Chicago — #janphi

A few years ago and only shortly after Liam had come home for any significant length of time, my father and I drove out to Springfield Massachusetts for my cousin’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. I remember getting more and more anxious with every passing mile knowing that this was the farthest I had ever been from him. About an hour in and only 2/3rds of the way there I realized that if an emergency had happened at home there was absolutely nothing I could do to help. It was an uneasy and uncomfortable freedom. I knew that no matter the emergency Karin would be able to handle anything that could happen and I was in a weird sense, off the hook and so I should have been able to enjoy myself.

Except that of course I couldn’t. Of course I fidgeted nervously through the speeches and accolades and aside from the short speech and presentation of the award that I was a part of (I am an Eagle Scout myself) my head was at home the entire time. My father and I had a light meal and a piece of cake with everyone and commiserated for just the appropriate amount of chit-chat before ducking out to speed home since after a few hours outside my bubble of usefulness as a caregiver I was beginning to get a little twitchy.

So you can imagine my anxiety this past Saturday morning as I left the house before dawn to get on an airplane headed for Chicago to see my younger brother marry his longtime girlfriend and my new sister-in-law, Jannah. I packed light and wore my suit on the plane in order to save time since the ceremony was taking place only a few hours after my arrival. A change of clothes was all I needed anyway since my return flight stood firm only 49 hours later. I’ve never travelled by plane alone before. I’ve never left Liam for more than a day before. I’ve never stood in the doorway of the house knowing that absolutely anything in the world could happen for TWO WHOLE DAYS and I would be powerless to help, or prevent any of it. There is still not a doubt in my mind that Karin could handle anything anyway but that knowledge didn’t settle my nervous legs from rattling the seat in front of me. Didn’t calm the what-ifs as the jet lurched off the ground to start my deepest separation from Karin and Liam in his entire life.

This wasn’t the plan at all.

The plan was for Liam and Karin and I to pack up the van and make a three-day drive out to my brother’s place to take part in the nearly weeklong festivities that will forever be known by its instagram hashtag — #janphi. (go ahead and search it. It was a hell of a time.) The plan was for me to participate in the time-honored fatherly tradition of taking his family on vacation. A road trip no less. The plan was to rejoice in the celebration of the love between my brother and his wonderful fiance with my own wonderful wife by my side. That was the plan, but as any special needs family will tell you, All plans are tentative.

All of them.

The wedding itself was wonderful. Quirky and non-traditional, emotional and touching. The happy couple with each of their families coming from opposite coasts to meet in the middle of the country rose to the challenge of keeping them all entertained. A feat nearly impossible, it would surprise no one that they pulled it off. It’s what they do. But while I could detail the bits that even I got to be a part of given that I was only able to attend the weekend portion of the program, is at its heart a blog about my journey parenting Liam. One that I had not anticipated including any journeys taken without him.

It’s the blood clot. Actually no, it’s the blood thinners taken to reduce and destroy the blood clot, and their increased risk of bleeding. Whether internally at the site of the clot, the belts and buckles on his transport laying near to his thighs and hips knocking a too large chunk of the clot free, or the possibility of cranial bruising or bleeding that a long car ride may have created with his head bouncing off the head support of his chair. Not only an accident or sudden screeching stop bringing risk but even just the 18 hours of bounce and rumble in what we could have only hoped would be a calm, leisurely drive.

We consulted with doctors. We consulted with each other. We consulted with Liam. When it was all said and done we knew what the only smart decision could be. In fact I’m pretty sure we both saw the writing on the hospital room wall at least a month before the decision was made but were both unable to admit it.

All plans are tentative. Even the ones that mean the most to you.

Of course I couldn’t miss my little brother’s wedding. So a new plan was put together. Thanks to my mom and her planning skills, hotel plans were changed and flights were booked. With everyone else flying in on Wednesday I’d fly in early saturday morning, only a few hours before the actual ceremony, then fly out early monday morning in what would up being only a few a few hours after leaving the actual reception. Like I said, this wedding was a week-long affair.

I am happy I went. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself had I missed it and the amount of fun I had dwarfed what I thought would be possible in the three-week long anxiety attack I suffered in the build-up to leaving my wife and son. But even in challenging my expectations, much of the fun was mitigated by a feeling that a large piece of me was missing. A feeling that had it been there, would have helped me to appreciate the moments fully. Off hand comments and gestures to a partner in crime who wasn’t there. A celebration of love taking place a thousand miles from mine.

I could say with some truth that the highlight was the burgers. A rain-soaked “reception” at the downtown hot dog place. One of my favorites in Chicago since Karin and I had eaten there with Phil and Jannah about 4 and a half years ago. (Liam was there too. and he would help his mother give those delicious hot dogs back to Chicago only minutes later.) But it wouldn’t be the whole truth.

I could say and almost be honest that the highlight was the three and a half hour walk I took around Chicago on Sunday afternoon. Without a doubt the longest chunk of time I have spent by myself in the almost four years since Liam was born. Dodging intermittent showers and even a tornado warning that the weather service pushed to my smartphone warning me to keep vigilant and duck into one of Chicago’s towering buildings should I see anything strange approach. Had I had a plan I would have just walked directly to the Art Institute of Chicago and wandered the galleries trying to check off the sections I didn’t have time to see on our previous trip there. Instead I took in the artwork that is the city of Chicago. It is a walk I will not soon forget and a truly fulfilling experience in a fiercely personal way. I am usually a nervous traveller. My anxiety being focused on what could be going on at home grew into a confidence in my step as I explored a distant city taking many of the photos in this post. Like I said, I could say that was the highlight. I’d almost be honest saying so.

Was it the speech? Heartfelt words from my brother to the gathered guests during a  barn burner of a party at Revolution Brewing. When Phil spoke of his amazing nephew and how much he wished that his own sister-in-law was present. A speech  that set me to tears that wouldn’t stop until bordering on the awkward. Yeah maybe the speech was the highlight. It was seldom mentioned but understood by my family how much I wished my own family could have been there with me. To hear Phil talk about how much it meant to him as well, was a pretty special moment. But I think I can think of one more.

While I was out having fun, surrounded by friends and family, food and booze, brand new friends and even more booze, Karin was at home on 24 hour duty. Her parents came to visit and help around the house. The time alone, I mean really alone, could not have been easy for her. Seizures, suction and ventilators and I will forever be grateful for her understanding and support of me going on my own to represent our little family there with my brother who wanted us all to be there. She is a truly remarkable wife and mother and the sacrifice that she made this weekend weighed on my mind. My anxiety came not that she wouldn’t be able to handle whatever could have happened with Liam while she was alone, but that she would handle it perfectly. I have seen Liam start a morning with the sniffles and end the evening being admitted into the PICU. It can happen that fast. It’s not his fault and it wouldn’t have been hers but I had a very irrational yet very real fear that I would return to Rhode Island and have to drive to the hospital from the airport instead of our home. The idea that Karin could go through something like that without me made not only my stomach but also my heart ache.

So I suppose if you were to twist my arm, I mean, to really draw it out of me, back to the wall and gun to my head, the number one highlight of getting on a plane and going so far away?

Today. Coming home. Seeing this boy and the smile on his face.

Thank you for a wonderful weekend Phil and Jannah. Congratulations! I love you both and am inspired by your happiness. And thank you to you mom and dad for making it possible for so many of us to be there to celebrate with Phil and Jannah. But most of all thank you to you Karin and Liam. For understanding why it was important for daddy to leave you both alone, and for making sure nothing crazy happened that mom would have to tell dad about over the phone. Pretty sure my heart wouldn’t have been able to take it.


  1. Very poignant. Weddings are already emotionally heightened times. Somehow the sense of your experience, navigating that time with the additional complexities of being away from your own family, heightens my appreciation for life. Especially for the every-dayness of it all. So thank you. The bride and groom look smashing. Great to see you and Liam back together.

    1. I was ready to miss Karin and Liam while I was gone simply because I was gone. I was unprepared for how the emotions involved in being at a wedding would factor into it. It is only just now that I realize that since we met when I was only 17 years old this was the first wedding I have ever attended as an adult without her. I really didn’t have any idea what I was in for.

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