It was 3:00 on Saturday afternoon. A giant knot stamped out its authority on my stomach. I sat with about 2,500 people in Skoglund Auditorium. 750 of them were incoming freshman class at St. Olaf College. They arrived the day before from 47 states and over 60 different countries. Most sat with their parents and a sibling or two.
The college minister prayed. The President gave a few remarks. The only words I remember were something like: “At the conclusion of this short gathering, the students will exit the west door and go meet with their advising groups. The parents will leave through the east door and go home.” The knot just expanded into my chest.
I wish the people up on the stage were still talking because I’d still be sitting by Benjamin. By 3:35 the college minister said, “Amen.” I usually like that word. Not Saturday.
I didn’t do a good job of holding back the tears. I took a few photos of Benjamin and Amber. I embraced him once more. Kissed his right ear. And wished him well in a cracking voice. He exited the west door to meet seven new friends and some philosophy professor who will help him navigate his first year. We reluctantly left through the east door, walked a half mile or so to a borrowed Chevrolet Suburban full of empty totes, and drove five hours and fifteen minutes home to Omaha.
My head said this was one of the best weekends of my life. My heart said it was one of the worst.
I went about life the next day. Did a wedding on Sunday afternoon. Went to a 7thgrade football game after that. I was the best-dressed person present. I mowed the lawn on Monday. And reflected a lot.
What were the knots in the stomach all about? An obvious answer exists: life has changed. My little buddy of eighteen years goes to college over five hours away. The daily arguments about politics are done. We won’t watch the Arsenal play on Saturday mornings anymore. We won’t cook another meal together until we fry a turkey for Thanksgiving.
But, best I can tell, it was something more. Two things actually.
First, was my offering as a parent good enough? Will the lessons he has learned and the life he has experienced equip him to meet the practical, social, and moral demands of his new reality? I hope so. When we walked through our respective doors on Saturday afternoon my role in his life changed from supervisor to spectator. I’ll be his biggest fan and pray these last eighteen years set him up for faithfulness and success for the rest of his days.
Second, it is a rough world he is entering. An age of entitlement. An age of comparison. An age of distraction. An age of materialism. An age of narcissism. Culture competes more than it collaborates. People listen to respond more than they listen to understand. Is he ready for this sort of world? Is anybody?
So the kid is on his own. But I guess if he remembers the one thing I have tried to teach him more than anything else and everything else, the kid is not alone. Nor will he ever be.
This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. –Joshua 1:9