Pride Mingled With Grief as a Father’s Son Leaves for College

I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be this hard. But this is the way it should be. This is what I have worked for since my son was born.

I knew it would be hard. But I didn’t know it would be this hard.

This is the phrase I uttered to numerous people over the past year. A year ago. That is when the reality of my only son leaving for college sunk in. He was beginning his senior year of high school. This was going to be a big year. So many things will happen.

We will undergo the college application and selection process. He will spend a final year with his friends. He will wrap up his soccer career. He will go to the prom. And he will graduate. We will have summer together. We will have vacation together. Then he is gone. He is off to college to begin a new and marvelous chapter in his life. But we will also say goodbye.

The year flew by quickly–just like his previous 17 years. How could it be going by so quickly? Before long, soccer season was over, the holidays came and went and spring was here. The college choice was in and it was five states away. The months before he leaves turn into weeks, which turn into days. And while the entire year has been an emotional process, and as much as I feel I have processed the event accordingly, I feel vastly unprepared emotionally to undertake the actual departure.

He has to report to school a week early as he is trying out for the soccer team. We decide that I will come out the next week to help him move in and get settled in his dorm. So this means he is embarking on this adventure alone. What do you say to your child as he leaves?

In the months and weeks leading up to his leaving, I tried to communicate paternal guidance and bestow “wisdom” upon him. And again the night before, I attempted to communicate my feelings, although it sounded more like a summary briefing hitting the bullet points. So as it turns out, I had surprising little to say.

As we embraced goodbye at the airport, I teared up as hard as I was trying not to and was unable to say anything. No words of wisdom. No great insight. Nothing.

All I could do was embrace him. My son, being stronger than I, filled in the gap and simply said, “I’ll see you next week.” That was his way of saying this is not the end. And everything else was either already said or understood.

As I stood watching him go through airport security—watching my young man enter the gates of adulthood, I couldn’t help but feel so proud of him. So proud of the magnificent person he had become. So impressed by the stoic nature by which he is handling this event. So proud at how well adjusted he is. So proud of, simply, his essence.

It feels like I am the child and he is the adult. I am in chaos on the inside and he is the strong one. I am the quivering 5 year old heading to kindergarten and he is the supportive, reassuring parent.

He gets through security and gathers his belongings. We wave one last time as he unceremoniously fades into the crowd. I try to leave, but I can’t. I try to get a glimpse of him again, but he is gone. I want time to stop, but it doesn’t. I want time to rewind, but it won’t. The crowd keeps moving. I don’t. He is gone.

I remain perfectly still—a numb statue in a bustling square. As numb as I am right now, I would not trade places with any person on the face of the earth. Because no one else is my son’s father. I am the only person ever to have lived who was given that marvelous gift. What a marvelous gift indeed.

I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be this hard. But this is the way it should be. This is what I have worked for so hard since I first saw the crown of his head the day he was born. I remember it like it was yesterday. My life forever changed that day for I was blessed with a higher purpose.

Now I know why I am the quivering child and he is the stoic adult.

But it is so hard to watch that purpose walk away.

It feels like not only did I just watch my 18 year old son walk away, but I watched my baby boy walk away. I watched the happy, cuddly toddler walk away. I watched the silly 8 year old walk away. I watched the broody teenager walk away. And I am saying goodbye to all of those sons. I am saying goodbye to his childhood.

Now I know why I am the quivering child and he is the stoic adult. Although this is an ending for him, it is also a magnificent beginning. For me, it just feels like an ending. I will see him next week. I will see him on breaks. I will see him during summers. I will see him after college. But this day is indeed an ending. For each beginning has an ending.

As I come down the street to our home, the first thing I notice is his beat up car in the driveway. My mind immediately sends out good feelings as it has been conditioned to when I see his car. But that conditioning is no longer valid. I feel my mind quickly retraining itself. The new condition will be sadness—at least for now.

As I enter the quiet house, it has never felt more solemn. His empty Dr. Pepper can from the night before sits loudly on the coffee table. His half eaten bag of beef jerky brings comfort yet a heaviness to me. I want to clean it up to erase the heaviness. I want to leave it to keep the comfort. I leave it.

I get enough courage to enter his bedroom. I again see every age of him. I remember each soccer tournament as I look at his medals and trophies. I remember each vacation as I look at his various souvenirs. I remember the smiles, the laughter, the expressions, the closeness. Oh, the closeness. I have never felt so close to him, yet I have never felt farther away.

I knew this was going to be hard. But I didn’t know it was going to be this hard. I look at his unmade bed, close my eyes, and see him peacefully sleeping. My eyes open and he is gone. He is gone. But he is happy. And that is all that really matters. I can handle all of this. I can find my beginning. I can handle anything—as long as he is happy. Be happy, my son.

Be happy in your beginning.