When my son, Michael, was 22 months old, we fell down a hillside together.

My wife and I were in the process of adopting him, and we decided to take him with us on a weekend retreat to a mountain cabin. One evening, he became a bit fussy, so I wrapped him in a blanket and went for a walk.

As I made my way downhill toward the street, I stopped to rest on a tree stump. Without warning, my foot slipped through the rotten stump.

Suddenly, my world was a swirl of sticks, branches and mud. I curled Michael into me close, hugging him like a piece of priceless art. It was a hug that allowed him to breathe, but refused him any exposure to the rough world we were tumbling through.

Then, quite abruptly, I hit my head on the asphalt below. Things grayed momentarily, but I escaped with nothing more than some scratches, some bruising and a new knot on my head. Thankfully, Michael had been wrapped in my impenetrable hug and was unscathed.

It was a hug I tried to repeat last month at the airport as Michael prepared to board the plane for Marine basic training.

On this day, he was 171/2, so the drive to the airport was filled with predictable questions.

I asked the perfunctory, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

He gave his well-thought
answer: “Yeah, sure.”

“You sound worried,” he said.

I changed the subject and started talking about getting a gate pass so we could see him to the plane. Sometime during my monologue, he exchanged conspiratorial glances with his mother begging her to keep me from embarrassing him.

As we approached the airport garage, I offered him a camouflaged Bible with the emblems of all the service branches. He checked it for the Marine emblem.

I held my breath. I was passing him faith. Would he grip it?

He did. It was the only thing he was allowed to bring, save his identification and the literal clothes on his back.

When we arrived at the terminal, it was obvious the line was too long to quickly obtain a boarding pass. Mike looked at me and then held his mother with a reminding gaze of their tacit agreement.

“We can’t go with him,” she said with a softness directed to me. “He’ll be OK.”

Suddenly there wasn’t enough air in this massive terminal. I loosened my collar and hastily found a Southwest ticket agent. I pled my case with her. “Please, I need a gate pass now. My son is going into the Marines, now.”

The agent assured me we would have time to wait in line.

“But, not the quality time we need,” I begged. It was not a convincing argument.

The world was not going to stop for us, nor even pause.

I looked at my son and acquiesced. He offered me a handshake.

Determined to thwart such a businesslike departure, I gripped him once again with that protective hug. The same one I’d given him fifteen years earlier.

I knew this hug would have to be thousands of times stronger. I needed this hug to be bullet proof, bomb proof and heartbreak proof. I needed this hug to hold him until I see him again.

As he rode the escalator out of sight, I shot him one last hug — it’s the one described in Psalm 32:9. “May the Lord’s unfailing love surround the man who trusts him.”