This weekend’s main event was eighteen years in the making, an experience I never imagined because few parents want to daydream that far ahead in their children’s lives. Sure, we look forward to a few milestones — first steps, first words, first day of school, all the best parts of the cute years. I suppose some parents dwell on the long-term forecast and begin planning for the arrival of their grandchildren. I’ve taken more of a walk-before-they-can-run, crawl-before-they-can-walk approach when it comes to second-guessing my son’s future for him.
That being rambled on about: Saturday I drove my son up to West Lafayette for a tour of the campus of Purdue University, where he’s been accepted and is scheduled to attend this fall. Needless to say, our family is mostly thrilled (there’s always a naysayer, isn’t there?) and, having seen what’s in store for my former infant, I now feel ten years older than I did last year.
Any number of things could and should have gone wrong with his life before now and spun our timeline in a radically different direction. The stories he could tell are…well, at this point they’re his stories to tell, not mine. Suffice it to say select portions of his life were, in Community parlance, the opposite of Batman. Much of that is water under the bridge, though I suspect I remember some of the troubled waters better than he does.
Then again, even an idyllic childhood is no guarantee of achievement, no contractual mandate that an opportunity such as this simply must happen. Any random American newspaper or website will breathlessly quote statistics about declines in educational standards, plummeting test scores, complications with teachers’ unions, the parental apathy that’s en vogue noawadays, and the infrequent detonation of a previously undiagnosed emotional powderkeg. Some days, some places, the worst-case scenario presented by The Wire‘s fourth season may seem quaint by now. The odds of many kids earning a high school diploma, let alone college entrance, would seem astronomical.
We’re certainly not taking the opportunity for granted. College dropout rates haven’t exactly been cured. He knows the road ahead of him may not be smoothly paved. We’ve already stumbled over an obstacle or two along the way, but we know the general direction he needs to go, though we continue to pray for guidance. Every little clue and pointer is appreciated.
I’m not 100% sure if I’m more nervous than he is. He’s reserved and plays his cards close to the vest. To me, this is kind of a big deal. College graduates exist in his bloodline, but they’re outnumbered by a wide margin. For the record, I’ve thus far done a commendable job of not forcing him into college just so I can live vicariously through his victories. I’m well aware of that TV cliché and can assure you it’s not an issue for me. I’m cheering from the stands, not rushing down to the field to claim the trophy.
Longtime MCC readers may recall an essay from last September, “How Not to Drop Out of College Twice“. That’ll tell you all you need to know about my own personal college experiences. The short version: it went terribly each time and I’m coincidentally not working full-time at my dream job. It’s a common area for the average American life to end up. Call my eventual autobiography I, Statistic.
So yeah, I’m excited for him, elated that he continues to do well in school, and proud that all of this has come to pass. So far it’s not an exercise in futility, anyway.
Ultimately his performance and his choices will be in his own hands. I can only micromanage so much from afar. Certainly we’ll keep the communications line open and do what we can as needed, but once he’s entrenched at school, we’ll be past the point where I can steer him firsthand, work with him side-by-side, or just lecture him at top volume till he gets it right.
I know he won’t be alone. Purdue has a large faculty and a massive student body. He has a few classmates who’ll be there as well, and one of his current teachers has been giving him handy alumnus tips.
I just don’t want him to make the same mistakes I made. I concede that, as a young male, he’ll find new, individual mistakes to make of his own. My tentative plan is to hold my breath, wait for all four years to play through, and then take a measure of rest. (Legal disclaimer: plan is subject to change without notice.)
Obviously I’m nervous, though I like to think he’ll be fine. Among the finer qualities that he presumably inherited from sources unknown, one in particular has stood out to me time and again: