Reg Hamlett is a guest contributor to Playground Dad. He lives in Chicago, IL with his 2 sons.
We’ve all been there. Taller and lankier, or shorter and slower, than the rest of our classmates. Trying to grow our hair out and struggling through that phase when it just doesn’t look right. No one ever told me that I’d be going through it at this age. My oldest just walked out the door for the first day of freshman year. Alone. Not “hey dad, wanna give me a ride?” or “pops, I know this is a big day for you too and I just want you to know I love you and I love the fact you are my dad.” Just “see ya later dad.” At the same time, my youngest is preparing for first grade in two weeks. His vibe is completely different. Every accomplishment, great or small, is worthy of sharing with me. “Hey dad, look, I can make a beard with the bubbles!” “Dad, watch, I can bounce the soccer ball off my knee and then my head,” or “thanks for the new books dad, you’re the greatest!” For him, cool is all about doing everything with me.
So here I am, as excited and nervous about high school as I was kindergarten 9 years ago. Amped about what gear to wear, making sure the schedule is in the notebook, and trying to locate the lock (and the combination that apparently has been thrown away because “I memorized it when we bought it but, uh, I can’t remember it now dad.”) From the outside looking in, one would think I was going to school. But, alas, I’m not. I’m stuck at the awkward stage for parents, firmly in the middle of one child who relishes his growing independence and self-discovery process, and the other who eagerly explores the world while maintaining a tight grip on my hand.
The more I think about it, this particular awkward stage is about me being slightly envious. I look at the schools my sons attend and I wish my schools were this good and diverse when I was growing up. There are classes, concepts and books my oldest will take in high school that I wasn’t exposed to until college. I watch him move effortlessly on the soccer pitch with much admiration, with the complete knowledge that I was a second string intramural player at my athletic peak. I listen to my youngest practice Mandarin and I get excited about the possibilities for a clever young brother speaking Chinese in a global society.
One of the greatest joys of being a father is watching my sons embark on a new journey with confidence. I can just feel that they feel completely up to the challenge. It is an exhilarating feeling and one that reminds me of all the knee scrapes, sad days, bumps and bruises (emotional and physical) that led up to the moment when they suddenly realize “I got this!” At the same time, one of the hardest parts of being a single/widowed father is the constant fear that I’ve missed something. Not so much the feeling that I am doing something wrong. It’s more about the constant realization that if my boys had both parents, they would be even more amazing, more grounded and more complete. So I obsess over every decision from what schools they should attend to whether I should allow him to go on a date with that girl. I haven’t botched too many decisions up to now, but there is still time to royally mess them up before they leave home for good.
How will I manage this awkward stage? Hmm, don’t know at this point. Right now, my only real goal is to avoid making my awkward stage their awkward stage. No standing in front of high school waving and watching while my oldest walks in the building (it’s not my fault there just happens to be a coffee shop a block away). No coming to the first freshman soccer game with orange slices and tissues just in case it gets cold. Play it real cool when it’s time to meet the date for the freshman dance. Have to remember to get that one right. Try not to be the loudest parent at the first grade concert. Most of all, breathe deeply as I let go of one hand while not squeezing the other hand too tightly.