Letting Go

I let go of my firstborn last week.

After 18 years, the last 8 as a single dad, I helped him pack just about every one of his wordly possessions in a car, drove him 235 miles north and let him go. After moving his things into a sparse room and making sure he had enough money to buy notebooks and do his laundry, we stood outside his dormitory building.

“Well, I think I have things under control in my room,” he said. “If you need to hit the road, you can go ahead.”

In other words, “All right, Dad. Time to leave.”

I was sad for me, but not for him. Max was ready to be on his own. He admitted some apprehension as we neared the campus, but mostly excitement. He has been ready for several months, in fact. He’s confident (maybe a little too confident), he’s self-assured, he knows who he is and he’s not the kind of guy who will let anyone else convince him otherwise.

My parenting philosophy always has been that we aren’t raising children. We’re raising future adults. In other words, success as a parent is when our children are ready to leave home at the appropriate time (usually 18). If they’re ready to leave, if they don’t cry when we pull out of the dorm parking lot, if they don’t get homesick after a week, and if we don’t fret over their ability to make good decisions without our input, we’ve done our job.

Of course, it’s harder on us parents. We worry about their safety. We hope they remember how to put sheets on the bed. We pray they’ll use good judgment. We wonder where the time went.

Believe it or not, there’s an application of this life lesson to our work as communicators. Actually, it applies to many professions, but I’ll apply it to mine.

In every corporate job I ever had, I created a product that felt like my child. Mostly, they were publications. They were my children. I created — or re-created — them by contributing bits and pieces of who I am. I shaped them. I helped discover their personalities. I taught them how to speak to employees, how to be expressive and creative. When they made mistakes, I helped pick them up and dust them off and learn from the error of their ways.

And eventually I had to let them go. In most cases, I turned them over to the care of others. It was painful, but it was the right thing to do. I had to trust that they had matured to the point that they would continue to do good in the world of that organization.

We can’t claim so tight a hold on what we create that we’re afraid to let it go when it’s time. We need to move on to new phases of our careers and let others have a chance to influence what we’ve created. If we did a good job, the core of our creation will remain even as it grows, changes and adapts.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t shed a tear as we drive away.


One Response

  1. Robert, this is a moving piece. I remember taking my only son to college. Though he is now 34, and I have two granddaughters, I remember the sadness of that time like it was this morning.

    It is difficult being left behind. Take care of yourself during this time of transition, for it can be really painful, more painful than it seems. But you will get through it. You can take comfort in the fact that you are an exemplary Father and have raised Max to be a fine man. He will be okay, and so will you.

    I also liked the way you compared to this transition to our careers in communication. I just blogged about the early days of my career, remembering the primitive (by today’s standards) technology and tools we used. Editing publications in those early days was so much work, but it was so very rewarding professionally. I loved those days — and that kind of work — and it was very much like letting go.

    Onward and upward, my Brother.

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