Friday evening when I left the newsroom, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong, that I was leaving something behind, or that maybe this was one of those rare times in life when significant, life-altering events take place.
I’ve left a couple of jobs over the years, places I enjoyed working but left for family reasons, or for an opportunity to pursue a promotion. At those times I always felt a sense of excitement, of anticipation, but that was tempered somewhat with the idea I was leaving behind a piece of my life, people and places that had become important to me.
Friday I felt like that, without the excitement, just the feeling of impending loss, a bit of trepidation for what might be coming, the sense that change and uncertainty was in the air. Driving home it struck me why I felt that way.
Part of my life — a major part of who I have been the past 22 years — is ending.
As you read this I’ll be in Charlottesville, Va., saying good-bye to my 20-year-old daughter. We spent the weekend taking her to her new home at the University of Virginia. Yes, I know I wrote about this last week, and I do try to stay away from writing about my family in this column, but if you’ll indulge me one more time. Well, maybe two more, because I’m sure I’ll have something else along these lines to write about in a couple of weeks, when my 21-year-old (soon to be 22) is married.
I’m certain there are a goodly number of parents in our community who can identify with what I’m feeling, seeing your young ones take off on their own, especially at this time of year when college freshmen make their first sojourn away from home. For me, it’s doubly so, with both leaving so close together.
I suppose that’s the way it should be. These two girls have been together for their entire lives — they went to camp together, summer mission trips, even worked together at a local restaurant before moving on to work together at a local fast food establishment.
They’ve done triathlons together, swim team, 5Ks, played on the same basketball and soccer teams and attended community college together the past two years. Their interests did diverge a bit in high school, with Erica, the older one, continuing on in basketball (played on a two-time state championship team) while Mary Catherine, the younger one, stepped out of sports.
Like all parents, I’m going to worry. For Mary Catherine, I’ll always wonder if she’s eating right, if she’s taking care of herself, if she has enough money, if she’s working too hard, if she has anyone waiting up for her to ensure she arrives home safely, if she’s lonely and homesick, if her classes are going well, if she’s made friends (and the right kind). With Erica, the fact that she’s marrying a fine young man I’m proud to welcome into the family will alleviate some of my worry. I’ll still be concerned that she and her soon-to-be husband, Andrew, have enough money, that their cars are running okay, that the neighborhood they live in is safe, that they’ll find work, that she will still finish school, that they’ll make it back this way to live as they hope.
Believe me, those lists could go on and on, but I think you understand what I’m saying.
With the two of them moving out, it’s really hit me in the past couple of days that this truly is the ending of a major part of my life. I still have two boys at home — age 18 and soon-to-be 17, as well as a younger daughter, Allison, who is 12. The boys, despite their age, will probably be around a few more years, at least through community college. And my youngest girl may be at home another eight years or so if she follows the community college route, so it’s not as if we’re faced with a suddenly empty nest.
But the days of practical jokes between the kids (or by me on the kids), of talking with them every day, of watching them talk and hang out with and do things for one another as siblings and as close friends, of Jonathan (the oldest boy) trying to trade Mary Catherine for 15 cheeseburgers (or Julian, the youngest of the boys, offering to trade his brother for pizza), are coming to an end.
And I realized Friday, as happy and excited as I am for them and the opportunities they are about to experience, and as sad and worried as I am as a parent, that’s not all that’s bothering me.
I was 24 when Stephanie and I married, old enough to have been out on my own for a few years, but not old enough to really have figured out much in life. Three years later Erica was born, and for the 22 years since then virtually everything I’ve done — every job decision, every move to a new town (or turning down an opportunity to move), how I spend my evenings, how we spend our money, what I might give up so that they might have a little more, what church to attend or not to attend — everything has been based on the kids, on how that decision would affect them.
Sometimes those decisions were right, other times they turned out not to have been the wisest move. I have tried my best to be a good father to them, and sometimes I was a good dad, other times probably not so much, at least not as much as I would have liked.
But now the two oldest are going out on their own, and the next two aren’t all that far behind. Even if the boys stay around for a few years longer, the family dynamic will change now, and I can foresee the time when the kids will all be gone.
Despite the fact I’ll continue to wonder how they are doing, if they have enough, if they need help, the main purpose of my existence for virtually my entire adult life will change, and I’m not entirely sure exactly what that will mean.
I suppose in that regard my kids and I are similar, all of us facing change, stepping out into the unknown.
John Peters is the editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1931.