By Craig Hastings
I have a son graduating from high school this year. I’m both elated and depressed. Elated because I’ve been here to witness his journey from kindergarten to high school senior, and I nearly wasn’t. Depressed because if my son is anything like his father he will spread his wings and his time spent with me will wane. I know parents who had actually looked forward to this time in their child’s life. Not because they didn’t love their child any less but because now they would have more time to spend together to travel and do some of the things they never had time to do. There’s nothing wrong with this plan either, but I have no plan(s). I don’t want things to change.
I don’t travel, I’m still working full time, and I have no hobbies to expand and improve upon. Nope, I’m a pretty boring parent. Like so many parents I’ve spoken with, I could never have imagined how quickly time would pass from the days I carried Payton around in my arms 17 years ago to his high school graduation day. Probably he could carry me today. Never had I thought a thing about the time that was passing each and every year he moved from one grade to another. That’s what kids do right? Not to worry, plenty of grades to go right? Then in a flash the realization of high school senior and graduation are hand in hand before me today. Where in the heck did the years go?!
Sure he will continue on to college this fall, but it just isn’t the same. I won’t see him during the day, at lunch when he came to my house, for sure never needing a ride from me, nor passing by each other while driving in Tuscola. No, Payton will go to his mother’s after school and work and then probably drive right back to Champaign for an evening out on the town with friends. It all sounds so familiar and….so much fun! Yes I remember those days back in say the mid 70’s. Disco had just began to boot Rock and Roll out of the way on it’s way to top billing and into the lives of many of my friends and me. Today I honestly have no clue what music is in and what these kids prefer to move their moods.
In the same week of the graduation ceremony I will be slapped with another reminder of time passing me by and therefore reminding me of how old I’m getting. My second son Lukas will be getting his driver’s license! I clearly remember Payton turning 16 and becoming mobile. He was always on the move and many times too fast. A few traffic tickets did help slow his mode or at least in less conspicuous places. He has survived two years without being suspended yet which for him is also a momentous accomplishment, I think. Payton graduated, Lukas driving and a junior next year, and Dad is feeling the wind in his sails subsiding because my ship has nearly reached harbor. It’s time my sons set out on their own adventures and without their dad. I won’t be needed for a ride or even to ride shotgun around town a few times. Nope, some of their friends will assume that role. None of this change is any different than my own after receiving my driver’s license and two years later moving out of the family home. Who needs their parents right?
Most all of us did eventually! I moved back home a time or two on my way to figuring life out. Mom and Dad never said a word when I moved back in and never rushed me back out on my own. I’m not going to touch a thing in my boy’s rooms. I’m leaving them just as they are and some nights I’ll hope I hear the front door open, someone coming up the stairs, and a voice I recognize saying to me: “Dad I’m staying here tonight!” You see, to experience this kind of homecoming will move me back in time. I’ll remember each as he was as a small boy coming in after playing in the neighborhood with friends. It’s easy for me because this is the same house in the same neighborhood where my boys were born and grew up.
I’m struggling with this whole graduation thing as I’m sure many other parents are with some of the same reasons and other reasons unique to their own children. “You have to let go sometime,” so I’m told. No I don’t, and no I won’t. I’m in this parent/child relationship until I’m removed from this earth. Even if my boys have little to no contact with me in my remaining years, it won’t matter. I’ll relive all the things we did when we were inseparable starting in the summer of 2001. They don’t have to be with me for me to enjoy doing things with them simply by tapping into my memory banks. No pictures or videos needed to remind me.
On graduation nights forever and in newspapers across the country we will hear from orators and read editors’ printed thoughts and advice on what all the graduating students should do with their lives. Advice on what to expect next, what not to expect, how to fail, how to succeed, how to start over, and finally how to perceive the world in which they are living. Never have I read or heard a presentation to the millions of parents with graduating children on what we should do or expect next in our own lives without our children for the first time in 18 years.
I would like to take a shot at this, but how can I? I’m a first time grad-parent myself, so I don’t know what advice I can share with you. My advice can only pertain to what I’m doing in my own life to adjust. Households are different and so are the relationships in those households. Some of my preparedness I’ve already told you. The rest, whether it helps you or not here you go: If you didn’t experience college life, don’t pretend you did by offering advice on dorm room protocol. When your children settle in assure them you want to hear about any problems they encounter so you might work with them, not tell them, how to resolve them. Ask because they may be too embarrassed or afraid to tell you about problems they are having. Don’t draft some by the date schedule of when you’re going to travel to their college for a visit. Maybe and probably they won’t want to have to plan for mom and/or dad visits, because they’re busy with their old/new friends. Simply offer each time you talk or text that you’re ready, willing, and able to travel for a visit. If you learn or suspect that the perfect child you thought you raised has sampled alcohol (underage) and maybe even introduced cannabis smoke to their lungs, don’t panic. The world has not come to an end. This is a topic I do know much about because I’ve dealt with it with other childrens’ parents for 39 years as a police officer/friend. This is a train you cannot stop, but you can control the speed if you’re willing to try. Find and confide in one of your child’s close friends for updates and concerns should it happen. Finally, as tempting as it may be, don’t change a thing in your/their home for the first year. Then if you want, gradually change the things you want while leaving their bedrooms your last remodel project. I think the best thing we can do to keep our children confident and motivated is to show them that no matter what might go wrong while they are away is that we are back home waiting and willing should they find themselves in over their heads. And should they come home, most everything will be as it has always been. With your help they will make a new plan and reset their life direction button.
That’s the best I can do until I experience my own. I’ve been in law enforcement for 39 years, and I think I’ve seen and heard most all of the possible college horror stories from local parents. Your Police Department, and its staff are here to help you with advice and support if we can. This year I’m one of you. I’m a bit nervous for sure.