On Saturday I drove my firstborn up to UCLA and deposited him in the dorms. I suspect that he had that day marked on his calendar for a couple of years, so anxious was he to get out from under the oppressive rule of his dictatorial parents. We stood there awkwardly near the 4th floor stairwell of Hedrick Hall, the dad wanting to give the boy a hug, the boy hoping desperately that the dad wouldn’t give into the temptation. The dad walked away unsatisfied.
When evening rolled around I was already feeling left out and disconnected. I was hoping he would call and tell me all about it—even though I knew there couldn’t possibly be anything to tell. What does one do in the first few hours of dorm life? You haggle with your roommates over storage space. You wander around and get the lay of the land. You eat your first meal in the dorm cafeteria. What’s to tell?
Still, I wanted desperately to know. When he failed to call the next day I was really feeling it. Why doesn’t he call? I texted him a couple of times, giving him the electronic equivalent of a poke in the ribs. Nothing. I coaxed his sister into giving him a call. He didn’t pick up. I knew very well that he was making the conscious choice not to call home right away—and I understood that choice—but for selfish reasons I still wanted to hear from him. In a similar position, who wouldn’t?
My wife, for one. She had also marked that day on her calendar way back when. She has known for some time that Luke and she would both be better off once he moved out of the home. There is no doubt that he has outgrown the nest, and mama bird was eager for him to go root around for his own worms. She will miss him, I’m sure—but not yet.
And certainly not like I do. I think that feeling of loss is exacerbated by the fact that Luke is going to UCLA, just like his old man. He’s living in Hedrick Hall, just like his old man. I spent six of the happiest years of my life on that campus, earning two degrees along the way. That place isn’t merely home to me. It’s the Motherland. I am connected to UCLA on such a deep level that if I were a penguin I’d probably travel to Westwood every year to lay my egg.
Maybe what I’m saying is that I’m a different sort of bird than my wife. At any rate, these last few days I’ve felt very much like a penguin: waddling around, flapping my flightless wings, cold. And worse: I can’t find my egg anywhere.
When Luke finally called home, it was only because his kid sister implored him via text message: “Dad is freaking out. Please call so we don’t have to put up with him anymore.” (Or something like that.) His report was brief, devoid of meaningful depth or detail, just like his reports have always been. It was unsatisfying, to be sure, but it was a start. Or at any rate, it was a sign that he hadn’t just dropped us altogether. Nevertheless, the dropping has begun—of that I have no doubt.
There may be lessons in all of this. Malachi certainly taught of the cross-generational ties that should bind us (“the hearts of the fathers will turn to the children, and the hearts of the children will turn to the fathers”). But I take no comfort from such prophecies. Instead I keep hearing the words of the apostle Paul: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). Paul was writing to the Corinthians about spiritual maturity, of course, but I still take it personally.
Luke has begun putting away his childish things. And it turns out I’m one of them.