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Dad Surprised by Emotions

Dear Harlan: Our son is off to college, and I feel an overwhelming sense of loss or emptiness, especially the first week. It is waning as time goes forward, but it is very sad. I am 60 years old, retired law enforcement, so it is not like I haven’t been exposed to many difficult situations in my life, and I am no sissy. But this has hit me hard. For 18 years I have received a hug or kiss good night every day — really, every day. Now … nothing. While I want the best for our son, it is hard to adjust to his absence. We have a very loving, normal family, and I have made conscious efforts throughout our kids’ lives to show outward affection and to appreciate one another. Our son seems to be adjusting fine. He has always been a homebody, yet carried a job through high school, made significant purchases that he saved for and managed, and graduated with his diploma and an AA degree as a high-school senior. I was with him every step of the way with encouragement, and at times criticism/consequences for those not-so-good decisions. I’m so conflicted. We want our children to grow up and be successful both emotionally and professionally, yet at the same time we don’t want them to leave. You hear many parents say they cannot wait for their kids to leave home — not us. Our son has only been away for one and a half weeks. We visited on the first weekend, against the advice of many friends; only for lunch and a quick hello, then we were out of there. It was a good visit, no tears (in front of the kids). It just seems to be sad that he is leaving. I guess that is what life is? I’m not sure I like it. Never had so many tears as a grown man.

— Jack

Dear Disaster:  I have a lump in my throat after reading this. I know the day is coming for me, too. I’m sure it will be just as difficult. This is the hardest part of loving someone so completely. Fathers don’t get a lot of the attention for this. Thank you for expressing what so many dads feel, but don’t know how to express or are too uncomfortable expressing. Your son is incredibly lucky to have you in his life. And he will always have you in his life. Everything you’ve invested in him is with him everyday. You need to give it more time. New routines will help you move forward. As you get through the next couple of months, a deeper, mature and different relationship will develop. But the loss is real. It throws parents. You have to find a new routine and new ways to share this incredible love. Channel this love into yourself, projects or people. There are so many children who need strong, caring, kind and vulnerable men in their life. Consider giving to more kids by mentoring children and working with teens. When it comes to supporting your son and other parents, consider participating in a parent group on campus. Give this a month or two. Focus on something you love to do that also gives you a sense of pride. The hugs and kisses will be there. They just won’t be there every night. Thank you for sharing this.

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