In the doorway of my home, I looked closely at the face of my 23-year-old son, Daniel, his backpack by his side. We were saying good-bye. In a few hours he would be flying to France. He would be staying there for at least a year to learn another language and experience life in a different country.

It was a transitional time in Daniel's life, a passage, a step from college into the adult world. I wanted to leave him some words that would have some meaning, some significance beyond the moment.

But nothing came from my lips. No sound broke the stillness of my beachside home. Outside, I could hear the shrill cries of sea gulls as they circled the ever changing surf on Long Island. Inside, I stood frozen and quiet, looking into the searching eyes of my son.

What made it more difficult was that I knew this was not the first time I had let such a moment pass. When Daniel was five, I took him to the school-bus stop on his first day of kindergarten. I felt the tension in his hand holding mine as the bus turned the corner. I saw colour flush his cheeks as the bus pulled up. He looked at me-as he did now.

What is it going to be like, Dad? Can I do it? Will I be okay? And then he walked up the steps of the bus and disappeared inside. And the bus drove away. And I had said nothing.

A decade or so later, a similar scene played itself out. With his mother, I drove him to William and Mary College in Virginia. His first night, he went out with his new schoolmates, and when he met us the next morning, he was sick. He was coming down with mononucleosis, but we could not know that then. We thought he had a hangover.

In his room, Dan lay stretched out on his bed as I started to leave for the trip home. I tried to think of something to say to give him courage and confidence as he started this new phase of life.

Again, words failed me. I mumbled something like, "Hope you feel better Dan." And I left.

Now, as I stood before him, I thought of those lost opportunities. How many times have we all let such moments pass? A boy graduates from school, a daughter gets married. We go through the motions of the ceremony, but we don't seek out our children and find a quiet moment to tell them what they have meant to us. Or what they might expect to face in the years ahead.

How fast the years had passed. Daniel was born in New Orleans, LA., in 1962, slow to walk and talk, and small of stature. He was the tiniest in his class, but he developed a warm, outgoing nature and was popular with his peers. He was coordinated and agile, and he became adept in sports.

Baseball gave him his earliest challenge. He was an outstanding pitcher in Little League, and eventually, as a senior in high school, made the varsity, winning half the team's games with a record of five wins and two losses. At graduation, the coach named Daniel the team's most valuable player.

His finest hour, though, came at a school science fair. He entered an exhibit showing how the circulatory system works. It was primitive and crude, especially compared to the fancy, computerized, blinking-light models entered by other students. My wife, Sara, felt embarrassed for him.

It turned out that the other kids had not done their own work-their parents had made their exhibits. As the judges went on their rounds, they found that these other kids couldn't answer their questions. Daniel answered every one. When the judges awarded the Albert Einstein Plaque for the best exhibit, they gave it to him.

By the time Daniel left for college he stood six feet tall and weighed 170 pounds. He was muscular and in superb condition, but he never pitched another inning, having given up baseball for English literature. I was sorry that he would not develop his athletic talent, but proud that he had made such a mature decision.

One day I told Daniel that the great failing in my life had been that I didn't take a year or two off to travel when I finished college. This is the best way, to my way of thinking, to broaden oneself and develop a larger perspective on life. Once I had married and begun working, I found that the dream of living in another culture had vanished.

Daniel thought about this. His friends said that he would be insane to put his career on hold. But he decided it wasn't so crazy. After graduation, he worked as a waiter at college, a bike messenger and a house painter. With the money he earned, he had enough to go to Paris.

The night before he was to leave, I tossed in bed. I was trying to figure out something to say. Nothing came to mind. Maybe, I thought, it wasn't necessary to say anything.

What does it matter in the course of a life-time if a father never tells a son what he really thinks of him? But as I stood before Daniel, I knew that it does matter. My father and I loved each other. Yet, I always regretted never hearing him put his feelings into words and never having the memory of that moment. Now, I could feel my palms sweat and my throat tighten. Why is it so hard to tell a son something from the heart? My mouth turned dry, and I knew I would be able to get out only a few words clearly.

“Daniel," I said, "if I could have picked, I would have picked you."

That's all I could say. I wasn't sure he understood what I meant. Then he came toward me and threw his arms around me. For a moment, the world and all its people vanished, and there was just Daniel and me in our home by the sea.

He was saying something, but my eyes misted over, and I couldn't understand what he was saying. All I was aware of was the stubble on his chin as his face pressed against mine. And then, the moment ended. I went to work, and Daniel left a few hours later with his girlfriend.

That was seven weeks ago, and I think about him when I walk along the beach on weekends. Thousands of miles away, somewhere out past the ocean waves breaking on the deserted shore, he might be scurrying across Boulevard Saint Germain, strolling through a musty hallway of the Louvre, bending an elbow in a Left Bank café.

What I had said to Daniel was clumsy and trite. It was nothing. And yet, it was everything.

  中文:

  在家门口,我凝视着23岁的儿子丹尼尔的脸,他的背包就放在身旁。他的背包就放在身旁。我们即将道别几个小时之后,他就要飞往法国,在那里待上至少一年的时间。他要学习另一种语言学习法语,并在一个全新的国度体验新的生活。

  这是丹尼尔生命中的一个过渡时期,也是他从象牙塔进入成人世界踏出的一步。我希望送给他几句话,几句能令让他受用终身的话语。

  但我竟一句话也说不出来。我们的房子坐落在海边,此刻屋里静寂无声。屋外,海鸥在波涛澎湃的长岛海域上空盘旋,我能听见它们发出的尖叫。我就这样站在屋里,默默地注视着儿子那双困惑的眼睛。

  更糟的是,我很清楚自己已经不是第一次让如此重要的时光白白流逝。丹尼尔五岁的时候,那是幼儿园开学的第一天,我领着他来到校车的上落点。当校车在拐角处出现时,他的小手紧紧地攥着我,我感觉到了他的不安。校车到站那一刻,丹尼尔双颊发红,抬头望着我——就像现在这样。

  爸爸,接下来会怎样呢?我能行么?我会没事吗?说着,他上了校车,消失在我的视野里。车开走了,我却始终开不了口。

  十多年后,这一幕再次上演。我与妻子开车送丹尼尔到维吉尼亚州的威廉玛丽学院读书。抵达在学校的第一个晚上,丹尼尔和舍友们一起外出。次日清晨再见到丹尼尔时,他感到身体不适。其实当时他体内已出现白血球增多,但当时我们并不知道,以为他只是喝多了而已。

  我正准备启程回家时,丹尼尔正在宿舍的床上躺着。我很想说一些鼓励的话语,在他的新生活伊始给他勇气与信心。

  但是,我再一次语塞。我只是咕哝了一句“希望你快点好起来,丹尼尔”就转身离开了。

  此时此刻,站在丹尼尔面前,我想起了那些被错过的时刻。究竟多少次,我们让这些珍贵的时刻白白溜走?例如儿子的毕业典礼,女儿的婚礼等等。我们疲于应付这些热闹的场面,却没有在人群中逮住孩子,找个安静的地方,亲口说出他们对我们有多么重要,或者与他们聊聊未来的人生。

  时光飞逝,岁月如梭。1962年小丹尼尔出生于洛杉矶新奥尔良市。他比同龄人稍迟学会走路和说话,个子也长得不高。但是,尽管丹尼尔是班里最瘦小的一个,他性格热情外向,人缘甚广。由于协调性好且行动敏捷,他很快成为了运动高手。

  棒球是丹尼尔人生的第一项挑战。他是棒球队里出色的投手。高三的时候,丹尼尔带领学校棒球队所向披靡,创下了七局五胜的记录。在毕业典礼上,棒球教练宣布他为最有价值球员。

  然而,丹尼尔最辉煌的时刻却是在一次校园科技展上。丹尼尔带着他的循环电路系统参加了这次展览。与其他参展学生的那些新奇怪异、电脑操控、熠熠发光的模型相比,丹尼尔的作品相形见绌。我的妻子莎拉都替儿子感到脸红。

  后来才得知其他孩子的作品并非自己完成,而是父母代劳的。当评委在现场评审的时候,他们发现这些孩子都对参展作品一无所知,只有丹尼尔对答如流。于是他们把本次展览的最佳作品奖颁给了丹尼尔,并授予艾伯特·爱因斯坦奖牌。

  丹尼尔刚进大学时已经是个身高六尺,重一百七十磅的堂堂男子汉了。自从放弃棒球而选择英国文学后,肌肉结实、身体强壮的丹尼尔却再没打过棒球了。我为他放弃了自己的体育特长感到惋惜,但更为他做出如此慎重的决定感到骄傲。

  有一次,我告诉丹尼尔我一生中最大的失误就是大学刚毕业时,没能抽出一两年的时间周游列国。在我看来,这是开拓视野,形成豁达人生的最佳途径。我成家工作以后,体验异国文化的梦想就烟消云散了。

  听了这番话后,丹尼尔若有所思。丹尼尔的朋友告诫他说,为了游历世界而把事业搁在一边,这是非常愚蠢的。但丹尼尔并不认同。毕业后,他在大学校园端盘子,骑单车送报纸,还替人刷墙。通过打工挣钱,他攒足了去巴黎的路费。

  丹尼尔离开的前夜,我在床上辗转难眠。我想准备好明天要说的话,但脑袋里却一片空白。也许根本就无须赘言,我安慰自己。

  即使一位父亲一辈子都不曾亲口告诉儿子自己对他的看法,那又如何?然而,当我面对着丹尼尔,我知道到这非常重要。我爱我的父亲,他也爱我。但我从未听过他说心里话,更没有这些感人的回忆。为此,我总心怀遗憾。现在,我手心冒汗,喉咙打结。为什么对儿子说几句心里话如此困难?我的嘴唇变得干涩,我想我顶多能够清晰地吐出几个字而已。

  “丹尼尔,”我终于迸出了一句,“如果上帝让我选择谁是我的儿子,我始终会选你。”

  这是我惟一能想到的话了。我不晓得丹尼尔是否理解了这句话,但他扑过来抱住了我。那一刻,世界消失了,只剩下我和丹尼尔站在海边的小屋里。

  丹尼尔也在说着什么,但泪水已经模糊了我的双眼,我一个字也没听进去。只是当他的脸向我贴过来时,我感觉到了他下巴的胡子茬。然后,一切恢复原样。我继续工作,丹尼尔几个小时后带着女友离开了。

  七个星期过去了,周末在海边散步时我会想起丹尼尔。横跨拍打着这个荒芜海岸的茫茫大海,几百英里之外的某个地方,丹尼尔也许正飞奔着穿越圣热蒙大道,或者在罗浮宫散发着霉味的走廊上徘徊,又或者此时正托着下巴坐在左岸咖啡馆里憩息。

  我对丹尼尔说的那些话既晦涩又老套,空洞无文。然而,它却道出了一切。