Joseph Governale and his son, Tim, of Holbrook

Joseph Governale and his son, Tim, of Holbrook Credit:

Reader Joseph Governale lives in Holbrook.

There are those places where the past just seems to rise up and hold you tight for a little while. For me, it's a spot on the glass-strewn bicycle path that runs through a part of Holbrook. Directly across from a weedy sump, it was here, on a late Sunday afternoon, that I came to understand my limits as a parent.

Two months earlier, at a July Fourth barbecue, my son, Tim, had broken the news to his mother and me that college in September -- Central Connecticut, where he was already registered -- no longer figured in his plans. He said, instead, he wanted to work. Tim had a job lined up with the father of a friend who was starting his own landscaping business.

For almost a week, I tried to talk him out of it. So did my wife, who even resorted to tears. But it was no use. He'd made up his mind, and because we taught him to always stay strong in the face of pressure, our impassioned pleas never had a chance.

And so, in the fall, while all his friends were sitting in upstate or Ivy League classrooms, he was mowing lawns and whacking weeds and trimming hedges from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, for $10 an hour.

Some nights he came home so tired he couldn't even eat. He would just lie down on the couch in his dirt-smeared clothes and fall asleep. Come morning, he'd again be gone. Our kid's life, his dream of becoming a teacher, had veered off into a strange new direction and all his mother and I could do was travel along.

Then came that Sunday afternoon.

With all his buddies gone, weekends for him became a time-drag of boredom and loneliness. So when he asked if I wanted to check out the new remote-controlled car he had purchased at a hobby shop the day before, I closed my book and off we went.

Down the bicycle path.

To that place right across from the sump.

Again and again, for almost 45 minutes, he pulled a string but the motor wouldn't turn over. As I watched him keep at it, his shirt becoming soaked through with sweat, my heart broke for the boy. More than anything, at that moment, I wanted to take him in my arms and hug away his disappointment.

You can't do that, though, when they're 18. Hard as it is, you have to stand back and let them find their way.

The car never did start.

And two months later, he was "let go" from his job for the winter.


That's when his thinking about research papers and tests began to change. Suddenly, in the cold hard face of reality, those long-dreaded things didn't seem so bad.

So, in January, he began classes at Suffolk County Community College. Two years later, he left for SUNY Oswego. And next May, he will be graduating.

A happy ending, sure. More important, though, it's one Tim is writing all by himself.