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.