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Gary Horton: Say goodbye for their own good

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: October 6, 2009 9:40 p.m.
Updated: October 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Last week I wrote that I'd be sending my upcoming columns from the University of Pennsylvania.

Sensing a deep need for professional refurbishment, I've enrolled in a five-week residential program designed to enhance business leadership.

After two days, I have to say I'm most fortunate and blessed to be able to leave work and invest this time in professional improvement.

It's a luxury, provided by a capable staff and a very supportive wife.

While many businesspeople leave family and their firm for extended periods, I suspect I've never been away from home for more than the duration of an Latter-day Saints Boy Scout's retreat to Lake Mead.

Leaving home isn't typically easy for the one leaving for college or the ones left behind.

If you're not accustomed, there's fear of the unknown for those going, and fear of being left alone for those staying.

Too often, this fear of loss and unknown has us keeping our kids too close, too sheltered and then too inexperienced for our increasingly demanding world.

My wife Carrie knew far in advance she would be a college widow come October, and quiet tensions increased as we counted down the days.

Finally, last Saturday became a living wake.

We put away things left from summer, did last-minute finances, packed the bags and quietly drove the Interstate 405, arriving at the LAX curbside.

Out with the bags, hugs on the street and waves running along the car as she first pulled away.

Then she was gone and I was on my own - and I was gone and she made the lonely drive back to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Carrie had made similar trips with each of our kids - that dreaded long goodbye as each left home for school for the first time.

While the loss isn't forever, in the moment it feels like it, and sadness unjustly, but understandably takes place of rejoicing in what should be a celebration of opportunity.

Jonathan was our first out of the house, two times on educational quests. At 16, he headed off as an exchange student. His expression, and our emotion at the LAX gate, won't ever leave our memory.

Two years later, leaving again but this time for keeps, Jon entered Berkeley, and with it, adult life.

We knew this transition would be permanent. Jon would always be our son - he would always be "there," but never, "here," again.

Despite keeping our chins up, we all unsuccessfully suppressed tears as we drove from his dorm and he looked back at us with mixed expressions of accomplishment and uncertainty.

Chris followed at 18, leaving for college in New York.

And Katie, at the young age of 15, headed out for boarding school in Virginia.

Each time we faced twin emotions of sadness at separation and joy for opportunity.

And truthfully, sadness always won - until the sense of separation sufficiently cleared, all
owing us to see their advancement.

I've been "back to college" for two days now. Carrie and I have chatted multiple times and I've encouraged her with stories of the benefits and challenges I'm experiencing here.

It's hard for us to be apart. It's hard to leave my wife and my coworkers. Yet already I know my family and company will benefit from my effort.

I'm experiencing what many kids from our community lived as tender teens - taking frightful steps away from homey comfort for a chance at growth and education.

Some parents fear such uncertainty for their kids.

Some just like Junior around the house as a friend. Some don't want to see their kids ever leave.

But whether it's for college or vocational advancement opportunity, let them go as far and high as finances and situations prudently allow.

Make educational growth a family priority.

The sense of loss will heal, the growth will happen and kids almost always become responsible adults when subjected to the push of independence and accountability in the open world.

Sure, there are risks and chances. But those exist here too, in vast quantities, right under our blind eyes.

True, there are extensive sacrifices, but few things in life reward as highly as educational investment.
I'll be back soon enough in Carrie's loving arms.

And college kids return home for the holidays - almost always stronger, smarter and wiser than before.

Parents: "No pain, no gain." Let them go and let them grow.

You'll get over it, and someday they'll thank you for it.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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