A father searches for words to sum up 17 years of parenting
By Randy Wedin
The ponderosa pines, sugar maples, and ginkgoes, even a monkey-puzzle tree, stand like silent and wise elders, ringing the edges of a spacious commons, where long blades of grass bow slightly under the weight of a heavy morning dew. The light is no longer soft and coppery like it had been at dawn, but not yet direct and unforgiving like the steely sun of high noon. At 7:45 a.m., the light flows through the branches of the trees like molten gold.
Elsewhere by this time of day, coffee shops, subway stations, and office buildings are buzzing with activity. In one of those settings, I’d feel the need to forge ahead with vigor, purpose, and clear direction. Where I stand this morning, however, it is serene.
I’m on a college campus, and it is the week before classes are to begin. The freshmen, including Erik, my elder child, have just spent the first night in their dorm rooms and are still sleeping, assuming they’ve gone to sleep at all. None of the other parents has yet arrived for the full day of orientation sessions starting at 9 a.m. At the end of this day, I’ll say goodbye to my son, and head home to a nest that is 25 percent emptier. I woke before dawn in my stuffy hotel room and felt drawn to the campus. This is a big day for me, and I don’t want to miss a minute of it.
Until this moment, my parental experience of the high-school-to-college transition has been one of action and anxiety, excitement, and frustration. The final year of high school rushed by like a high-speed bullet train. It began with the college application process, including SAT exams, essays, college visits, and looming deadlines, and ended with two hectic months filled with the big decision about which college to attend, awards ceremonies, graduation, and senior parties. Summer provided no respite. There have been endless forms to fill out, supplies to purchase, financial/medical/travel arrangements to make. With all this activity, I haven’t really taken the time to listen to my heart. Or rather, my heart has not yet spoken loudly enough for me to hear above the rush of the train.
It’s not that I haven’t tried to discern my feelings. I’ve read the book recommended by the dean of students. I’ve studied the orientation materials from the college and spent time perusing the college website. I’ve discussed the transition process with neighbors whose children are several years older. My family and friends have asked me repeatedly how I feel about Erik going away to college. I’ve tried journaling about my feelings and writing a letter to give to my son. I’ve even examined fragments of dreams for insights. While all these experiences have helped prepare me for this process, it still hasn’t hit me. Maybe I’m not really the soulful, sensitive, compassionate father I pretend to be.