Today I hate the Olympics.
Normally I love them. But on Saturday, my oldest kid leaves for college, and the Olympics are preventing me from being there for the drop-off at his dorm.
I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me. I am in Rio, covering one of the greatest sporting events in the world. This is not a problem on the scale of global warming.
But you only get one oldest child, and they only go off to college for their freshman year once. And on Saturday morning when my wife and son load up our minivan and point it toward the interstate, I will be sitting 4,718 miles away in a tiny hotel room in Brazil.
While in Rio – where things have gone far better than expected for these Olympics and where I have buried myself in work I greatly enjoy – I have managed to forget for a few hours at a time that I am missing this rite of passage.
And then I will get another text from Amazon, letting me know that another package has been delivered to our house back in North Carolina.
A guide to astronomy. A book I’ve never heard of called “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS.” A new TV for his dorm room that looks better than the one I watch at home.
I know how to turn these text notifications off, but I haven’t done that.
They are a pleasurable kind of pain. I like to think of him sitting there reading a book in the college library or playing intramural basketball with some new friends from his dorm.
Some unasked-for Dad advice
We are going to miss our oldest one when he leaves, but he’s been ready for college for awhile. My wife and I know in our hearts that it’s time for him to go, and his younger brother is already angling to move into his room.
Yes, we know all the things that college kids can get into on an enormous campus away from home. But we love him, and we will love him through his mistakes. He’s a good kid, and we are sending him to a good place.
But still ... I wish I was there. It’s hard to let go, and it feels harder from far away.
Because I have known for months I would miss this drop-off, I wrote my son a letter a few weeks ago and left it for him to open after I got on the airplane to Brazil.
Part of the letter was me trying to give him some advice. Giving advice that no one asked for is a deep-seated habit for most Dads, much like grunting when we get up out of an easy chair.
The other part of the letter was me telling him how proud I was of him. There was a line in it that read: “When you were little and I could carry you in one arm, I dreamed of something just like this for you.”
Enjoy it while you can
Maybe you are a grandparent reading this and can remember what that first college drop-off feels like. If so, well done. My wife and I hope to be right there alongside you one day (but not too soon).
Maybe you have a child of your own who is going to college this month or one who has already left. If so, you know the bittersweet feeling that I’m describing.
Or maybe you have a very young child and are only vaguely aware of what a 529 savings plan is (get one!). But you do know that you want your child to be happy and to go to college one day in the distant future.
If so, let me give you just one piece of Dad advice:
Enjoy carrying your child in one arm.
It really does seems like yesterday that I was doing that for this one. We would walk through the woods behind our house most days, and he would want me to lift him up higher to touch the pine cones.
Once, when he was 3 years old, I asked him to help me clean up something. He said politely: “I would love to – but I don’t want to.”
If I came home from a trip and brought him a new set of plastic dinosaurs, he would hug me around the neck with both arms and not let go. God, I loved that.
Now that same kid is 6-foot-3. He drove me to the airport two weeks ago. He hugged me goodbye with both arms then, too, if that gives you any idea of what sort of kid he is.
The Olympics are about to come to a dramatic conclusion, with all sorts of gold medals being decided in the final days. Do I want to write about all that from Rio?
I would love to – but I don’t want to.
Our oldest child is leaving for college, and I’m not there.
And today I hate the Olympics.