I was completely blind-sided. I thought I was prepared, but I was so very wrong. It was just going to be another step like any of the infinite others that define parenting and the relationship between a parent and a child. A father and a son. I’m so naive. A few weeks ago and like a million other parents, we dropped our son off for his first year of college. Moving in was stressful. Loads to do and everything so new to all of us. When the cars were unloaded and the new roommates met, we all gathered for the usual orientation stuff. Parents and their sons and daughters listening to the college president talk about their choices and the next four years. Then he said it . . . “it’s time to say good bye.” What? But . . . but . . . but, the schedule says that’s not for a couple of hours. Then it all came down on me like a ton of bricks. Nineteen years of hand-holding, watching his every step, waiting up for him at night, worrying if he was happy, was he going to make the team, was he working hard enough, how was he getting along with his girlfriend . . . it all flooded in. Tears welled up and, when I hugged him, I completely lost it. I told him I loved him, would miss him and how proud I am of him. I bawled. And then he walked away.
As it turns out, he is completely ready. It’s me who isn’t. I was worried about how he would take it and how my wife would deal with it all, but it’s me who came apart at the seams. I’m already missing him desperately. I feel lonely and incredibly sad without him. Stuff around the house reminds me of him or of something we did together. I know this seems silly. After all, I saw him just a few weeks ago and I’ve certainly been away from him many times in his life, even for prolonged periods of time. But this is different. My son has been my friend, my cohort, my sharer of common interests for so many years I can’t remember it any other way. I’m just not ready for this change. A permanent change.
Of course, he’s still my son and he and I will spend loads of time together in the future. I’m even looking forward to our relationship maturing and being taken to a new level. Man-to-man, adult-to-adult, responsible individual to, well, you get the idea. But I’m already missing what we have had. The spontaneous discussions of why one football player is better than another, how a single crease in the bodywork of a car defines the entire design or what the impact of the latest technology release will be. I’ll miss our Sundays sitting in the stands at Gillette Stadium watching the Patriots and in a funny way, I’ll even miss only sleeping lightly until I hear his car pull up the driveway late on Saturday nights (well, early Sunday mornings, anyway). And who am I going to watch Bond movies with?
Some of my angst surely comes from the fact that I want to make the diving catch to rescue him when he’s in a stressful or difficult situation. I know that I’ve been an overly protective parent at times, but it was really obvious as I left him at school. How is my 19 year old son going to do it all himself? Stupid question of course. He really hasn’t needed to be bailed out in ages.
I jokingly told my daughter (the younger of my two children) that I’m not going to let her go to college. I don’t think I can take this level of emotional upheaval twice in my life. But that’s still two years away. I’m going to go and start preparing myself now.
Taylor, if you’re reading this, which I’m sure you’re not, I love you. You are a terrific person and you will do great in college. Always know that your mom and I are here for you. But, while we’re not around, be safe and make smart decisions. Have fun and work hard. That’s the sum of everything I’ve ever wanted to teach you.