At the university where I work, we encourage our students to spend a semester, or even a year, studying abroad. When my son Marc was at Temple, I practiced what I preached. A German major (go figure), he spent his junior year studying abroad in Hamburg. When he came home the following August, the broad he was studying came with him. As soon as he graduated, they were back in Deutschland, where he works in banking. They married in '06, had a baby in '09, and haven't been back in the states in five years.
My daughter Claire, on the other hand, has been home since she graduated from Washington College in May '10. As her tagline, below, says, she's working as a freelance writer and artist. Over the past year and a half, her mom and I have watched with pride as her talents have blossomed. She's a grown woman now and a talented professional.
Which, of course, means absolutely nothing to the father in me. Claire remains her Daddy's little girl. While "Jim, the rational man" knows she was on her own at college for four years when I usually had no clue what she was up to (ugh) now, when she's out late with her "significant other" or her girlfriends, I sleep the way our dog Spike used to sleep … with an ear cocked and an eye half open. Last Saturday night is a good example. I went to bed around midnight. When the phone rang at about two, I leaped from the bed like Ali from his corner … and ran right into the bathroom door. This act of fatherly dedication did neither one of us any good, and scared my wife half to death.
As for the son in Germany, for all I know, he's become a Neo-Nazi or an embezzler at his bank. I don't think so. The point is, I don't worry about it. He's a man and he's a million miles away. Out of sight, out of mind.
Claire, on the other hand, is my baby girl and she's just down the hall. What's a poor daddy to do?
I won't lie and say that I'm not at least a little envious of my older brother. In my mind, he's out there really out there doing his own thing, living life exactly the way he wants to live it, without anyone telling him what to do or when to do it. Of course, he has a wife and child, so that's probably a wildly inaccurate mental image. But still.
One thing is for sure: he's not living with his parents anymore.
Of course, my parents are reasonable people. They aren't like those helicopter parents you see on TV, alternating coddling and suffocating their children with too much love. No, my parents are pretty normal. They know I'm 23, and they act accordingly. I leave a note on the table if I'm going to be gone for longer than usual, and I keep my cell phone on. For the most part, that's all they ask.
But my dad is a worrier. He worries if I'm out for ten minutes longer than I said I'd be out. He worries when I drive anywhere more than 15 miles away. I'll probably be smothered to death if I ever get in a car accident, because the car he helped me pick out has about 20 airbags. Honestly. It's like driving a marshmallow.
In essence, that's what moving back home after college is like: a marshmallow. It's safe and warm; it's full of happy childhood memories. But it's also a little squishy and sometimes smothering. Don't get me wrong I realize that it goes both ways, and I'm probably cramping my parents' style by moving back home. It's not easy, learning to live together as adults and not just as parent and child. The only difference is that when my parents stay out until midnight or at least nine o'clock I can't help but be relieved to feel, if only for a short time, a bit more independent. Grown up.
Then they come home and ask me when I'm going to take some initiative and start doing my own laundry, and the illusion is shattered. It seems I still have a ways to go.