This message is for all you “youngest kids in the family” out there.
I’d like to tell you what it feels like to us parents when you head off for college. When you leave our home. The subject’s fresh on my mind because last week I said good-bye to my youngest child after I drove him to his first year of college.
In many ways, I felt like I said good-bye to fatherhood.
Dramatic? Perhaps a tad. But today. Right now. That’s how it feels.
For over 25 years, being a dad is what has defined my every day. It’s who I am. It’s what I value most. It brings me joy — in spite of also taking me to places of fear, anxiety, and stress.
It surpasses the importance of work. And, in many ways, even my own health.
I am Dad first.
And while I can’t speak for all the moms out there, I have a hunch most of them feel the same way. Being a parent is what matters most.
Don’t get me wrong. During my 25 years of fathering, I’ve spent many a day wondering what I had gotten myself into. Raising a child — three in my case — is akin to my image of swimming with lead boots. It can be suffocating.
And sure, I’ve fantasized often as to how it would actually feel to live a life untethered from the fathering obligations I was never told about as a young man.
Financial freedom. Emotional freedom. And thousands of hours free from schlepping kids in the car.
But those feelings and fantasies are history since I’ve come to understand what fatherhood has given me.
Three unique relationships with humans who I not only love. But need.
It’s the funny, unexpected twist of parenting. You kids come into our lives. Helpless. Dependent. And along with that we are given a feeling of value and importance because we are needed.
And we like that feeling. You will, too, some day, if you decide to become a parent.
When my older two children left for college, there was certainly a void. But it was a void that I could somewhat ignore because I had the distraction of everyday parenting to keep my mind — and heart — occupied. There were still dinners to make. School events to attend. There was laundry and errands and sitting up late on Saturday night until everyone was home. Safe and sound.
Things I never would have dreamed would become such a significant part of my DNA. But that they have become.
And then you — the caboose — do the one thing that changes our lives forever. You grow up. And leave. You do exactly what you’re supposed to do. But in doing so, you make us stop and look at who we are.
Because there’s no one sitting in the wings to distract us.
So that’s why, in case you were wondering, we’re acting not quite like ourselves lately. Your older siblings certainly had important roles and responsibilities in our family.
But you — the baby — you’re the one left to give us the last good-bye. To you. And to the role we’ve loved for such a long time.
Don’t worry. We’ll all be fine. For sure. But I just thought you’d like to know why you’ve earned an extra badge in this parent-child relationship.
P.S. Don’t tell your siblings I told you this.