And Now For Something Completely Different August 14, 2012
I don’t think I’ve ever strayed from Illini athletics in this space. 3.5 years of doing this, and I believe every post had been at least based on college sports. This one won’t. I think I need to tap a vein.
We just dropped my son at college. This is one of the craziest emotions any human being can experience. I’m pulled in a million directions right now, and I figured the only way to process it was to type it out.
I should back up. Some might be confused. Here I talk about Forbes Hall in the early nineties in one breath and then “son in college” the next. Here’s the quick story: In 2004, I was a 31 year-old single bachelor. In 2005, I was a married father of 9, 11, and 13 year-old boys. See, I married the single greatest single mom in the world (seriously, if there was some competition, she’d win – work two jobs, go to college at night, raise three boys on her own for 9 years, like a BOSS.)
It sounds like a weird transition – single bachelor going to a game at Wisconsin on a whim to married father of three going to JFL football games on a schedule – but it really wasn’t. When asked, I told people that this is what I was born to do. Fatherhood fit like a glove.
And besides, I had fast forwarded to some great dad years. Catch in the backyard. Little league games. Expanding your Illini football season tickets to 4 seats and sitting there with your three sons when you beat #5 Wisconsin in 2007.
But this year, I reduced to three season tickets. Because one of them left three years ago for Southeast Missouri State. And another one we left 45 minutes ago at Colorado State. The third one is doing his best right now, tossing out “you still have me, guys” as my wife and I have tears in our eyes. But we all know what just happened. The scales just tipped. There are now more boys in college than boys at home. And I can’t describe to you how difficult that is (although, apparently, I’m going to try).
I want the world for these three boys. I honestly don’t care if I have anything in life as long as they have everything. So when one of them says he dreams of going to college in the mountains, you find any way to make it work. Does it bother me that he didn’t want to go to Illinois? Not an ounce. His heart comes alive in the mountains, and in no way would I want to squelch that with “but you just have to HEAR Assembly Hall with we hit a big three-pointer”.
In that sense, this is one of the best days of my life. His dreams begin now. We did our part – a trip to Sam’s Club for the six pound box of Goldfish – and now he’s off to chase life. I couldn’t be more excited for him. Or for his older brother. They get to start living.
But like I said above, this tipped the scales. It’s really happening. An empty nest is two years away. Over before it barely began. Becoming a dad when they’re 13, 11, and 9 means you only get 5, 7, and 9 years to strengthen their wings before you nudge them out of the nest. The Juice Williams era (he verballed the day I got married), the Nathan Scheelhaase era, and I’m done being a father. I knew it would be short, but I never imagined this short.
My thoughts naturally drift back to Forbes Hall in August of 1991. My mom in tears, and me not understanding (I get it now, Mom). The half-excited, half-scared to death as the station wagon pulls away. The guys I met across the hall who asked if I wanted to go to Zorba’s for gyros, and going along even though I didn’t know what any of those words meant.
His brother got to experience those emotions a few years ago, and now Matt gets to experience the same. I’m intentionally choking back every “make sure you plug your laptop into a surge protector” and letting him figure it all out on his own. I’m so excited for him to figure out which classes he can skip and which professors to avoid and which ski trip to join. And then, in two weeks, when CSU plays CU in Fort Collins, he gets to learn to hate that team in gold and black from Boulder.
So there’s that. But then there’s this feeling that remains. That empty bedroom at home. The not having to sleep lightly until you hear the car in the driveway at 1:00. And the three seats in Memorial Stadium.
It’s time to head back to the Midwest now. This is exciting and hard, all at the same time. Thanks for letting me share. And if you see a bearded guy in the west balcony on September 1st looking a little melancholy even though we just beat Western Michigan 48-9, it’s because he’s thinking of the two boys he used to bring to games who are now out living their lives. And don’t hate me for checking the CSU-CU score.