As we approach the time of your high school graduation, my mind keeps drifting back to the first time I dropped you off at daycare. You were only 6 weeks old and had the biggest, brightest, and most watchful eyes I’d ever seen on a baby. You never smiled, and you seldom blinked. You just took everything in.
I so clearly recall a feeling of foreboding that morning; I knew intuitively that this would be only the first of many departures.
After I kissed you goodbye and left the building adjacent to the hospital where you were born, I sat in my car in the parking lot and wept.
Little could I have understood how quickly the intervening 18 years would pass. I was 34 then, and the space between then and now would have been more than half my life span. In hindsight, though, my time with you seems like a flash, the hours never long enough.
And as we draw closer to this coming departure, when you are likely to leave home for the last time as a full-time resident (though of course this house and wherever your mother and I reside will always be your home), the remaining time with you only seems to accelerate, taking on an added sense of urgency.
There is so much I want to say to you, so much that I feel and don’t know how to explain. How can you explain what it’s like to lose a central part of your being, while at the same time knowing that this part of what was once yours or seemed so (a friend astutely observed that we only rent our children) is heading off to a new and totally separate life?
When I look sad and pensive in the coming months, know that this is among the hardest things I’ve ever had to face. The only parallel on which I can draw is the death of my grandparents. While this is not a death, it is a passing, with enormous and transcendent implications for all of us, changes that, as they are new to us both, we can only understand as we experience them. That it feels so voluntary adds a special element of pain, a potential for regret (if only we held you back a year in pre-school!).
Of course, there were other rites of passage leading up to this, from your bris to your bar mitzvah, designed to help your mother and me prepare for this time, but nothing could really prepare us for this profound loss. The idea that you will not be coming home from school like you have each day for 14 years, that you will not be there when we return from work to see, to feel, to hug, to talk with, is incredibly hard to fathom.
My only solace in all this is knowing you are well-prepared for whatever you choose in the next steps of your life, with the tools and inner strength you need to be successful. I believe your mother and I played some meaningful part in this preparation, even if you were born with so many qualities essential to a good life. You have always had wisdom beyond your years, borne of natural curiosity, humility, and a graceful kindness toward others.
You and your brother have been the greatest blessing of our lives, easing whatever darkness we have faced. Watching you in close proximity keeps us optimistic about the world and its potential.
While your mother and I have made many mistakes and missteps along the way, I am hopeful that her forthrightness and rectitude and my irreverence and lassitude have sufficiently compensated for and counterbalanced one another to provide you overall with good role models. I have little doubt that you appreciate the importance of hard work and honesty, respect, and good listening skills in all your dealings. I hope you have little question of our unwavering and unconditional love for you. Only a love so strong, given freely, moves us to let you go, knowing that our loss of seeing you daily will be the world’s gain. In a strong sense, to the extent that we ever had anything to give, you are our gift to the world.
Of course, your freedom was never ours to give. But we can promise you these gifts: we will do everything in our limited power to balance the injustices you will face, and we will always provide thoughtful counsel whenever solicited (and sometimes when not). Mama and I will always be here for you, hopefully not as a crutch (though that will happen from time to time), but as devoted cheerleaders, abiding friends, counselors, and, of course, always as your parents, in the indescribably multi-faceted ways in which that word can be used.
You go out into the world unburdened by a large trust fund or the expectation you must follow in anyone’s footsteps. You will also not be weighed down by large debts when you graduate. What happens from the time you leave this home will be all you, a product of your innate desires, your curiosity and wonder, your passions, resourcefulness, and will power. The greatest adventure of your life awaits.
You will make many mistakes, and you will fail. It will seldom be easy to determine whether your failures are a result of your own efforts, bad luck, or injustice, but you must make every effort to understand this. Wisdom is little more than the insight required to avoid repeating the same mistakes, and an understanding of your own limitations and weaknesses is necessary to overcome them. To the extent you can learn from the errors of others, whether friends or colleagues or, best of all, from books, so much the better.
I believe you have a head start in this, both because you are humble and because from an early age you have struggled with a dysfunction that has made overcoming challenges a way of life throughout your schooling. Over time, the coping skills required to deal with this deficit will serve you well. It is possible they will be more important in the next stages of your journey than anything you learned in school.
It is also critical to understand that the obstacles you face will not only be external. Many of your failures will be self-inflicted, remnants of your childhood or adolescence, traumas you experienced with lingering effects. Everyone carries these ghosts with them; the sooner you understand what holds you back, the easier and happier your journey will be. It is especially important to gain these insights before making your most significant decisions, those involving a partner and children.
And so we come full circle. For me, it has been a great journey, full of twists and turns, failures and achievements. There are many things I wish I could take back or change, of course, but I have no regrets about the choices I have made that mattered most, and you and your brother go to the heart of that. I can only pray that one day I will reach the age of my father and be able to look back with you on your journey 30+ years from now, with you feeling as happy and fulfilled as I am today, with children of your own that have given you the joy you have given to your mother and me.
8 Things to Remember on the Lonely Road Back to Your Empty Nest