On Being a Dad and Facing an Empty Nest

There is a memorable story told about my late fiancée and her son that goes like this:

Garth was in his 20s and headed out for a night on the town.

He was primping himself in front of a mirror.

His mother, (my late fiancée), Carla said something to him and he cracked wise or sarcastic.

She came up behind him and smacked him in the back of the head — even though he had about five inches on her.

Garth wheeled around and angrily asked: “Whatdidja do that for?!”

Her reply?

“You will never be too old or too big that I’m not your mother!”

It remains a memorable story because it speaks to Carla’s spirit (let’s just say she did not take guff from anyone) but it also embodies an important lesson I am learning as a dad who will soon face an empty nest.

Our younger son is a high school senior and will be in college by the late summer.

He has his own car, a wide circle of friends and is active in numerous extracurricular activities.

Translation: My wife and I don’t see too much of him. When we do, we try to make the most of the time together.

Our older son graduated from college in the spring, landed a job 10 days before graduation and has been on his own and out of state since last July.

The days of us having to hand-hold or ferry “the boys” around to different school events or social engagements are over.

And in many ways, at least right now, I miss that.

As a dad, being there for them and being the one who looked out for them day-to-day was my raison d’être.

The core missions of looking out for the lads’ well-being, care, feeding and upbringing defined my role as a parent for two decades.

Now, suddenly — poof!

It feels as if I am wearing a pair of those “beer goggles” they give kids in driver’s education to mimic the feel of drunken driving: My view of reality has been twisted and distorted.

So it came as something of a relief (and a sense of still being needed) when No. 1 son recently called and emailed about a low-level emergency after being locked out of his first apartment.

Much to his credit, he was collected and clear-headed and was merely looking for some advice about navigating the situation with his landlord. (It turned out that the lock was installed incorrectly and malfunctioned.)

I recall once when I was standing on line at a supermarket with the boys when they were about 12 and 7.

A veteran parent ahead of me struck up a conversation.

I recall well what she said: “The older kids get, the more complicated and more expensive the problems become.”

Yes, that is certainly true.

But what I’m also learning is that they’ll never get too old or too big that I’ll ever stop being their dad.

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