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I’m Going to Be an Empty Nester Soon, and I’m Not Ready

As my son inches closer to college, I’m pretty sure it’s going to destroy me

Empty nester father sits in child's bedroom
Gregg Segal

The eight most triggering words in the English language wrench my gut every morning on Facebook: “You have memories to look back on today.”

On this day, 12 years ago, he’s jumping on a bed in Miami as if he’s never known the bliss of hotel check-in. There he is six years ago, chomping on a caramel apple as big as his head. And could it be only three years ago that he adorably, willingly, attended a costume party with his parents, dressed as characters from The Royal Tenenbaums?

These acid-free flashbacks spotlight the great unspoken of my life right now: Frighteningly soon, our high school senior, Sebastian — our one and only, grand prince of the inexcusable fart joke — will be off on a college quad somewhere, thinking not of Mother and Dad but of psych finals and how to drunkenly hoist a shopping cart to the top of the campus flagpole.

Here’s the thing, though: I am seriously not prepared for his departure. 

I remember my mother’s ugly-crying the day she dropped me off at college, and I honestly couldn’t understand what her problem was. But you and Dad have nothing but time to look at each other now, I thought. You have the rest of your grownup lives to do anything you want without structure or me as your pathetic excuse. You’re free! Go! Live your best old people's lives!

Gah. Exactly. My chin is starting to quiver as I eat those very words. 

It’s not that I don’t adore uninterrupted underwear time with my wife. And I can’t wait to transform Sebastian’s bedroom into a prohibition-style speakeasy for my middle-aged buds. It’s just that … I’m going to miss the little bugger. 

Not just because I will once again be taking the garbage cans to the curb every Sunday night or because nobody else will sit through my impromptu TED Talks on Steely Dan songs you must learn or else. It’s that I love the kid and he’s still a massive part of our everyday life. 

Sebastian provides one-third of the household banter, one-third of the joy, two-thirds of the volume and probably five-thirds of the ridiculous YouTube clips of German tourists illegally scaling Egypt's great pyramid of Giza. He loves those, and so do I.

Parenting experts have plenty of well-meaning advice for people on the harrowing precipice of kid-free living: Start to invest as much energy in yourself as you did in your child. Take up new pursuits that your Mini-You maybe got in the way of. Connect with friends going through the same thing to validate what you’re experiencing. Get a dog. Garden. Golf. 

Maybe try that? I don’t know. It sounds to me like trying to fix an amputated leg with a Band-Aid.

I suspect that no matter how much I prepare, I’ll need some grieving time once that last errant AirPod is located and my son takes the giant leap into adulthood. I imagine my wife and I fumbling for perfect words to sum up our hopes and admiration for him. 

I’ll try to avoid the sort of five-star emotional performance my mother gave, but I can also picture my wife and I huddling on the couch the first night he’s gone, searching for meaning and going, “Wanna watch The Royal Tenenbaums?”

Follow Article Topics: Family-&-Fatherhood