NOTIONS: College tour reverie: How we got from there to here

The Lenox Hotel, Boston-My son, Austin, doesn’t remember this, but we’ve stayed here before. Last time around, he and his twin brother, Zach, posed in the buff for a Beantown photographer.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea about my

sons. That was 17 years ago. And they’re nearly 18 today. So we’re talking infant shots here. Baby pix. Neophyte photo fare sans Pampers.

Back then, I worked for an East Coast ad agency. One of our clients, a Massachusetts hospital, needed a brochure for its birthing program. So we wrote some wonderful words, designed a dandy layout and set out to secure some months-old models.

If you’re looking to hire sultry, svelteshaped women, many a talent agency will happily help. But because there’s a ton of turnover (er, rollover) in the under-6-months set (and because our client was on a tight budget), we opened auditions to family members of agency employees.

Naturally, having newborn twins, and twin sets of medical bills arriving daily, I volunteered my matching pair of genes for the free overnight in Boston and the hefty (read: a few hundred dollars) modeling fee.

Lo and behold, the designer found my boys to be little darlings. The two-for-theprice-of-one helped, too. So my wife Laura and I strapped Austin and Zach into car seats, drove north from Connecticut, checked into the Lenox and walked across the street to my firm’s Boston office to prep for the photo session.

Nearly 18 years later, Austin and I flew into Logan on this snowy April morning, took the T to Copley Station, and walked past the Boston Public Library to the Lenox.

You see, the little lad who bared his bod for that shooter long ago is now shooting for a first-rate college education. And besides the usual home-state educational fare, Austin the wordsmith wants to weigh some out-of-state options, too. So instead of soaking up sunny Florida with his friend Jon during spring break, he’s schlepping from school to school with his ol’ man, listening to admissions officers’ sappy spiels.

In five days flat, his brain and my wallet are being wooed by the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Emerson College, Brandeis University and Boston University.

Meanwhile, Laura and Zach (our photojournalist phenom) are meandering about the University of Missouri at Columbia, where Zach says he’s destined for J-school.

Now, as Austin sleeps off the effects of this morning’s 4:30 a.m. wake-up call for our flight east, I’m struck by all that’s transpired between these stays at the Lenox:

Austin suffering a childhood cancer that cost him an eye, but not his sight or insight.

Laura and I divorcing.

Being separated from my sons by 800 miles, as Laura left Connecticut and moved Austin and Zach to our hometown of Fort Wayne.

Laura marrying Dave, and Pam marrying me just two days apart, with two little boys attending both weddings.

Pam and I moving to Indianapolis to be closer to the kids.

Laura and Dave doing weekday life with Austin, Zach and their daughter, Erin.

Pam and I meeting Laura or Dave in Gas City to make the exchange so the boys could spend time with us, too.

Austin and Zach telling folks they had two moms and two dads.

Losing Pam to cancer, but knowing she’d be proud to see Austin and Zach following in her journalistic footsteps.

Through it all, our growing boys swatted at T-balls, performed in plays, challenged their classmates at chess, got feted at science fairs, masqueraded in musicals, scored in soccer, canoed in Canada, found dates for dances, went sailing in a windjammer, rode roughshod in the Rockies, applauded a patriotic play in Philadelphia, saw cactus at Christmastime in Tucson, maneuvered a motorcycle in New Mexico, devoured hundreds of novels, scored at Scrabble, made millions in Monopoly, rolled guiltless gutterballs, stayed up late for “sleepovers,” played for pots in poker, trumped their parents in euchre, watched the world erupt on CNN, soared at schoolwork and, of late, got home ’round midnight, after arguing weighty issues and putting their school newspaper to bed.

And so, 18 years after we first emerged from this hotel’s front door together, I’m finishing up a column and Austin’s sleeping a few feet away. In a few minutes, I’ll wake him up. And we’ll walk to Emerson, and hear yet another admissions officer try to lure him in.

And all the while, I’ll be hoping they see through all those test scores, transcripts, class ranks and essays, that they have before them not just another number, but one of two young men who’ve seen and felt a bit of the world, who’ve discovered as a result some of what’s meaningful, who’ve been vested with values, who’ve made more sensible decisions than the other kind and who are otherwise as prepared as we could get them for the planet full of people, potential and possibilities that await.

Hetrick is president and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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