On Saturday I drove 266 miles up to Richmond, Virginia, to visit my daughter on Parents Weekend at VCU.
Yes, I’d been to the campus twice before, but I hadn’t had a chance for a tour. The first time I was too busy moving her things into the dorm, and the second time I had to get in and out quickly as I was illegally parked (thanks to a bicycle race in the streets shutting down all the available parking).
On Sunday, however, we had plenty of free time to wander around.
I tried my best to keep a pleasant face. I’m with my daughter — I should be happy, right?
Still a couple of times she asked me if I was okay.
“You have that look on your face like someone is greatly annoying you,” she said.
“No, I’m fine.”
What do you say when all you can think is that you’d like to kidnap your child and drive her back home?
Mount Airy likes to call itself a city, unlike Dobson or Pilot, but let me tell you: Mount Airy is a town. Richmond is a city. And like most cities, it has a dark side.
Right outside her dorm room is an attractive area (Monroe Park) about seven acres in size. Kids like to bring blankets and study outside, she said.
“These aren’t college kids; these are grownups,” I noted.
“Maybe they are parents.”
No, these were homeless people. Several of them, including about a dozen around the fountain she wanted to show me.
As a human being with feelings and sympathy, I want to feel bad for these folks, but all I could think was, “Why does the university let these people so close to my daughter?”
I know it sounds heartless, but this is my one and only child. I want an electric fence with razor wire on top. Snipers with rubber bullets or those shotguns that fire bean bags.
While we’re walking, she mentioned a used book store she’d like to visit, but it’s over on Broad Street. There have been some shootings in that section of the street, she said, and not at three in the morning, either. These have been at 6-7 p.m.
She pointed out cut-through alleys that they avoid, including one where she added, “I’m pretty sure I saw a drug deal going down over there.”
Another street is okay to pass in the daytime, but there are a lot of drunks staggering through there after dark.
I went to Surry Community College and night school at High Point University. Both campuses are self-contained. If you turn in a circle and see a building, you can rest assured that every building is school-owned.
VCU, however, was built in the middle of an old city. While much of the campus is together, there are several public streets cutting through it and some non-school buildings and houses scattered throughout.
There really is no way to separate students from everyday folks.
As we walk past a Barnes & Noble, she told me that there was a VCU student who cut her finger on a book. Someone stuck a razor blade inside a book with the blade facing upward, then put the book on a high shelf. When she reached up to get the book, the young woman placed a finger on top of the spine to pull it out, and that’s how she got cut.
I think to myself that this sounds like an urban legend. However, because the story is circulating campus, there might be some idiot who decides to copycat the idea, so I let her hold on to that story.
Scattered around the campus are several phones with yellow lights above them. They aren’t pay phones, but rather ring straight to campus security. If someone fears for their safety, he or she can pick up the phone and alert security.
My daughter assured me that she’s learning some valuable information on protecting herself.
I paused for a few seconds (to rest my fatigued legs and to think).
“Honey, it’s great that you’re learning things to help keep yourself safe. But it’s awful that you NEED to learn these things.”
Our job as parents is so complex. We must keep our children safe from harm, while not shielding them so much from that danger that they don’t learn caution. Yet, if we expose them to too many dangers and too much caution, we can do their psyche more harm than good.
I wish my daughter was going to SCC, but the major she wanted is only offered at VCU.
Hundreds of miles apart, I can only hope that the lessons her mother and I taught her can keep her safe.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.