I figured since we are so used to seeing the results of this years Olympics come through before we actually get to see the event, I would prep you in the same way. Many of you are about ready to launch your first child into the world of higher education. If your anything like I was you’ve already had your share of tears, thoughts and reminiscing.
Launching Our Kids to College
Often I try to use this blog as a point of teaching or encouraging in the areas of being a dad. But, today it’s about putting our collective arms around each other and telling each other, “It’s going to be OK…it’s good, it’s right, but it’s still hard”. This is my spoiler alert…my story will probably be a lot of your story over the next few weeks. About 6 years ago we were going through my son’s room and getting him ready for the big day. The day that all parents (well, all if we’re really honest) dread. The day we say good-bye to our children so they can begin the flight toward adulthood. We know that this is good. It’s good and right for them to be taking the next step in their journey of becoming the men and women God created them to be. But, just because something is good and right doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or doesn’t come with a side dish of pain.
In May of 2006 our son, Bryan, graduated from high school. The tears had already started flowing out of me like sweat on a Little Rock summer afternoon, months before we would actually make the trip.
For his graduation party, I put together a video montage of his life in images to songs and every time I would work on that project I cried a little (and sometimes a lot). By summer’s start, I figured I had dispensed with every ounce of salty tears I had inside of my tear ducts. The summer progressed and we enjoyed it together as a family like we had for the past 17 summers (13 with all three of our children). However, I could feel that this one was different.
A Lot of “last times”
Without wanting to be too melodramatic (which is a tendency of mine), I was saying this to many things that would happen, “this could be the last time we get to do this or the last time it will be like this.” Their was an inevitability to this change in our lives that was all part of the maturing of a family but I didn’t like it. As the summer came to a close, the inevitability became reality. It was time to pack up our son and say “good-bye”. Now, I knew that it wasn’t really good-bye. I knew that he’d be coming back for holiday’s, a few more summer months and that we would see him. But, what my heart began to experience was heartache…loss. We packed Bryan’s belongings into our aging van with little room for the rest of us. Our destination was about 3 hours away and it felt like eternity for me. My mind takes a lot of rabbit trails (I can hear the heads nod of those who know me). And, I clearly remember that I was going back through the years of time with my son and all the things we had done together. 18 years packed into 3 hours.
We arrived on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, AR mid afternoon along with a lot of parents making the same trek with likely a similar story. Especially, if it was their first child they were sending off. I didn’t specifically look for the bloodshot eyes in other dads but my sunglasses covered mine. John Brown students who were part of the welcoming committee helped us bring up some of the items from the van to Bryan’s new “digs”, a very small dorm room in a quad setting (4 other 2 person rooms with a common living space and one bathroom to share).
Then the fun began. We helped him set up his new space; hanging clothes, unpacking desk and office supplies, finding a place for all of his stuff. Our daughters sat on the top bunk. You could see that it was having a similar effect on them. I’m grateful that our children have had (and still have) a great relationship with each other. Bryan was matter of fact about the move and his mother was busy making sure that the room would be fit for her son.
Then it came like a slap on the face. As much as we wanted to hang out as long as possible, we needed to head back home for the three hour trip. We hugged and kissed our son and told him how proud we were of him. We told him that we knew he would do great in school. That he would make some new friends and after a pretty bad high school experience (we had moved to Little Rock from Lakeville, MN right in the middle of his junior year), we assured him that this would be a great experience and John Brown would be a welcoming environment for him. He knew those things but seemed glad to hear them again.
Then, the first of heartbreaking moments occurred. I know that pictures speak 1000 words. But this picture couldn’t capture all the feeling and emotion it brought to me and my wife as we watched our children walk arm-in-arm to get one last time together before we left.
We said our final “good-byes” and got into the van. Bryan waved at us from the front of the dorm building and we waved back as we rolled away, slowly at first until we couldn’t see him around the corner any longer. I thought my tear ducts were dry and that I had already had my “tearful good-bye” back in May while I created the video and thought of our days together over the summer. But, no…my tear ducts were in fine working order and had somehow refilled with ammunition. And, they began to let go of their hold on my tears and the waterworks began.
We couldn’t have been more than 100 ft past the point of not seeing him in the mirror when my mind was flooded with sadness and reminding me that life would never be the same again. As we drove down I-40 back to Little Rock we shared, laughed and chattered. But, there would be moments where the gripping thought of that finality overtook my emotions again and tears would stream down my face. When we pulled into our garage some 3 hours later, we all jumped out of the van and into the house, all 4 of us. That would become the new normal for our family. Not 5 of us but 4. It was good. It was right. But it was hard.
The evening passed and my wife and daughters went off to bed. I stayed up. I’m often the last one to bed in our house, much to the chagrin of my wife (that’s a good DadPad teaching post). But, this night I just laid on our couch. I almost never went to bed when our kids were out. They were never much trouble so I didn’t worry about that. But, I just wanted to make sure they came home safely and that I knew it. I laid there and I began to feel anxious. I was not familiar with anxiety attacks but I think I was having one. Or, maybe it was just the feeling of a little piece of my heart breaking. Up to that point in my life I had been privileged to not have anyone close to me die, other than my grandmother. As hard as that was, she had lived a good life and I was able to process that easier for some reason. But this felt like loss. I knew we would see him again (God willing). I knew he would stay in his room upstairs for a few months of the year. It just wouldn’t ever be the same again.
Coming to Grips with “It Won’t Ever Be Like This Again”
That’s the feeling that overcame my mind as I laid on the couch that night. Bryan wasn’t going to be coming through that door. And, there was nothing I could do about it. It was good. It was right. But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through as a dad. I’m grateful that the loss wasn’t due to literally losing him. Though this was a loss, it wasn’t THE loss. But it was still difficult. So, dad, as you prepare to take your child to school, or move them into their first apartment outside of your home, go ahead and cry. Mourn the loss of your child at home. It’s OK. It’s healthy. It’s good. But, as you already know…it will be hard.