It’s a kind of magical-but-scary, happy-but-sad time — my son, Ulysses, is about to graduate from high school.
When I first met him 18 years ago, I knew this day would come, but somewhere among the 55,000 diaper changes, tantrums and all-nighters sometimes it felt like this day couldn’t come soon enough. But now it definitely came too fast.
We all say that don’t we? It’s hard to think about letting the most important people in the world to you leave.
Change is hard, especially change that could mean you’ll never live in the same city again. I think about Ulysses going off to college and, of course, my first prayer is “Please God, don’t let him act like I did.” The world doesn’t need another highlight reel of dumbass behavior.
But I also recognize he’s much more mature, motivated and directed than I was at a similar age. He’s a state champion javelin thrower because he worked hard to achieve that, and will continue flinging metal spears ridiculously far distances in college. The lack of idle time and necessary focus should at least cut down some on the level of college frivolity that may have contributed to my own poor grades.
My worries are probably much more a reflection of who I was at 18 than who he is right now. I couldn’t be more proud of the young man Ulysses has become. Knocking on wood as I write this, he’s really given me remarkably little trouble as a teen. Most of our time together is spent laughing and talking about life or sports.
My father and I have always done much the same, so I’m glad Ulysses and I have been able to replicate that kind of relationship. Truth be told, we even talk about things now I wasn’t comfortable talking with either of my parents about until much later in life. Sometimes I just have to say, “TMI, Son. I’m not sure I need to know that.” But I’m glad he feels comfortable enough to share with me.
Even though it happened a million years ago, I do remember going “off” to college. For me, it was a 45-minute ride from my home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to Spring Hill College, but I was still homesick. I’m not sure how I had time to be homesick since I had to come home and work in the family bowling alley every Friday night and Sunday, but the transition still wasn’t as easy as I’d expected.
I suspect Ulysses will experience a little of that as well, although the magic of modern technology makes it much easier for us to be in constant contact than it was back in “my day” when we were all worried about “running up the long-distance bill.” What a strange concept to consider now. Knowing I can text anytime is comforting as well. (The longer it takes for my texts to be returned will probably serve as a great indicator of how well he’s integrating into college life.)
Watching a child prepare to leave the nest brings so many emotions it’s hard to express. I find myself simultaneously proud of raising such great people and also kicking myself for not being a better dad. I should have taken them fishing more often, or not given up on coaching after the 0-14 baseball season. I truly admire those dads who get out there and coach year after year; they’ll never have those regrets. But maybe they’ll have others. It seems natural at this time to assess and maybe feel a bit like you let too much time slip away.
My own successes in life are a direct result of the support my parents provided and the knowledge it was OK for me to jump because I had a safety net of people who loved me. I hope as he leaves for college, Ulysses feels that way as well.
I also find myself wanting to impart some college life lessons I picked up along the way. Wisdom isn’t really worth much if it’s not shared. Here are some things to remember, Son:
- If you go to class and actually pay attention, you’ll find getting good grades is much easier than trying to cram everything you didn’t do into the last week of the semester.
- Having a roommate can be extremely challenging, especially if you’re on different sleep schedules or he doesn’t think it’s funny to superglue everything to his desk.
- If you ever find yourself uttering the phrase, “Hold my beer and watch this!” stop right there and reassess the situation. If any of the following could be your next location — dean’s office, hospital, jail, morgue — please reconsider what you’re about to do.
- A good time with friends can quickly turn tragic if people are drunk. Keep your head.
- If you’re at a party and wonder if someone is about to call the police, they already have. Leave through the back door that second.
- Uber is your friend. Use it.
- Keep an open mind about what you might want to do in life. Often what 18-year-old people think they’d like to do nearly every day for the rest of their lives isn’t at all what they end up doing. If you’re interested in something, give it a look. Life is much more pleasant when you’re doing something you love and not just working for a paycheck.
- Don’t put anything online that’s going to get you canceled or wind up being the subject of a news story. Colleges these days, while highly tolerant of some behaviors, are extraordinarily intolerant of others. I’m sorry you’re having to go to college in an era when everything is posted to the web, but you are. Keep that in mind.
- Always remember that no matter what happens, whether you’re an amazing success or fall flat on your face, you are loved and supported. We’re always here for you no matter what. Even if we let the dog have your room once you move out, we love you. Don’t ever forget that.
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