What do my 21-year-old son Zach and Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. have in common?
Not much, except both were featured in two columns last month that generated a lot of reader response.
The first concerned Zach’s hiking misadventure in Iceland in June. In Reykjavik, he met a backpacking companion and they hit the trails together. Once they got to hiking, the other guy claimed to be a fascist. He later menaced Zach with a knife in a campground far from the city.
In the middle of the night, Zach sent my wife, Donna, our daughter Anna and me texts asking us to call police in Iceland. Anna called our house to wake us. Eventually, I spoke to Icelandic police through a friend who had an international calling plan.
Police later arrested the guy with the knife, who I called “Norman” (not his real name) in the Sept. 3 column.
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“Thank you for your excellent story about your son’s harrowing hiking trip in Iceland. It should send a clear message to the adventurous, trusting, and naive young people in our area,” wrote Bob Ewers of Roanoke.
“Unfortunately, many of them won’t see it because they don’t read the newspaper (they already know everything). I’m happy that your son is okay, and I hope the authorities take appropriate steps in dealing with ‘Norman,’ who sounds like a dangerous, borderline sociopath.”
Turns out, Ewers is not unfamiliar with Iceland.
“Back in the [1950s] I spent fourteen months on an Air Force radar station high on a mountain in the northwest tip of Iceland, and I can tell you firsthand that the weather/environment in that neck of the woods can turn dangerously hostile in a heartbeat. Anybody considering hiking on ‘The Rock’ should do so only on the south end, preferably in the Reykjavik area,” Ewers added.
Rob Neukirch of Floyd could identify with me regarding Zach’s misadventure far from home. His son Cooper, 19, left home in July to attend the Music Institute of Los Angeles.
Though that’s not in the wilderness, “[i]t’s smack in the middle of Hollywood craziness,” Neukirch wrote. “I flew out there with him in July to get him all set up but the first couple of weeks were touch and go.
“It’s never ‘over’ once you have children,” Neukirch added. “My heart goes out to you and Donna.”
Mary Linn of Roanoke agreed. “Parenting is not for wimps!” she wrote.
“Wow! I am so glad that your son is safe and hopefully he will have a story to share with his kids and grandkids one day,” wrote Lee Lewis. “Iceland is known as a party country but we never know what or who we will run [into] while abroad. It seems that you and Mrs. Casey have raised some fine children and [Anna and Zach] obviously love each other very much.”
Among those who responded were Chris Gregory, a local firearms instructor. He mentioned the May arrest of a hiker in Wythe County who has been charged in two Appalachian Trail machete attacks, one of them fatal.
“First off, let me say how glad I am that your son’s harrowing encounter on the trail didn’t have an unhappy ending,” Gregory wrote. “If he had been in the U.S. he would have had the option of self protection in the form of a handgun. . . With the recent AT attacks I can see that becoming more popular.”
Regarding Falwell, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek “defense” of him based on an article in the online magazine Politico. Among other things, it dished a bunch of gossip suggesting that around Liberty University, Jerry Jr. bragged about his and his wife’s sex life. The Politico article also said Jerry had texted others a photo of Becki Falwell in a sexy maid’s outfit.
The Sept. 14 column sarcastically explained why all that salacious stuff was highly unlikely.
Many readers such as Nancy Trussell of Roanoke caught the humor. But not everyone did. She told me this story:
“I went to church today and sat next to a darling older friend. I brought up your column in the course of conversation as I always do when I’m supposed to be praying silently. He’d read it also. He said ‘I’m not sure if it was serious or not.’
“I ASSURED him it was 100% serious — that of COURSE you support Jerry as he is a man of God, just like we are! Thank you for writing and for making each and every day that you write a good one for me.”
Another reader who didn’t catch the sarcasm was David Dax of Lexington.
“I almost always enjoy reading your Sunday column,” he wrote. “But last Sunday’s caught me off-guard. While Politico’s article about Jerry Falwell might not have been as complete as you would have liked, I think that the article was long overdue, given Falwell’s fawning over Trump and basically betraying every Christian principle that he claims to espouse.”
But David Odell wrote: “This liberal in San Diego finds this the funniest piece on my Sunday morning list of newspapers I read.”
Joe Merola of Blacksburg got the joke, too. “Kudos to your ‘defense’ of Falwell,” he wrote. In a postscript, Merola added that he doubts Jerry Jr. will answer my calls in the future, “if he reads past the headline.”
On that count, Merola was wrong.
The night of Sept. 14, Jerry and Becki Falwell called me — no kidding. I was dozing on my couch at 8:36 p.m. when my smartphone buzzed. It identified the caller as”Jerry Falwell Jr.” — his cell number indeed is in my phone. The call lasted 4 minutes, 47 seconds.
Jerry laughed as he told me they thought the column was hysterical. In the background, Becki Falwell shouted, “Hi Dan!” Riffing off the column, Jerry then joked about their sex life. I swear I’m not making this up.
That left me with two ideas. First, perhaps the Politico article was accurate. Second, whatever you think about Jerry Falwell Jr., don’t believe for a minute he has no sense of humor.
Thank you, readers, for all the emails, phone calls, texts and letters. Keep them coming!