Fatherhood Adventures

I read a column recently that got me looking ahead to 18 years from now.

In his column in The Baltimore Sun on Aug. 26, columnist Dan Rodricks wrote a column my wife brought to my attention because it made her cry. Later in the day, I had a similar reaction to the piece, which dealt with the columnist taking his son on a long road trip to his first day of college. Six months ago, I would have skipped over this column in favor of a story about politics. Not now. Ever since our life was taken over by this special little boy, I have become a big, sensitive softie more in touch than ever with my emotions. I am not sure it’s a good thing.

Nonetheless, in his column, Rodricks wrote, “I find myself, now that he’s gone off to college, scratching around for every last blink of memory from when he was 11 and 12, 13 and 14. What I never wrote in this space – because it’s just not what I get paid to do – was how proud he made us and how much I admired his brawny work ethic, his leadership, his friendship with his sister, his choice of friends and loyalty to them, his manner with elders, his tenacity in ice hockey and lacrosse, his willingness to sing and dance on stage.”

It’s worth remembering my son is not even five months old yet, so I have a long way to go, but I empathize with what Rodricks had to say here. I particularly enjoyed how he ended his column. He wrote, “I told Nick all this – packed it all into one heaving, sobbing, loving hug – on Saturday evening in the parking lot near his freshman dorm 312 miles from home. And then we did what fathers and mothers across the country have to do at times like these: We let go.”

As someone who writes multiple weekly columns, I find it interesting to read others’ viewpoints. I feel a connection with the man as a columnist and father. Rodricks accomplished a basic goal of every writer – to engage and connect.

I do not set out to change the world with what I write each week here. Quite the contrary, I write because I enjoy it and it serves as an outlet for me. That people like it or not is a consequence of doing something I love. Of all the pieces I have ever written in this chair, including more than 700 editorials, over 100,000 individual Things I Like and some 600 Between the Lines columns, I enjoy filling this space the most because it shows a personal side and has nothing to do with my opinion on sewer allocation, planned overlay districts or constant yield tax rates. It’s meant to be revealing and that’s how it should be. I think the readers of this paper deserve to know a little about the person who manages what you see and read each Friday and maybe even know what I look like, so you can watch as I age over the years.

It was 15 years ago that I was being dropped off at college by my mother and stepfather. I remember it well. It was a hot August morning. I drove my packed little Mazda 626 to Loyola College in Baltimore with my parents following behind. It was a surreal experience, one of total excitement for me. What I did not realize at that time was how difficult it must have been for my parents to turn away and “let go.” Being a pre-occupied, selfish brat, I was only concerned about blending in and meeting people.

There must have been some major mixed emotions for my parents that day. Excitement for me for the experience I was about to have but also one of sadness because they surely realized the relationship was entering a new realm, one of independence.

The fact is the parent-child relationship changes forever when a kid leaves home for college. It must be a radical adjustment for parents who have spent the last 18 years providing for and raising their kids. All of a sudden they are gone. I know I will be thinking about this when those first college flyers start popping up in our mailbox. It will probably be that way when he starts pre-kindergarten in four years as well.

Soon after Beckett was born, we started receiving items in the mail about how responsible parents need to start a college savings account now so we do not saddle our children with unbearable college loan debt in their early 20s. My son did not even weigh 10 pounds and I was forced to think about paying for college. That’s not even fair, but it’s how the world works. It’s as if the pressures of life forbid you from looking around at what you have and being thankful at any given moment. Today’s world trains us to worry rather than appreciate. The trick is in the balancing act. For me, I look at life from a new viewpoint these days. The fact of the matter is everything has a different value and importance these days. I can thank my baby boy for giving me the gift of perspective.

Its ironic how life is simpler now. You would think it would be the opposite, considering the distractions that come with family life, but everything can now easily be put in its proper place, and I am not talking about bouncy seats, boppie pillows and swaddle blankets.

It has a lot to do with not sweating the little things as much. Having a baby has taught me what’s really important and my family’s health and happiness will always top that list. The approach that says, “don’t worry today about tomorrow’s problems” rings especially true. Rodricks’ column serves as another reminder. I will take the financial gurus’ advice of putting some dough away here and there for college, but I will not obsess today about something 18 years from now. There are way too many firsts to enjoy between now and then, each of which is more exciting than the last.

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