Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Fear Itself

While my wife and I sat in an audience of soon-to-be empty nesters, we conisdered our place. In that auditorium with dozens of other parents who were experiencing very similar feelings: fear, grief, sadness, excitement, joy. As we listened to any number of speakers and presentations about the challenges and opportunities that awaited our children. Our children. We watched a student-produced video about the dangers of binge drinking. Did I mention fear?
Suddenly, I was confronted with the realization that all that frightening reality was sitting out there, just waiting for our children to fall into it. Our chldren. Sure, most of us had experienced our own version of that loss of innocence, first on our own, then with our children. Our flesh and blood. The idea that there were horribly sad fates awaiting some of the kids that had made it so far was numbing. Hadn't we all just celebrated that moment of elation when our sons and daughters had come of age? Graduated from high school? Been accepted to a college? Wasn't this supposed to be our victory lap?
Alas, no. Binge drinking. Sex. Tuition. All of these possible paths and we were being asked to give advice and counsel, but not to try and control the inevitable bad choice or two. I thought of my own wayward youth. Not the one I raised, but the one I experienced. My own son has walked a pretty straight line since he started picking his own clothes, driving his own car, choosing his own friends. I did a decent job of coloring inside the lines. I was a good boy, but by the time I was eighteen, I was flouting convention. I was pushing the bounds of good behavior, and giving my parents fits. Not juvenile delinquent type fits, but I know there were some sleepless nights, way back then.
Now those sleepless nights are mine. I wonder what lies ahead for my son. I remembered what one professor, who also happened to be a parent of a student at the university my son will be attending, said about being a "helicopter parent." He amended that image with the updated "drone parent." Try as we might, we will never be able to keep an eye on every aspect of our children's ever-expanding universe. That's why we drove them down to college orentation: Not to be told how to cling more desperately, but to learn to let go. I thought about the fear that kept me from staying at the first college I attended. I realize I have the opportunity, thirty years later, to give my son the chance to feel that fear himself, and to overcome it. Bon Voyage.

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