Yesterday I dropped my oldest daughter off for a month away on a college campus. It’s a summer program. She’ll be back in
days. Back in the house, back for me to see every day, back to tell me where
she’s going and when she’ll be home. Back to breeze by me on her way in from
one thing to change her clothes and head off to another.
In this era where every moment of our lives is plastered on social media (as are my thoughts now), we are used to seeing kids at the airport going off to college or camp, or venturing away to a foreign country for an extended period of time.
These are pictures. They never portray the feelings behind the camera. For years I’ve heard “it goes by quickly.” I always heard that as a message that I would feel sad when my kids were no longer living at home.
But yesterday I didn’t experience the feelings of separation, or wondering how much I would miss my daughter. I had one prevailing feeling.
Was I a good father?
This thought, feeling, came to me because a phase of fatherhood ended yesterday. My first-born is grown up. She’s not 10 years old and going to summer camp, she’s not going away for a week with friends. She’s in a program with other girls from all over the world. None of her friends are there. We are 1,500 miles away.
I am not sad because I miss her already, although I do. I am sad because I question whether I have been a good father to her. I’ve never thought about this until yesterday.
I know I have been. I know. I’ve provided for her, went to her dance recitals, her school events, allowed her to stay out late, explained politics and law to her. I know. I’ve been lucky to be self-employed and be with her when I chose.
But this trip is different. I now realize that her next long trip will be the beginning of college. I know that then she’ll be away for months at a time, and then, after graduation, she may wind up living far away, and seeing me a few times a year. I know that this is something parents live with and it’s part of life.
Parents raise children. Children are supposed to grow and flourish and run off to make their goals and dreams come true. I’ve never wanted my kids to stay home, or close to home, and in theory I am excited for them to move on.
Yesterday, though, I realized that she no longer needs me to walk her across the street, or carry her, or be with her daily. She has grown up, and while I know she’ll need her “Daddy” in her life, as I will need my first born, it is not for the same reasons as before. It is those thoughts that cause me to hope that I have done everything I was supposed to do.
I am not unhappy that my oldest no longer needs me in the same way she once did, I am sad. There is a difference. I cannot escape the fear that I have not taught her everything I was supposed to teach her, or that I missed an opportunity to be with her and it may now matter.
I know that she will meet incredible people at this program, and that everything she learned so far will benefit her over the next 29 days. She will talk politics and law, and learn about life in foreign countries. She will come home with new friends and thoughts and ideas and likely be much different than when she said “goodbye” yesterday. I just wonder if anything I’ve done – good or bad – will be a motivator for her in her thoughts or actions.
I told her that I am proud of her, my voice crackling so much that I don’t know that she heard me.
Located in Miami, Florida, Brian Tannebaum practices Bar Admission and Discipline and Criminal Defense. He is the author of The Practice.