Well, the “much-too-quick, fun-filled summer” I referred to in an earlier blog post is over. My firstborn struck out for Raleigh this past Monday morning, heading down early to start his job as a videographer for the NC State Athletic Department. School doesn’t start for a couple of weeks, so it’s nice that he’ll beat the rush of students for move-in weekend.
However, I couldn’t beat the rush of emotions washing over me as I told him goodbye. My pent-up feelings about his—and my—changing home dynamic refused to be held at bay any longer as we reached the end of a chapter in our family story.
Parents of teenage boys know there are never any of those emotive arm-around-the-shoulder moments wherein mom or dad connects with their child. Most questions are met with one-word answers, and those are usually accompanied by body language which suggests your intelligence level must be pretty low to ask the question in the first place.
So, what happens—at least it did with me—is that a little disconnect occurs. Communication becomes more about logistics—what are your plans tonight; make sure you’re home by midnight; did you get your car inspected, etc.—than sharing any feelings (God forbid!) about what’s going on in their world.
Then, when you’re least ready for it, they toss you a bone. A comment or an overheard conversation with their friends; another parent tells you how polite and talkative they were when they saw them out somewhere. After the initial shock, you sock that away as feelgood proof that you’re doing okay as a parent; that your child may just become a contributing member of society.
This is what happened to me Monday morning. It was a single word at the end of a sentence: Dad.
I was leaving for work, and even though I don’t really hug my older two boys any more—we’re too “old” for that—I asked my son to give me a final hug before he left for college. As he stood up—taller than me—I reached around him and said, “I love you”—something else we don’t really do now that we’re all grownup. As he gave me a squeeze back, he said, “I love you too, Dad.” Not just the automatic reply, “I love you, too”, but, “I love you too, Dad.”
That single word and the meaning I gleaned from it—a heartfelt response meant singly for me—was all it took to unplug the flood of emotions I was holding back. And so, I cried. Like a baby. One day, we’ll laugh about how I lost it on that final day at home—I’m chuckling about it even as I write this—but for now, I’ll cherish the fact that we were able to express those emotions as the credits rolled on Firstborn Leaves For College.