It’s very quiet here this morning. The rain has been falling on and off; the din of the TV is in the background and the refrigerator is humming; a frog emits its plaintive croak; and from time to time a car will drive by, it’s sound amplified by the wet road. Yet with all these background noises, the ever-present static sounds that are common in suburban life, this morning is quiet like none other. There is a void in my home, a space that has not been left unfilled for any sustained period in many years. It is the sound of life moving forward… and away.
My youngest son enlisted in the United States Army. He decided that, at 19 years old, it was time to make his first real adult decision in his life, to do something big, something significant… something different, and this is the course he has chosen. He approached me about this decision weeks ago and the wheels have been slowly rolling toward this day ever since. I am very proud of him, he did not make his decision recklessly and he solicited my input at every juncture, but it is his decision and one I support as any father would. It is therefore neither a surprise nor is it a shock that he is gone for at least the next 10 weeks, but how does one prepare for the quiet that is left behind?
I suppose this could be called “empty nest” syndrome. My eldest son, although he lived with his mother for many of his teen years, moved to Southern California about two years ago. Prior to that he was always close and always had a home here. Now almost 25, he is well on his way to beginning his own family as he and his lady are expecting a son in May (which brings up an entirely different set of new insights). My middle son, 21, still lives with me, but he is at school all day every day and soon he, too, will be starting a life on his own.
I have been a single parent for many years. It has not always been an easy road. Teenagers present any number of challenges in the best of circumstances and ours were not the best. But we stuck together and came through… for the past several years our lives together have been characterized by respect and harmony. All three have grown into fine young men and I am equally proud of each of them - all the time. It would appear that, on a day-to-day level at least, my job is all but done. Fatherhood never ends; my own father is (as well as my mother) an integral part of my life, but not my daily life. And so it has become with my own sons.
I will see my son at his induction ceremony today, but the Army had him stay with the other new recruits in a hotel last night. For all intents and purposes, he is already gone. By the end of the day he will be thousands of miles away. In all likelihood, this will never be his home again. But it always will be. He has left too much of himself here and taken too much of here with him, he can never truly be gone. The memories will live on and the days, weeks, months and years ahead will bring with them new experiences for us all – and new memories to add to those we already lived.
And it is quiet. Despite the everyday noises still present, I cannot hear him silently sleeping in his room – I know he is not there. He has moved on with his life. But his presence is always in my heart and I know that this boy has become a man. The silence, however, will take some getting used to. And I am sure it will never completely go away.
The silence is the thing that worries me most about my last child leaving home. My daughter left at 18 for college, but she was really gone by 15, living day and night at the horse farm and competitions. I only saw her in the wee hours before she left for the barns or late at night before bed. She never forgave me for leaving her father, abusive though he was. So she spent very little time with me when she was home. But my son has always been a presence in this house and in my life. My days still revolve around his school and extra-curricular activities. In just over a year, all that will cease as he goes away to college. As busy as I am as a political activist, attorney and college prof, my role as mom was my most important role and the one I loved above all others. I can't conceive of the time when that will cease as a daily activity for me, the ensuing silence or how I'll manage. How do you do the same job for over 20 years and then stop cold turkey?
No, if my experience is any teacher, it will not go away. You make me remember the first day my son went away to college. Even though he was only 30 miles away, I realized at the time that our lives were changing for good, and that things would never be the same again. He is 43 today (the 19th) and sometimes I still wish he lived at home.
NetChick sent me, although I'll be back again. I think I need to read more of your writing before providing any comment; thoughtful words deserve thoughtful words.
Even your first paragragh grabs my emotions- due to remembering 1998, that similar feeling of my baby going to college four hours away. She never did come back for summers, but found her mate n a new life instead.
For some reason, her I always miss so much! I still have some of her stuff in the backroom, a decade later!
You're fortunate to still have one at home. I've been doing all this silence for a decade by myself now- The longing to be part of their life never stops, n I wonder if this is how my parents felt too...
My advice is- start making your own noise louder-
I remember when my son went off to college grocery shopping and how strange it felt to pass by the cream cheese in the dairy section, one of his favorite staples.
I wish your son all the best. Wait till the grandkids come, then your house will be noisy again with all the sounds of glee.
Net chick says hi too.
(Letting them) grow up is such a hard task... good luck to your son(s) and enjoy the induction ceremony!
NetChick sent me your way, it's been a while!!!
I find myself shaken by the power of your writing and my thoughts of being where you are some long day hence when my son leaves home.
I have no insights or remedies as I doubt there is any real solace for the feelings you so compellingly describe.
Take care and be well...
Good luck to your son. I can't imagine what it is like to know he is going off like that. But doing a great thing by representing the country is, well, a great thing. Best of luck in the silence, and thank you to your son.
Netchick sent me.
Hi Mike, I'm so glad Tanya sent me this way this morning.
I recently heard that my nephew is joining the Royal Navy. Although the family have always travelled and children have been away at school, college, summer vacations and even working abroad, the parents are still going through the same thoughts you are now.
No matter how disparate the family and independent the children, leaving for the 'Grown Up Lfe' is huge wrench for the parents.
I am with you in pride for our children wanting to make their mark on the world.
But we all understand your melancholy.
A poignant post creating much to think upon.
Beyond the clear love as a father and the wish to see your children do well, there's also your own actions beyond the silence.
From my visits here, its clear that you also have your own agendas and interests and that these will create new and different dynamics and ways to take yourself forward.
It won't be the same, and of course you'll miss those no longer living under the same roof, but its also great that you have plenty of other projects and plans to drive you along.
I'm here today via NetChick and wish you the very best as you experience the mixed emotions of the current time.
You must be so proud. To send three sons out into the world who are upstanding young men making a life for themselves and contributing to society must be very satisfying indeed. You will always be their dad no matter how old they gate and your home will always be theirs too. The quiet must be disquieting at first and I have no idea if it will get easier as I don't have children. I did come from a big family though and when I first left home I was felt the kind of quiet you describe. The great thing is that you have so many of your own interests and things happening in your life. Even if the silence never really goes you can fill it I suspect.
I came by as your visit gave me the kick up the bum I needed to drop by. I have been very busy lately and I'm afraid I leave blogs like yours until I have time to really read and comment properly. Sometimes a week goes by and I realise that the moment has not presented itself and so I need to make time, like I just have. I hope you enjoyed the induction ceremony :)
Mike I know exactly how you are feeling. My oldest son moved away to attend college in 2006 and my youngest is now working or off doing some sport or social event most of the time that he isn't at the high school. My wife and I walk around a much quieter home - sometimes not sure exactly what to do with ourselves. It's much more comfortable now that we have begun to get used to it, but I have to admit I LOVED coming home one Friday night several months ago to a house full of college kids that my son brought with him from school for the weekend. All the energy and life... it was nice.
You will get used to it my friend. Heck, one day you'll realize you've come to embrace it.
congrats on raising a good son, and on having the courage to trust him with his life going forward. Thank him for his service to our country.
Netchick sent me to be awed, again
As a grandma and great grandma the silence is still astounding Noah my five year old grandson was here for the afternoon and I lament when he leaves.
Great article and true for life.
Dorothy from grammology
I'm not anywhere near that stage, but I know how fast time flies, and I know that means it'll be here soon enough.
And when it gets here, I'll have your words to guide me.
Not that you've ever needed any help filling in the gaps, silent or not, but I'm always around if you need some noise to be made.
Oops, forgot to say that I popped in from Tanya's on this lovely Canadian winter's eve. I'm sorry to see you're getting skipped back there. Yikes!
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