18 February 2012

Burlington, et al.

This is a beautiful campus and a wonderful city. I have always loved Burlington, and spent three wonderful summer gigs here at St. Michael’s College. Interestingly enough, when Ithaca, New York was built it was modeled after the city of Burlington, Vermont. I have spent considerable time in Ithaca over the past four years. I know where all the pizza parlors are located there. So, now I seem to have moved states but the place remains familiar. I even know where the pizza parlors here are located! But I feel uneasy and I consider the source of my disquiet. I am considering this:
When the second child goes off to college, there will be nobody home to whom I will be an immediately present father. I will be an absent parent. In my life the children will still have presence but not be at all present; wherever I turn in the familiar worlds we have moved, they will not be there, and at the end of the day when I return home they will be out and somewhere else. In their lives I hope I will remain a presence, but I will not be present: they and I will experience an independence none of us for several decades have imagined. All of our present scripts will be useless. Words that have been spoken for years will have lost their context and will be meaningless; events that have regularly taken place over the years will cease to occur. A certain awkward dynamic will reign; the house will function but there will remain empty space; movement will be easy but uncomfortable. A quiet will exist that I have known only in very brief moments over the years, and I suspect the once longed for silence will feel to me oppressive. I suppose this is when folks like us begin to think of acquiring a dog as an antidote to the aloneness, but the cats are still young and there is little chance they will choose to leave home. Finally, to quote from the song, “The John Birch Society,” “There’s no one left but thee and me, and I’ not sure of thee.” In the game now the pin-ball will have only two knockers against which to strike, and it will fall into the hole without too much restriction. There will be no high scores on this machine. Only two pieces are left on the checkerboard with very few moves available. I’ll have to learn new games. My position in the world shifts as I become the father without children.
I know that this is the essence of the ‘empty-nest syndrome:’ when the children all leave home the parents must again confront each other alone in relationship. A great many events have occurred over the years of parenting. A great many things have changed in life because of the events of parenting, and when the children leave, there is little now that remains through which our attention to our bond can be deflected to obscure the nature of the relationship. We stand before each other not anew but in new perspective.
And so I think it is not really important which place ‘feels’ right to her, though clearly this is the right one All of these colleges would feel the same to me. The problem remains that when she leaves I must change, and this stark reality colors my perspectives on any place we visit.
Finally, her leaving home reminds me that I am older, and that these extensive years of parenting has ended, and I have now to learn whole new ways of being and embark on a new life in the world without their availability to deflect my attentions.


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