Dads and the Empty Nest

When first approached about expanding my repertoire and writing about parenting issues for PJ Media, my pending “empty nester” status immediately came to mind. There were plans months ago for posts chronicling the lead-up to my daughter’s departure for college and how I was dealing with it. It seemed like a natural thing: I’m a dad and I write, so I will write about my daughter moving on to the next phase of her life. All that discussion managed to do was make me think about what I had been trying to relegate to the corners of my mind and not deal with until I had to because THIS IS MY BABY GIRL WE ARE TALKING ABOUT HERE, PEOPLE.

Turns out I wasn’t quite ready.

That brings us to today. My daughter just spent her last night here before heading off to college. College, by the way, is in New York City, and I am in Los Angeles. In case you flunked high school geography or haven’t mastered Google Maps yet, let me just tell you those two locations are far apart. Though her mother and I didn’t do well being married to each other, we have functioned quite nicely as parents over the years. We raised her to be a strong, independent young woman and the first manifestation of that was her insistence that she not go to college close to home.


I no longer have the luxury of compartmentalizing my feelings on the subject and spending my days moping around lamenting that I just made her school lunch for the last time, which is pretty much all I’ve been doing since May. How depressed was I? I binge-watched the entire series of “Game of Thrones” for the levity.

I don’t want to give you the impression that I have done no serious advanced preparation whatsoever for this next chapter in my life: last year I joined a wine club and rescued a cat.

There could be thirty cats (no dogs allowed where I live) here by Thanksgiving. There won’t be much wine. The cats might even be drunk after having to deal with my sappy, sad-dad attitude for a month or two.

As there is writing to be done about this, I decided to see what the Internet had to offer. The one common bond that new media shares with old is its penchant for insisting that only mothers care about their children. The majority of what was easy to find online had to do with the poor, dear mothers, most of whom probably had an excess of cats and wine long before I did. The not-so-subtle message from Google’s search algorithm was “Shut up, Dads of America, and get back to burning cans of spaghetti in the kitchen!

I’ll do a separate rant one day about the media’s insistence that American fathers can’t cook. I’m usually too busy cooking to get around to that one.

Today, however, I have to deal with reality, and not the Internet or media variety. That reality involves the fact that my daughter’s mother and I have been divorced for fourteen years so I already have a lot of practice missing my child. Too much. Even with that passage of time and all of that practice I never, ever got used to it. There is, after all, something exceedingly unnatural about having your child not living with you when she’s younger and supposed to be with you, even if it is only for part of the week. Her mother and I made sure we lived close to each other and even in that situation it has been difficult. In fact, I sometimes thought that was worse—knowing my daughter was just a couple of miles away and not being able to kiss her goodnight.

So yeah, I know what the missing stuff is like. Even though the Internet thinks I’m an emotionless Y-chromosome canned spaghetti burner, it hurts.

True, we’re now entering the time when she’s expected to move on and be away from me and I hope that helps. This is natural. This is something to celebrate.

This is also the time I get to see if any of the parenting stuck, which I will admit intrigues me.

What I really can’t feel at the moment is the sense that this is an exciting new chapter for me in the parenting journey. As a divorced parent, I am plagued rather by the feeling that I never got to properly finish the earlier chapters.

There is no doubt whatsoever that I am thrilled for my daughter and the opportunities ahead of her. She’s going to a great school, has an exciting major, and is going to run cross country and track while she’s there. I wouldn’t be a very good father if I weren’t excited about all of this.

It’s just going to be a little weird.

That strong, independent young woman who will be living almost three thousand miles away is still my little girl, after all.