When A Child Goes Off To College

Ron Mizutani
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Wednesday - September 08, 2010
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The author and his son Dane

Saying goodbye is never easy. It can be one of the toughest things to do when your child is taking the next step in his life.

No one teaches us how to let go. There’s no manual or parent guide on how to calmly and quietly back away. Separation anxiety, that’s what our children experienced on their first day of school. So why are roles reversed when our children head off to college?

It’s a question thousands of parents have asked or are quietly dealing with this fall. I know I’m not alone, but why do I feel so alone?

I couldn’t be farther removed from the ocean this week as I sit on the campus at the University of Minnesota. I let my thoughts drift to Kailua Beach, where I’ve enjoyed so many memories with my children, including my oldest son, Dane. Maybe it’s the taste of my tears streaming down my face or maybe it’s because I always visualize the ocean when I’m sad.

But I shouldn’t be sad. College is an exciting time for our children. It’s one of those moments we dream about when they first come into this world. There’s birth, then their first step, first word and first day of school. And then there is college. (Marriage is down the line, but that’s for another column.)

Dane has made us very proud over the years. A National Honor Society student, an editor for his school’s newspaper, a talented two-sport athlete and the most respectful son a dad could ask for. And now he’s following in my footsteps, enrolled in the journalism department at Minnesota. How cool is that?

We shared several quality days together before he checked into his dormitory. We spent hours chatting and laughing during the 400-mile, seven-hour drive from Chicago to Minneapolis. Dane eventually dozed off, and I found myself staring at his gentle face, reminiscing all the wonderful times we shared. The family trips to Disneyland, Orlando, San Francisco, Kauai and Waikoloa. And especially the one-on-one moments engaged in deep, meaningful conversations. It was enough to release the tears.

The night before he checked in we spent every moment we could soaking up each other’s company and making more memories. We walked the entire campus and got excited about the football, basketball and hockey games he would attend. We talked about the winter season and how he planned on staying warm. And then we went out and ate some ice cream, knowing it may be his last for several months. He fell asleep just after midnight. Again, I stared at him, and again the tears came.

My boy is now a young man and I need to let go.

College administrators can spot parents like me a mile away. You know the ones who take their children to school but just don’t know when or how to say goodbye. It is one reason many schools have implemented programs that force quick farewells for incoming freshmen - not for the students, mind you, but for the parents. University of Minnesota is one of those schools.

We’re referred to as “Velcro parents” or, as I prefer, “opihi parents.” But even opihi release their hold. The clinging slowly eases. The resistance eventually stops. It’s an emotional moment when we finally say so long ... for now.

The tears are still flowing. And just think, I have to do this all over again in a few years with my daughter Haven and then again with my son Tai-John. I’ll be a wreck. But I know I’ll have company ...

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Most Recent Comment(s):

Aloha Ron,

Love reading your column each week; it keeps me loosely tethered to Hawaii from Kansas. 

I grew up visiting family in Minnesota each year, so your son’s selection of school caught my attention.

While geographically far away, there are some similarities that can help bridge the distance.  With 10,000 lakes, SUP is a viable option and if Dane wants to surf, there is surf in Lake Superior, just not the same size, quality or warmth found in the Islands.  Lastly, there is a truly remarkable section of coastline called the North Shore.  While you won’t find Sunset, Waimea or Pipe, you will find absolutely beautiful Country as you drive from Duluth to the Canadian border.  If you visit in the fall, it is worth the trip.


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