Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 15, 2013

Fred Goldenberg: 9/11 - a father's memories

Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — I was sitting in my barber’s chair, getting my hair cut, and watching the Today show on television.

The broadcasters stopped doing what they were doing and Katie Couric reported that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. They were going live to the New York City affiliate, with a helicopter on scene.

Within moments the second plane slammed into the South Tower and Katie said, “Oh my God, we’re under attack.”

September 11th was upon us. It was a day that changed our lives forever. It was the day when terrorism became a household word.

It was also the day when a father’s fears for his children became reality.

On Sept. 11, 2001, my son was on the staff of a U.S. congressman working in the Rayburn building on Capitol Hill. Shortly after the planes hit the Towers in New York, there were reports of a plane or planes headed to Washington D.C. Then the report came in of the plane hitting the Pentagon. One more was headed possibly towards the White House.

I called my son on my cell phone while still in the barber's chair. Miraculously, I got through.

He was still in his office and he said they had been told by security to stay put, but that the congressman had ordered them out of the building and to go home. I am forever grateful to his boss for insisting they leave. We all know what happened to the fourth plane which was brought down in Pennsylvania. Who knows where that one would have crashed had it made its way into Washington D.C.?

September 11th is one of those “where were you when..” days. For each of us it is seared into our memory, never to be forgotten, in so many different ways. To this day, I heave a sigh of relief that my son wasn’t harmed in anyway, and I grieve for the mothers and fathers whose children never made it home on the unforgettable day.

My story isn’t as heart wrenching or dramatic as those who suffered the loss of a loved one that tragic day twelve years ago. Still connected by cell phone, I vividly recall my son’s eyewitness account while crossing the 14th Street bridge headed to his apartment in Arlington: of the Pentagon burning and smoke so thick that he had trouble seeing as he drove. I also recall the fear in his voice as he, along with thousands, streamed out of the District fearing the unknown.

Since that fateful day twelve years ago, my son has married, altered his career path slightly, and moved to Chicago. He and his wife have given us the most beautiful granddaughter. Yet, as each anniversary of the attacks in New York and Washington roll around, I can’t help thinking back on the events of the day and wondering “what if?"

The lesson children never learn until they become parents themselves is they will always be your “kid” no matter how old they get. We never stop worrying about them and we’re always ready to kiss their “booboo” and make it better. You always hope the life lessons you gave them as they grew were solid enough to get them through the tough times and the ability to enjoy the moments when they succeed before moving on to the next phase of their lives.

Since September 11, 2001, thousands of parents have had to bury their children who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. A child should mourn a parent who dies of old age and lived a long productive life -- not the other way around. We in our little corner of the world have buried too many of our children, cried too many tears and hugged too many loved ones in utter despair. We honor the memory of those young brave men and women every day and assure those who loved them that they didn’t die in vain.

Without a doubt, we are war weary, but we are the United States of America and we will persevere. I, like many of you, want the wars to stop and bring our kids home for good. But as I’ve said before, freedom isn’t free, and vigilance is the only way to protect it.

On Tuesday Sept. 11th, I called my son, told him I was thinking of a call from twelve years ago, and that I loved him.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a pre and post retirement income specialist and certified health insurance advisor in Traverse City. If you have any questions or comments about this article or any other senior issue he can be reached at 231-922-1010 or