me. It is simply a reality to be dealt with. Going without the touch of one’s child is a heartbreak without consolation.
If there is some semblance of a silver lining, it is that our conversations have taken on a new intimacy and depth. There is a desperation to be close to each other that magnetizes our words.
We must elevate mere pixels in expressing our affection. Sometimes this takes the form of a silly face, others a virtual kiss.
“This, too, shall pass” is a prayer on countless lips, mine included. And it will; things might never go completely back to normal, but we will get through. That’s what I tell my boy.
I also tell myself that a lot of people have it a whole lot worse than we do right now, including the sick and dying and those who are bravely treating them. But the pining persists, all the same.
The most scared I’ve ever been in my life was almost a decade ago, when, as an infant, my son had a seven-hour surgery on his skull. I was terrified that a doctor would come walking into the waiting room shaking his head. He was fine and fully recovered.
That fear and this one are different, though, in part because he understands this one. He knows what’s going on and wants to know more.
As with so much in parenting, there is an opportunity here, a “teachable moment,” as President Barack Obama used to say. Children need to learn that their parents can’t simply make everything OK all the time. Adversity is inevitable in life, and they must learn how to face it.
One day, he will be home again and know that he got through it, know that he can endure hardship. Know that love is more powerful than distance. He will also get all the smooches in the world. Life is hard. But it’s always worth it, and fathers and sons will endure.
David Marcus is The Federalist’s New York correspondent. Twitter: @BlueBoxDave
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