Becoming The Parent Of A College Student
A trip to Iowa City takes approximately 50 minutes from our house. The drive home from dropping Kyle off at college felt like an entire day. The emotions were raw. We were drained. It’s a day, we had dreaded for a year. Try as we might, we couldn’t make time stand still. My relationship with my son changed that day. He is now learning to be independent. I don’t see him every day. I can’t call upstairs and ask if he wants to grab lunch. I’m not physically present in his life on a daily basis. It’s his right to leave, go to college and begin the next chapter of his life. It’s my job to support him. I do support him. He’s intelligent, responsible, compassionate and funny. I hit the jackpot in the dad department. I couldn’t be more proud to call him my son. My heart is bursting with pride. At the same time, it feels like there’s a huge hole in it. Kyle taught me to be a dad. He paved the way for his younger sister and brother. He endured my mistakes, survived my inexperience and somehow loved me anyway.
The drive to Iowa City was challenging enough. For those of you who listen to country music, my son likes a radio station that plays country songs from the early 2000’s. So, midway through the trip, he changed the station. The first song that came on? Brad Paisley’s Anything Like Me. If you haven’t heard it, I’m including the music video below.
I’m not gonna lie. I was fighting back tears, trying to control the urge to turn the vehicle back around and head home. Then I think, maybe I should just pull over to the side of the interstate and discuss this college thing. Maybe he needs a year off to stay home and work. Thankfully, the song ended before I made any rash decisions. The very next song? Don’t Blink by Kenny Chesney.
I couldn’t help it. Before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “Okay, God! Give me a break!” I looked over to see Kyle smiling. He knew it was tough on me. Maybe, he was smiling because he needed some reassurance that I really was going to miss him. Or, maybe he just wanted to get some enjoyment out of tormenting me. I didn’t ask. I’d rather just assume it was the first option. Things were fine when we got there. There is much chaos when thousands of freshmen are moving in on the same day. He officially met his roommate. They had been connecting through social media but this was the first face-to-face encounter. Seems like a nice guy. That’s a good start. We unpacked his three cartloads of dorm supplies, helped him make his bed, stalled as much as we could and finally said goodbye. We boarded a bus to take us back to our car. Karen began tearing up almost immediately. I made it until the interstate. I couldn’t hold in the emotion any longer. I was going home and a huge part of my heart was staying behind. In the months leading up to Kyle leaving, I found myself struggling and I kept apologizing. I don’t apologize anymore. I’m not sorry. I’m grateful. I’ve experienced a love and sense of pride that is so deep, it affected me. A dad has that right.
I saw Kyle nine days after he left for college. I went to Iowa City to blog about the Iowa Native Fund. I attended the star-studded concert that raised money for the fund. I was on the floor near the stage. I knew my son was in the crowd, on the other side of Kinnick stadium. I couldn’t see him. The concert was fantastic, but my mind kept wandering. Where is he? I’m sure he’s having fun. Oh, I know Kyle is singing along to this song. Finally, at 11:15pm the concert ended. I made my way across the stadium. I was looking up in the upper deck for him. I heard a voice. “Hey!” There he was, standing two rows away from me. He had made his way down to find me. We hugged. We laughed. We talked for about 10 minutes. He said his goodbyes and left to go back to his dorm with his friend. As he walked away, I remembered the words of my older brother. I told him when Kyle was a baby, I really didn’t want that stage to end. Becoming a father was an incredible experience. He said, “Mike, enjoy the moments. Every stage of his life will be your favorite stage.” A few years later, we were packing up to leave from a visit to Oklahoma. I knew my mom didn’t want to say goodbye to her grandchildren. I told Bill that I hated to say goodbye. My wise older brother said, “Don’t ever regret saying goodbye. That means we got the chance to say hello.” He was right. Every stage has been my favorite stage. Saying goodbye is never easy, but saying hello always makes it worth it.