The importance of being present

Most of us, if all goes according to plan, spend less time with our parents as adults than we did as children. It’s been so ordained since the Garden of Eden.

They bring you home from the hospital, and almost immediately the weaning process begins. As a child, it doesn’t seem to go very quickly. But as a parent of two myself now, I’ve been amazed at how soon kids start spending short and then longer chunks of time away from home.

My older son spends some of those chunks of time with my parents, often going to my hometown of Dalton for a night or three at a time. Although we all get together fairly often, it’s fair to say he’s seen more of them than I have since we moved back to Georgia three and a half years ago.

This fall, I got to play a little catch-up.

My brother was getting married in China, to a young lady we’ve gotten to know over the past few years. But while they made final preparations in her hometown, my parents and I were to spend most of the 11-day trip on our own with sightseeing visits to Shanghai and Beijing along the way.

I say we “were to” do that, because it didn’t exactly turn out that way. At the last minute my grandmother fell ill, and my mom made the difficult decision to stay behind at her side. That meant it was just my dad and me.

Now, it had been a dozen years since my parents, siblings and I had vacationed all together — I guess the clock’s still running, since my mom and sister couldn’t go to China — and I think it had been at least as long since I’d spent even one whole day with only my dad. I want to say it hadn’t been just us for that long since we went to learn about the University of Georgia’s Honors Program when I was a high school senior.

How long ago was that? It was a couple of days after the time Mike Tyson fought Evander Holyfield and didn’t bite off a piece of his ear. It was 16 years ago.

For 11 days in late September and early October, though, I had my dad’s ear and he had mine.

We’ve spoken at least weekly, but rarely seen each other so often, in the years since I left for Athens as an 18-year-old. We had no trouble filling our much greater allotment of talk time. We solved all the world’s problems and recalled a lot of great memories.

In some ways, though, simply being together brought the memories back more easily than talking did. A longer-than-expected car trip from Shanghai to my sister-in-law’s hometown evoked “are we there yet?” trips across this country in our family minivan. As we hiked the Great Wall at Badaling, I couldn’t help but remember how Dad used to take my scout troop backpacking through the Cohutta Wilderness Area.

There’s just no substitute for presence.

That truth hit home in other ways on the trip. I watched my sister-in-law, who lives with my brother in North Carolina, enjoy the presence of her own parents. I couldn’t understand what they were saying to each other, but I caught on anyway; as a former expat myself, I recognized their joy at spending some suddenly rare time together.

It hit home via absence, too.

My brother missed our mom’s presence on his important day. So did I. Her absence weighed most on my dad, or maybe it was his inability to be present with her.

But we all were understanding, because her absence with us on the trip was a condition of her presence with her own mother. While we took in world-famous landmarks and celebrated a new marriage, she and her siblings kept a vigil at their mother’s bedside.

She stayed behind because the doctors said my grandmother wouldn’t make it until we came home. Word that they’d been right came to us in an email, the day before we returned.

We got back in time for the funeral, one of those occasions designed specifically with presence in mind. We won’t see my grandmother again in this life, but being with so many of the others who loved her was a comfort.

Over time, I’ve learned to cherish today’s holiday more for the way it brings me into the presence of those I love than for the turkey and dressing. I wish the same for you — and that you don’t have to go halfway around the world to find it.

(Note: As usual, comments will be going through moderation while I’m away; I’ll be back in the office Monday. I hope you all have a very happy Thanksgiving!)

– By Kyle Wingfield

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29 comments Add your comment

Hillbilly D

November 21st, 2012
1:07 pm

There’s just no substitute for presence.

Truer words were never spoken. In today’s scattered out society, people miss out on family ties. Many kids today grow up barely knowing their grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc. They’ll never know what they missed. Is it any wonder so many rootless people are searching these days?

Mr. Holmes

November 21st, 2012
1:16 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, Kyle. All best to you & yours.


November 21st, 2012
1:40 pm


Very good column . . . and very timely. Reading it brought back many memories for me. Thanks!


November 21st, 2012
1:46 pm

Happy Thanksgiving, Kyle — family is tops.

Don't Tread

November 21st, 2012
2:03 pm

I was fortunate enough to live within an hour of the rest of the family after we all moved out (and not have to deal with airport holiday madness). My wife’s family are all local too.

Happy Thanksgiving Kyle.

Rafe Hollister, dreading the eventual decline caused by Obamanism

November 21st, 2012
2:05 pm

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for the great column, Kyle. Love them while you can!


November 21st, 2012
2:14 pm

Kyle, I think you’ve learned to take each day as it comes. It sounds easy to do but, in fact, it can be damned difficult.

Happy Thanksviving.


November 21st, 2012
2:23 pm

Nice article Kyle. While I disagree with the majority of your opinions, I know what its like to lose a parent at an early age (I was 27 when my mother passed away). The emptiness never goes away, and increases around the holidays. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Just Saying..

November 21st, 2012
2:29 pm

Great column, Kyle. Wishing you a warm Thanksgiving with your family.

freedom Wins

November 21st, 2012
2:57 pm

Kyle, as a kid, I spent several summers helping my Grandma in the deep south with her garden. My parents couldn’t afford summer camp or someone to look after me. We spent many hours howing rows of vegetables and shelling beans for canning. How she ever managed to can(glass jars) all those vegetables in the heat of a north central south Carolina small farm is still beyond my comprehention. She suffered two bad strokes that I knew about. Dad would bring her some of those same vegetables to the hospital room every night, since she just couldn’t eat the food they offered here at the time. Probably the only reason she survived the stays. The last time she came home, she had to drag her leg along. Dad refused to break ground for a garden in her condition. He made his twice weekly visit on a Wednesday and found her trying to break ground in her garden. No one was available during the middle of the week to work a mule, so he borrowed a neighbors tractor.

Working that garden returned all of her leg function and her sanity.

After my folks broke up, my sister and I finally were able to visit her just a few days before Thanksgiving after her home had burned to the ground. She had lost her spark and when we arrived, she didn’t answer the door to her temporary trailor home. Dad had a key and found her unable to get out of bed. The Ambulance was called to take her to the hospital. She was in tears when she left and didn’t make the 65 mile trip.

I had fully expected her to recover as she always had cause she was a tough ole bird who never gave up.

If you and your readers have anyone close they haven’t visited in a while, do it this week. Ask questions and tell them you love them. That one lost visit may sadden you for the rest of your life.

I know the pain, and tears are falling upon my hands as I type this. I miss you Grandma.

Happy Thanksgiving to all this year


November 21st, 2012
3:46 pm

Good article Kyle. We will honor the lives of my parents and Grandparents with a family reunion tomorrow at a State Park near our home in Helen. Have a great Holiday.

Road Scholar

November 21st, 2012
3:49 pm

Sorry to hear of your Grandmother’s passing. I hope she lead a good and prosperous life. But I hope the good memories will stay with you!

I lost my father when I was 12. My stepmother “saved” me and finished what my father started. She passed 5 years ago. I still miss them, but cherish the memories and the strength and character that they instilled in me. I am jealous of those who had their parents and grandparents in their life for the majority of their years.

God Bless! Happy Thanksgiving! And God Bless the United States and our President!

The Anti-Wooten

November 21st, 2012
4:29 pm

Nicely put Kyle.


November 21st, 2012
5:24 pm

You can’t blame Tyson. Holyfield had cauliflower ears.


November 21st, 2012
8:56 pm


Nancy & I are blessed to have your Mom & Dad as very good friends. In our opinion, there are no better people in the world.

On this Thanksgiving Nancy & I are grateful for each other, our parents, our girls & their husbands, our grandchildren, God, our Church and all of our blessings. We are also grateful for all of our friends and their families.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!


PS Keeping in the spirit of our Family Thanksgiving Weekend Tradition, I say to my UGA daughters – Go Jackets!!!

Gator Nation

November 21st, 2012
10:41 pm

Wonderful article. Sorry for your loss. Thank you and happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.


November 22nd, 2012
4:06 am

Nice article Kyle. It kind of hit home because my Thanksgiving was basically canceled at the last minute because my elderly mother is ill with pneumonia and didn’t feel up for a visit. I understand completely but since she is 83 it makes me and my wife want to visit her even more.

BTW – Thankfully there is no Liberal or Conservative Turkeys, just Turkeys! :)


November 22nd, 2012
7:53 am

You should write more pieces like this Kyle. Your Rightism generally stains your person, while this redeems it.


November 22nd, 2012
8:56 am

I’m thankful for this thoughtful piece of writing.

Uncle Billy

November 22nd, 2012
9:13 am

Be glad your parents are still alive.

Get Real

November 22nd, 2012
10:45 am

Nice post….family is everything


November 23rd, 2012
7:57 am

Kyle I almost always disagee with you.

But this was a great article – thank you. And I hope your family continues to thrive, through both good and bad times.


November 23rd, 2012
9:36 am

A very well-stated article, Kyle. And, I love the words–there’s just no subsitute for presence–whcih should be utiflized by many more of us..

Old Timer

November 23rd, 2012
8:30 pm

Thank you Kyle–we are still honored to have our four children, wives,, six grandchildren and two great grandchildren spend Thanksgiving us in person or Iphone while serving our country in far off Kuwait as we do the eternal battle with father time. There is no place like home for the holidays. Families are what make our country great. God Bless.

Lil' Barry Bailout - OBAMAPHONE!!!

November 24th, 2012
10:28 am

We all tend to “wish our lives away” without realizing it until it’s too late. Kids can’t wait to grow up. Teens can’t wait to be out on their own. Young parents can’t wait for their kids to kids to not be so dependent on them. Parents of teens can’t wait for their unruly lot to get off to college and out of the house. Until it happens, and then you start to understand about presence.

Take your time, folks. Don’t be in such a hurry.


November 24th, 2012
3:07 pm

Too bad you don’t have compassion for your fellow man.


November 24th, 2012
3:27 pm

I went to Charleston, SC with my Girlfriend and my Mom last June for 3 days. My Mom lives in California so I don’t see her that often. After the trip my Girlfriend said that she never wants to go on an overnight trip with me and my Mom because we argue so much. I like speaking with my Mom over the telephone but in person she becomes a different person. So much for spending time with your parents. I think it would be more fun spending time with my Dad but then I’d have to travel to New Jersey and hang out in his cemetary.


November 25th, 2012
7:36 pm

Family was hard this year I have nothing in comment with brother are sister but I am the one stuck at home caring for my mother cause I love her ! But my sister and brother could help but they want I guess if I get Tragically sick they would be forced to its to bad that family members are not legal Froced help take care why dose everything fall on one person shoulder I think at times we all as people turn our backs on human being what has happen to us we have became evil and selfish . We’re is the loved for Red Blooded Americans? We have pushed into a fast world money money money and no one cares about human life are a hand shake a hug its a crazy cold world even in the summer time God help us


November 25th, 2012
7:46 pm

Forced correct spelling