Lance Burson saw he was the one learning when taking his daughter to college for her sophomore year
Somewhere between checking the oil and gas in her car, and making sure her sorority house courtyard was well-lit at night, I noticed something when dropping my oldest daughter at college for her freshman year. I wasn’t crying.
One year ago, the scene was different as I made my equally emotional wife and daughter crazy, browbeating them about what we’d packed and what we’d forgotten. I broke down in tears serveral times, mostly at the thought of my little girl being a whopping 37 minutes away. You know, in case the zombie apocolapyse went down, like The Walking Dead, the mega-hit TV show shooting in the same city she was attending school, Atlanta. This time was different. And, I credit my kid a lot more than myself.
My first year of college was full of Cs and a trip to the ER after an incident with cheap beer. Her first year saw a slot on the Dean’s list and two hospital internships where she helped, and probably laughed at students like me. My daughter reflected years of being raised by a strong single mom, my now wife, and the time I’d spent with her from age 12 on. Her rebellion seemed to be NOT making the same mistakes her parents had at her age. In being brutally honest during her teen years, my wife and I were seeing the fruits of our hard, and embarassing labor.
Between my daughter’s last year of high school in the sheltered suburb of Gwinnett Country and her freshman year at Georgia State University in Atlanta –Atlanta, where in 1996 two people died and 100 were injured in a terrorist attack at the Summer Olympic Games–I lectured her about how much her life would change. I prattled on about how she would lose contact with her old friends, make new ones, and learn things from her professors and classmates that would shape her world view. All the while, she rolled her eyes and thumb-wrestled her phone, making fun of me. And, although I was right about everything I told her would happen in her life, I was dumbfounded about the changes in mine.
Instead of clutching to the undependable and oftentimes dishonest axioms of conventional thinking, I have backed away from believing I can control my daughter. She has asked for and earned my trust. Trusting myself to be patient with a teenage girl in today’s fast-paced, mixed-message society has been one of my greatest parental accomplishments. My kid’s errors have been minor; her successes major. My daughter does not make the same mistake twice and seems unbroken by peer pressure. I have told her to be selfish for herself and selfless to others. She’s getting that, and is maturing at a greater pace than even I could imagine. She is ahead of schedule and achieving some of her loftiest ambitions at the tender age of 19. Every once in awhile she acknowledges her mother and my influences, between requests for money. But, I am no longer the overprotective father who believes zombies, mostly figurative, are after my baby. My daughter’s freshman year forced me to trust her, and the job her mom and I have done.
On a blistering Sunday afternoon in August, as we readied ourselves for round two, I bumped into another father moving his daughter into her dorm. The differences between us were more than just the six inches he had on me in height. He was a wreck. He was me freshman year. A rookie at letting his daughter go. When he handed me the luggage bin, I smiled. I noticed tears welling in his eyes and I nodded my head and said “Hang in there.”
What struck me most about move-in day number two was my daughter’s ease with her surroundings. She’d mastered this metropoitain city. She pointed out the best and cheapest Chinese food, pizza, and the closest ATM to bleed me of my debit card money. She seemed to know everyone from the person checking her in to her sorority to the wait staff at the local diner. We all broke out in laughter when she corrected my wife driving the wrong way down a one way street. I am the father to a city girl with a grand ambition, not a suburban kid who doesn’t know what she wants.
After our cues to leave, we headed home. My wife drove, singing along to the radio to cover for her bubbling emotions. I sat in the passenger seat thinking of something funny to tweet about sending my child into her second year of college life. I breathed relief and felt a rare feeling of comfort with the rapid change around me. Beaming with pride, I was leaving behind my daughter who was now ready to take on the world. Relaxed, focused, tired, and putting off the worry of my other two girls until we got home, I looked out at the brutal Georgia sun and thought how my college sophomore daughter has taught me how to be a better father, and a better man.
Then, I cried.
Photo: Courtesy of the author.