By William Mason Sr.
Keeping my son was the best decision of my life.
He was a mere two months when I nearly gave him away.
I drove him to a clinic that promised to find safe homes for children whose parents couldn’t — or wouldn’t — take care of them. I was 24 at the time, working at an airline just months after receiving an honorable discharge from the Army.
My son, William Kendell Mason Jr. (I called him “Kenny” for most of his childhood), was conceived in 1969 while I was stationed in Germany. That’s where I met his mother, a white woman from Texas. We had a one-night stand.
Some time later, she called to tell me she was pregnant. I arranged for her to live with my mother and me in Philadelphia. I thought we’d raise our child together.
When William was six weeks old, she told me she planned to rejoin her family down south. At the airport, in front of Concourse C2, she handed me our son and boarded a plane. That was it.
I left work and took William home, and my family and I began raising him. But for me, a young man running the streets and partying, it was difficult.
One day I saw the clinic’s ad on TV. I grabbed William, put him in the back seat of the car and drove, the entire time asking myself, “Should I do this?"
I pulled up to the clinic on Market Street. I walked to the back and saw William sitting upright. He looked at me and smiled. And then, to my surprise, he spoke.
It was the first time he had ever done that.
My decision was made. I took him back home, rented an apartment and began raising him on my own. From that moment on, we were like glue.
Sure, there were a lot of rough times: I didn’t make much money and, for years, the only thing I could afford to feed my son was Rice-A-Roni. Every. Single. Night.
But there were also a lot of good times, and funny stories, too, like the time he rushed to me and said, “Dad, you can’t eat me” after he overheard a friend and me joking about munching on our children at one of the whispering benches in Philly’s Fairmount Park.
I cherish those moments, and hold onto them tightly. Memories, along with the urn of his ashes in my bedroom and his car in my driveway, are all I have left.
Last June, William, my other half, died.
And so did a piece of me.
As William got older, the void of his mother’s absence grew with him.
Over the years, I tried contacting her several times. Each time, nothing.
Because I worked with an airline, I could take flights for $20 deducted from my salary. On my days off, I’d grab my boy and we’d fly to Texas to look for her. Still, nothing.
About the third or fourth time, while we stood in a terminal at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, he said to me: “Mommy. Where’s mommy?”
I broke down, and we went back home.
The elementary and high school years passed by, and William rarely talked about his mom — although a friend of his was convinced he needed closure. After graduating college, he took a job as the information technology director of an informatics company I started in California.
He was a computer maestro, a skill that eventually helped him find his mother. He discovered she lived in Colorado, where she had gotten married and had other children. He went to meet her, and they developed a relationship.
She and I even spoke again. I told her I didn’t harbor any ill feelings toward her; the past was the past.
William’s mother was in his life, and he seemed to be content. He even invited her to his wedding.
He didn’t resent his mother for walking away. That’s the kind of person he was — positive, shunning negativity wherever possible. But he wasn’t immune to struggle.
A tough battle
William and his wife had a child, my granddaughter Morgan. They later divorced.
He decided to move to Colorado to live with his mom for a bit. Here’s what I didn’t know: Alcoholism ran in her family. My son would be no exception.
He started drinking. A lot.
One night, I got a call that William had gotten into a fight with his mother and her husband. She threw him out of the house, and I learned he was living on the streets. I jumped on a plane, flew to Colorado and found my son.
I brought him back with me to Florida, where I had relocated, and got him a job at a computer company in West Palm Beach.
He started attending Alcoholics Anonymous, and I’d go to meetings for parents of alcoholics.
He, his brother — my youngest son, Lance — and I would meet at a sushi restaurant every so often. We’d crack jokes and laugh. William soon moved into an apartment with a friend so he could be closer to work.
Things got better. He got better. I assumed he was doing well.
Then, in June 2015, I got the phone call.
Too much to bear
The police told me my son was dead. I drove to his apartment in West Palm Beach. It was coated in blood — in his bedroom, on his bed where he had fallen.
The coroner determined that he fell victim to his own addiction to alcohol.
Standing inside his apartment was too much to bear, as was the sight of my son’s body sliding into the cremation oven. Once they brought me his ashes, I put the urn in the passenger’s seat of my car.
It was a two-and-a-half hour drive back home, and I took it alone — just me and my son’s remains. People told me I was going crazy. Why?
The whole ride back, I talked to William. Although he was in an urn, I could swear he talked back to me.
A lot has happened since William died — a lot of it, not good.
I met some of his friends, who introduced me to his girlfriend. I learned they used to all go out and drink, and I asked why they would offer liquor to an alcoholic.
I still haven’t gotten an answer.
Amid the bustle of obtaining his death certificate, closing out his accounts and arranging his cremation, I sank into depression. I blamed myself. Maybe he was going through something and I didn’t catch on, I thought.
Friends told me not to think that way. William was an adult, they said, and I had done all I could do.
Nevertheless, outliving your child is a terrible thing.
My son was magnificent; he was my other side. He was funny and I was funny. He loved to laugh, and so do I. He loved his brother Lance so much; they’d talk on the phone for hours.
When he was little, I’d take him to work with me and leave him in the car, checking on him every 10 to 15 minutes. But he’d be sound asleep. Or, he’d be looking straight at me because he knew it was time to eat. That went on for awhile until a coworker’s sister volunteered to be his babysitter.
If I had a girlfriend, I’d keep her away from him. William wanted a mother figure, and I didn’t want to hook up with somebody who wouldn’t be one.
He and I fished together. We’d play hide-and-seek at Fairmount Park. When friends came over, he’d just jump on the floor in front of them and laugh. We’d have “espresso dinners” on first-class flights to Puerto Rico. He was a fun guy.
We were like one. We made it together. Just us. And I miss him.
A couple of days before William died, we were on the phone. We must’ve talked for two hours.
He wanted to get another apartment. He said, “Dad, why don’t you come and live with me and we’ll start out like we did years and years ago?”
I said, “OK, let’s do that.”
We would never get the chance.