‘Bye Mom! Bye Dad!’

Shattered hearts, quiet bedrooms. Sigh.

A few final thoughts about college drop-offs. The dads cry worse than the moms. Probably because we’re more in touch with our feelings. Or the first tuition bill arrived.

Dads have bigger hearts than many people think. I like dads. I think they can be the difference between a functional society and a dysfunctional one.

You don’t hear many politicians voice that. Somehow, it’s unfashionable to salute the fathers who stick around.

These are the odd times in which we live.

So here’s to the dads – mine and yours — who quietly went about their lives, grinding out a living, crying openly when their teams won, roaring like wood chippers at their own silly jokes.

Here’s to the dads!

I went to Drake University, sister school to Duke. People often confuse the two. We’re the good one, I always explain. We’re the Duke of Des Moines, Iowa, I can say that with absolute authority.

My 17-year-old son, Smartacus, is shopping for colleges, and as fathers always do, I am keeping an eye out for value, difficult to find among today’s universities.

Honestly, I have no sympathy for college administrators now struggling with the economic repercussions of COVID. For years, they jacked their tuitions – like opportunists after a flood. If the costs proved too much for some families, there were always other eager applicants.

The rising college costs are immoral, an abandonment of the working and middle class, an abandonment of Millennials. Colleges grew greedy, an afront to the egalitarian ideals many professors preach.

No one called them on it. Suddenly, college presidents were making millions, and college football coaches made even more.

More than some running backs, in fact.

But too much of anything ruins people, especially money. Happened to Ancient Egypt. Happened to Ancient Rome. I mean, just look what it’s done to me.

I am, at this point, ready to cut Smartacus a deal. He can skip college. I will write him a decent check to start his own business.

But there will be a gap year. In the gap year, he must read the 20 books I give him and study selected TED talks. He must learn some basic Latin, a line of Shakespeare or two, some logic and philosophy. We can cover most of that in a year.

Yet, Smartacus realizes that college is more than just that. College is independence, and arguing with your dorm mates for hours over climate change or the color of Katy Perry’s eyes.

College is kismet. In college, you can fall in love with a classmate just by the way she carries her books.

You can’t put a price on that. But if you did, I’m not sure it would be worth $300 grand. Hell, for far less, I could just send him to Dublin for a year. He’d get into arguments. Learn some history. And fall in love with a redhead.

A family curse, redheads. Did I say curse? I meant tradition. A tradition (and a curse). More of a curse, probably. Some families struggle with dependency, depression, debt, deceit.

We struggle with gingers.

My dad married a redhead, I married a redhead. We were very lucky.

At the altar, when my ravishing bride said, “I do.” I turned to her and thought, “Really? Because you could do so much better.” She saw the doubt in my eyes.

“Really,” she whispered. “I do.”

Then we had kids – too many. Then we had bills – too much.

Parenthood is a swan dive into an empty pool. It’s the only relationship where  heartbreak is 100% assured. One day, off they will go: “Bye Mom. Bye Dad. I’ll call, OK?”

And that’s just kindergarten.

By college, they leave vapor trails.

Parenthood is a swan dive into an empty pool. One day, off they go: “Bye Mom. Bye Dad. I’ll call, OK?”And that’s just kindergarten. #ChrisErskineLA #college

Similarly, there’s this tree in my neighbor’s too-close yard. There’s just something dastardly about the way it’s perched. I predict that one day, in high winds, this tree will fall and crush me and my kitchen.

Then, the other day, I noticed a magnolia tree in my own yard, on the other side. I suddenly realized that my own tree would likely be the one to crush me and my kitchen, because that’s more how life works.

You get crushed by your own trees, your own children, your own self-absorbed assumptions of how life will unfold.

“By Mom! Bye Dad!”

Here’s to the parents now haunted by their children’s dark, quiet bedrooms.

Here’s to the freshmen, who stay hopeful in these tormented times.

May they drink, as William Blake said, “from life’s clear streams.”

May they tread lightly on the world.

Remember White Fang? Fortunately, our pet wolf is not going anywhere. Read about her first dinner party experience, in this Saturday’s post. Cheers

29 thoughts on “‘Bye Mom! Bye Dad!’

  1. Perfect and poignant, as always. Enjoy the Gingers. They say the recessive gene for redheads is the rarest and is on its way out. Your family is so lucky to have many beautiful examples!

  2. I miss your writings, we need your wonderful sense of humor now more than ever , hope you are doing well
    Stay safe

  3. #1 Redhead in my book is Bonnie Raitt. The voice, the licks, the sliding off the tour bus in turquoise boots outside Chicago theatre. Angel from Montgomery. Cheers mate,

  4. Chris—-Have Angie tell you the story of Sinatra’s funeral when they played “Put Your Dreams Away” at the end of the service.

  5. Chris ~ you certainly hit the “Dad” part correctly – all was teary until the tuition and Dorm bills arrived, then the VISA bill and need for a new computer, iPad & iPhone. Now she

    Now she’s married with 3-expensive kids…and guess who gets the bills for the computers, iPads & iPhone…Just you wait Chris Erskine..just you wait “You ain’t seen nothing yet”

  6. Such straight ahead beautiful writing. Like a redhead or two I have known: luminous, breath-stopping, rouge in her mirroring of where the day begins and ends. They can take you over, that way, and simply become your every day. Stunning. And the picture…no words suffice. I’ll remember this one, and not only for its little hymn to dads; it’s got me humming.
    –Forrest Gale

  7. Hi Chris! I owe you a very tardy thank you. I found your column the first year you were dropping off Rapunzel off to college. My son was also getting ready to leave the nest after a summer of serious medical issues and I was just not ready to let him out of my sight. Your witty and wonderful writing kept me sane through those difficult days. I felt like I had a friend who understood how I felt. My own friends have much younger children and they were no help. I hope you always know that you have made the world a better place. Thank You!

  8. When my firstborn left for college, I cried, he was the first; then my only daughter, I cried for 2weeks every time I walked past her room. When my last left , I cried because he was the last, and I was a lone empty nester , (my husband had past away.)But the joys that come when one sees the accomplishments of college and chosen professions, worth all the tears. As always , Chris, a great reminiscence!

  9. As usual, a terrific piece, though I have to say that today’s teens aren’t Millennials – the oldest Millennials are approaching 40! I’ve lost track on what the younger people are called today.

  10. You captured the feelings a parent has when kids go off to college – pride, emptiness, melancholy, relief…. bravo! My best to Jack. Wherever he goes, he’ll have a wonderful time and you’ll get to visit!

  11. Great perspective Chris. Now just wait
    till the kids grow and maybe have their own little rascals. As a sage friend of mine said: “Kids are the cost, grandkids are the reward “
    Signed… grandpa to 9.

  12. Loved this. Struck a chord with me. Taking my daughter back In a few days for her sophomore year. Really enjoyed having her here since March. Getting misty just thinking about it (or the fact that her and I are moving a futon, mini fridge and all her flotsam and jetsam up to the 3rd floor without an elevator…and she’s 4’11”) I’ll miss her like crazy. Sure hope I can drive back without my left ventricle. Better trade in my box of Kleenex for a roll of Bounty…the quicker picker upper.

  13. My Mom always said, “kids… when they’re little they step on your toes. When they get big, they step on your heart.”

  14. In my opinion, arguing whether “Paul was dead”, didn’t get me into law school, but it, and the friends I met while arguing that and the other extremely important issues of the day, was well worth the cost of admission.
    Of course admission charges are a wee bit steeper now at Colorado State University – where all this happened. And, where I hope Spartacus chooses to go.

  15. Chris,

    I’m a fan – loved your weekly column in the Chicago Tribune and I’m very happy to have found your continued columns in this space. My husband and I just sent our youngest daughter off to college in this crazy Covid world as well as our older daughter. I love your observations and commentary on life and all the different stages we experience. I especially appreciate your sense of humor. Please never stop writing!

  16. Wonderful observations on this momentous event in a parent’s life. When we dropped our firstborn off at her dorm, I was the one who sobbed on the car ride home! Her dad did not.
    I was surprised by that at the time.
    It is wonderful to hear your story of crying as your child left home for college! It gives me hope. So thank you for sharing your story😊

  17. Chris, just because you and I are ranked among the 10 best dads, ever, still doesn’t rank us beyond women. Women are the strength of every society. We all know that. That is why I always ask Ms. Google, when I want to know anything.
    This is great! Keep ’em comin’!!

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