My daughter’s leaving home

I’ve never been good at goodbyes, but I’ve got a big one coming today. We’re leaving my daughter at college.

I’ve shed a lot of tears over the last few weeks as this transition approached. I’m shedding a few more now. Better to get them out before we say goodbye. It wouldn’t do to have Lila’s dorm mates see her dad weeping.

It’s perfectly normal, of course, for a parent to feel sad on the bittersweet day they drop their kid off at school for the very last time. But when it comes to goodbyes, I’m not normal. 

Just ask any of the dozen or so shrinks I’ve seen over the course of my fifty-nine years. They’ll tell you I’m plagued by a bad case of separation anxiety. Or ask a couple of the girlfriends who broke up with me back in the day — and watched me transform into a weeping, trembling, wailing, unhinged blob for weeks on end. 

They’ll confirm the diagnosis.

Perhaps it’s because my little brother died when I was very young. Perhaps it’s because my counselor sexually abused me after my parents dropped me off at camp when I was 9. Perhaps it’s because I’m just weird.

Barack Obama famously likened dropping his daughter Malia at Harvard to having open-heart surgery. For me, it feels more like a botched open-heart surgery that’s gone on for weeks. 

I love my girl. 

For the last 8 years — ever since she was in 5th grade and I left my last daily journalism job — I’ve spent a helluva lot of time with her. 

When we first moved to Seattle after eight years in Vietnam, I helped her get settled in this strange new country. It wasn’t an easy transition for Lila, who kept asking when we were going back home — home to Vietnam.

Until she turned 16 and hijacked my car, I served as her personal chauffeur, driving her to play dates, soccer games and tennis matches. I  made her school lunches. I took her to buy school supplies every fall. 

I watched her stage four successful runs for student council and another to open a gender-neutral bathroom at Roosevelt High. I watched her win a lot of tennis matches and become the team MVP. I watched her go to senior prom with a girl she loved. And I heard her sing with a beautiful voice.

I spoiled her rotten. 

I hurt her a few times, too. I’m lucky she has a big heart — big enough to forgive even her flawed dad.

We come from a long line of atheists, but Lila’s chosen to attend Loyola-Chicago, a school founded and run by Jesuits. In spite of its abundant Catholic statuary and promiscuous references to God, the place has a non-denominational spirit, making room for people of all faiths, races, gender identities and economic backgrounds. It’s commitment to true diversity is glorious.

The Jesuits are all about service and social justice — lifting the impoverished, comforting the vulnerable, fighting to make the world a kinder, more equitable place. This atheist is cool with that.

Lila’s ready. 

Her mom and I have been here for a few days now, helping her move in and getting supplies to make her dorm room cozy.  Within a few hours, she’d already made some nice friends on her floor in Mertz Hall, including an entertaining character by the lovely name of Adeline. And Lila’s fabulous girlfriend, Quinn, another Seattle transplant, arrived last night to start her sophomore year here.

My girl’s in good hands.

It’s going to be hard to walk by her empty room when I get home. Very hard.

The good news is, my beloved son, Samuel Morehouse Stocking, who is about to start his own college journey, lives less than a mile from our house in Seattle. He still stops by several times a week for dinner. He still steals socks from my sock drawer. He still leaves wet towels on our  bathroom floor.

My days of parenting aren’t entirely over.

15 Comments

  1. Vu Thao says:

    Anh Ben, this is BEAUTIFUL to read. It choked me up many times. Thank you for sharing! You made me missing my beloved father so much. Hugs from Hanoi.

  2. Pamela Mesheau says:

    Hello, Ben! Tks for writing about life! I shall look forward to more!

  3. Gorgeous … the story, your daughter, and most especially, flawed you 🙂

  4. Anthony Measham says:

    Wonderful note, and vintage you, Ben. Thanks for sharing. Love from Carol and myself.

  5. Suzanne says:

    Lovely meditation on one of life’s bittersweet passages. I remember Lila as a little gal playing on Stew’s Sandy Cove tennis court next door. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  6. Engelien Zegers says:

    Beautifully said Ben . tears in my eyes . Dad /Daughter love is very special

  7. Gwen Wilson says:

    A brilliant piece, as usual Ben.
    In reference to the specific occasion, it’s time. It’s time to let go. It will be okay. In fact, it’s a wonderful thing.

  8. Avril says:

    Ben, thank you for your honest feelings about your daughter leaving home. We have all had that in our lives. I hated it. Did I express that? Nope! Stiff upper lip….you can do it…..I can do it. This message is from the heart, and your daughter will appreciate it, and remember it, always. And you both will be the better for it. We can all learn…..
    I love your words.

  9. J lee says:

    What kind of heartfelt and emotional words. They moved me and they broke my heart a little. Your daughter may feel lucky to have a father like you

  10. Carol Measham says:

    Totally marvelous, totally understandable. Ah, for the ability to put my own emotions into such elegant prose. Another chapter in the wonderful book you will ultimately put together. Lila’s made of strong stuff, and being able to be part of her life’s journey is wonderful for all of us. Thanks for sharing, Love to you all Carol

  11. Breda Hayes says:

    What a beautifully written piece, Ben. I’m not sure if Lila remembers her first grade teacher at UNIS, but I remember her very well. What a very special person she was, and I’m sure still is. Sending her a huge hug x

  12. Sandra Cuningham says:

    Ben keep writing. I love your missives from the human front. I remember so clearly being a little cavalier when Katie went off to McGill. I thought it would be not much different from our joint custody weeks and weekends. Instead my stomach dropped out and I couldn’t catch my breath. And yes, we want them to soar so we must hold our breath.

  13. Yasmin says:

    What an amazing piece that is so much about you and so much more about you as a dad! Thank you for sharing.

  14. Steve says:

    Ben, you made me cry – and shudder at what’s going to happen to me in 6 years.

  15. Bill says:

    Great to hear your voice again and shed a tear for fatherhood…

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