Well, it’s done. I dropped my firstborn son off at college. In another town. In another state. 1500 miles away from “home.” And it didn’t go anything like I’d imagined.
My wife and I flew down to Phoenix with him a week before classes started so we could get him settled into his dorm and then review all of the sound advice we’d bestowed on him over the past 18 years (“Use the crosswalk!”, “Brush your teeth!”, “Refrigerate dairy items!”). It went splendidly. We talked and laughed and reminisced and ate a lot of delicious Mexican food. Then, WAY before my wife and I were ready for it to happen, it was time to go.
As we were walking back from his dorm room for the last time, another student stopped and asked if we knew where she could catch the shuttle to a school-sponsored shopping event. She looked lost and a little scared, and my heart sank. Here was someone’s child, alone for the first time in an unfamiliar city, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, with no friends around to call for help. My son smiled and chatted with her for a minute, then pulled out his phone and called his new roommate, who was going to the same event. He then gave her directions and told her to have a great night. And when she smiled and walked away, something changed.
In my mind, the last goodbye was going to be rough. Lots of tears and hugging and heartfelt expressions of love. I’d already witnessed it several times that day — moms and dads and sons and daughters immersed in the inevitable Grand Farewell — and I knew my time was coming. I was going to be the brave one, though, for my son. He’d need me to be strong and show him that I believed in him and that everything was going to be okay. I’d put on my game face, give him a manly hug, and keep my emotions in-check as he stood and waved goodbye to us in the review mirror. Then he’d turn and walk back to his dorm room by himself — my child, alone for the first time in an unfamiliar city, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, with no friends around to call for help. It was definitely going to suck.
But as my son put away his phone, I realized that my fears were unfounded and that I didn’t need to pretend to be brave or strong just to show him things would eventually be okay. They already were. My son already had friends that he could call for help and he had plans to spend the evening with another group of kids that he’d met earlier in the week. He knew where he was going and who he would see when he got there. He was excited and happy and confident about his future.
And suddenly, so was I.
So my wife and I gave him a big hug, told him that we loved him, and literally watched him walk away into the sunset. There was no need to fight back any tears. Beginnings simply don’t get any better than that.
Originally posted on Medium.