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NOTIONS: High above Sedona, grateful for trust

May 26, 2008

Just after dawn a few weeks ago, my wife, Cherí, drove me to the Indianapolis airport. At the Hertz lot, I kissed her goodbye and went inside to rent a minivan.

In the parking lot, I wiped the morning dew off the windshield, popped Harlan Coben's latest pageturner into the CD player, and cranked up the volume.

Stopping only twice for combined food/gas/bio breaks, I drove 700 miles through the rich farmland of Indiana and Ohio, across a corner of West Virginia, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike and into New Jersey.

Just after 5:30 p.m., I pulled up at a Holiday Inn near the Newark airport and checked into my room.

When I'd unpacked my bag, I called my son Austin, who'd just finished his freshman year at New York University. We agreed to meet at Penn Station and go from there to dinner. After navigating the hotel shuttle bus, airport tram and a New Jersey Transit train, I arrived on the island.

Inside the terminal, we exchanged a hug and hello. Then, the kid who'd apprehensively followed me through Manhattan for the first time in his life only 13 months before-a kid who not long ago preferred Kraft macaroni to any cultured cuisine-confidently led me through the tunnels of Penn Station, onto one subway, through a transfer station, onto another subway and across a few blocks of Greenwich Village to his favorite Thai restaurant.

There, his girlfriend, Karolina, joined us for dinner. We talked of their year at NYU, the final exams they'd just completed, how they loved the city, how they were sorry to leave, and how they're looking forward to their impending transfer to Madison, Wis., for fall semester-a place with trees and lakes, a real college atmosphere, and a lower cost of education and living.

After dinner, we walked to a crowded dessert café. And after a bite of cheesecake and chocolate, the three of us agreed to meet at 7 the next morning outside their Third Avenue dorm so we could load their belongings into the van and head home.

Cliché though it is, I confess that on the train back to Newark, the lyrics of "New York, New York" danced in my head. A few weeks shy of Father's Day, I imagined that if my kid could make it here, he could, indeed, make it anywhere.

Two days later, Cherí and I drove to the airport again. This time, we parked our car in a long-term lot, took the shuttle to the Southwest Airlines counter, and checked in for a flight to Phoenix and a long-awaited vacation.

Before leaving home, we left instructions for Austin's twin brother, Zach, who was house-sitting for us while also completing photo assignments in Bloomington, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne.

After starting his college career last fall at a photography school in California and completing his first eight-week session, Zach realized he was in the wrong place.

Rather than stubbornly staying on, he decided to cut his losses and transfer. So he drove cross-country with all his gear, applied to Indiana University Bloomington, got accepted and started classes in January.

In addition to completing his first semester, Zach pursued and landed photo assignments from several IU schools and departments, and booked a full schedule of weddings, portraits, newspaper and magazine images, and his fourth summer internship with a commercial photographer. He's even supporting a part-time assistant.

Heads-up to the Kelley School of Business: You have an entrepreneur on your hands.

Over the years, I've known leaders of organizations who say they cannot take vacations because everything will fall apart if they're not present.

Over the years, I've known parents who've continued to direct many aspects of their kids' lives-even into their college years and beyond-because they haven't trusted those children to make the right choices for themselves.

I was blessed with parents who let me find and go my own way. I was blessed with bosses who let me do the same. Cherí seems to have known the same reality.

I don't know whether that trust was first given or earned. I do know my gratitude for that trust makes me less likely to ever violate it, and more likely to replicate it with my own company and my own sons.

And so, as Cherí and I hiked among the red rocks high above Sedona last week, I worried little about the organization she heads, or the one I head, or Austin and Karolina driving to Madison to scout out living space, or Zach driving back and forth across Indiana to take photographs.

Instead, I put one foot in front of the other on the red-stone path and paused, from time to time, to ponder the yellow cactus flowers and to peer beyond the green valleys and the towering stone cathedrals toward the next horizon.



Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm.His column appears twice a month.He can be reached at bhetrick@ibj.com.
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