OUR 17-YEAR-OLD SON, Sam, is slouching in a chair at his desk, reading instructions from the college that he will head to in two days for a five-week program.

He's preparing.

I'm fretting.

"Books. Clothes. Not just T-shirts. Nice pants. Button-down shirts. You'll have lots of stuff," I say. "You'll probably need two suitcases."

"You've got a beef," Sam says over his shoulder.

"What?" I reply.

"You've got a beef," he repeats.

"I've got a beef?"

"You've got a beef," he says, looking up from his reading and turning his focus on me. "You've got a beef with traveling light."

I feel as if someone has just taken an ax to my knees. I'm weak. Wobbly. A father cut to the quick by his son. It's a Greek tragedy moment.

"I don't have a beef," I say.

"You didn't used to," he says. "You used to travel light. Not anymore. Now you overpack."

"Sam, you're going to need all that stuff."

"Dad, you underestimate me."

"What are you talking about? I'm talking about packing."

"I can get everything into one suitcase."

"One giant suitcase, maybe."

"Dad," he says. His tone is at once sympathetic and scolding. "I don't know what happened. You used to make a big deal about traveling light. Now?"

He shrugs and turns his attention back to reading his instructions.