The RP and John Y. Brown, III
— friends for nearly two decades — have a lot in common. A youthful political addiction, a more mature wisdom of the folly of politics, much, much better halves who’ve helped then grow up, truly demented senses of humor (albeit, John Y. is more demented and more humorous). Now they find themselves coping at the exact same time with one of the most difficult rituals of middle age: sending their first borns off to college a few hours from home. They both were pretty apprehensive as the magic date approached, and pretty blue once it passed.
Today, they share their reflections with the RP Nation. Enjoy:
The importance of ice cream and fathers. And kids.
Our son moves out tomorrow to go to college. As I drove home late from work my mind was reeling—reeling about the immediate future (getting ready for tomorrow’s big event), about the present (the final night at home before our son moves out and moves on) and, of course, about the past (memories which now seem eerily ancient of a boy who is no longer a boy anymore).
My best memory for both my children is what we came to call “ice cream night.” For nearly 9 years –every Monday night—I would pick up my two kids while mom had the night to herself. When we started Johnny was 6 and Maggie 2. It became a weekly tradition with dad. We had a routine and we stuck to it almost without fail. We’d get ice cream (usually at Graeters) and then go to Barnes & Noble bookstore for an hour or so where we’d look at books and magazines, get something to drink like hot chocolate and make up some activity. Sometimes we’d play slow motion hide-and-seek so we wouldn’t be noticed by the bookstore employees. Sometimes the kids would make up a play for me in the children’s book area. Sometimes I’d read something to one or both of them. Later we’d listen to music or just sit in the cafe and talk. But we were there every Monday night. Until we weren’t.
It’s hard to persuade a 15 year old to do much of anything especially hang out with Dad on Monday nights. But I remember a few years earlier asking my family if they would be on board with me running for Lt Governor with then House Speaker Jody Richards. They were. The only hesitation was my son asking if that meant we’d no longer get to do ice cream on Monday nights. I told him softly and candidly “It might.” He looked down at the ground for several seconds but knew something bigger was at stake and then said, “That’s OK.”
I’ll never forget that and tried to keep our Monday nights going through the campaign. And did a better job than I expected. Even the state Democratic Party chairman knew Monday nights were a special–sacred, really–time for me and my children and would ask frequently during the campaign if I had taken care of business the previous Monday night. I was able to say I had more often than not.
I am grateful for those 9 years. More now than ever.
Tonight as I drove home from work I was approaching Graeter’s ice cream and decided to call to see if they were still open. They were. And so was the Barnes and Noble bookstore across the street. Both stayed open until 10pm. I called my wife and she got both kids to meet me for ice cream again and even joined us herself this time. We were buoyant at the funny irony of it all. We ordered our ice cream and sat and laughed about how we can’t go back in time. Perhaps most can’t. But tonight I was able to–at least briefly.
I hurried everyone out of Graeter’s to go by Barnes and Noble one last time “for old time sake,” I said. The kids agreed. We walked through the doors and were greeted by staff offering to help us and reminding us they were going to close in 3 minutes. I recognized one of them from our earlier days. We walked up together to the magazine section and lingered for a minute or two chuckling awkwardly with one another. And then we were told the store was closing. The kids left and my son drove my daughter home. I stayed inside a few minutes longer to do a quick once around to see if everything was as I remembered it. It was. And then I unlocked the already locked entrance door and let myself out. And drove home alone.
Commemorating the 10th anniversary of my father’s passing the same week I dropped off my oldest daughter Emily for her freshman year at college brought forth a rush of conflicting thoughts and emotions.
One of my most cherished possessions is a letter penned to me by my father on my first day of college. He didn’t actually give it to me until decades later, for later-to-be-obvious reasons — both my mom and he were putting up a brave face to help compensate for the natural homesickness I would be feeling on my first days from the roost.
It is intensely personal, so despite the public life I’ve chosen for myself, most of my dad’s words will remain in the exclusive possession of his intended audience.
But I feel compelled to share his closing paragraph with my friends, because my father — whose poetic stylings far exceed anything I’ve written — so incredibly encapsulates my inner conflict in the days following my own first born’s first day of college. And for those of you who’ve gone through this rite of passage, perhaps you can identify with my dad’s words as well:
Please remember that we love you without reservation, and are here when you need us. We wish that you never have pain, but know you will, and hope that you can use our feelings for you to get past your own hurts and failures. You sure have helped us with ours.
While Lisa and I have tried hard, especially over the past few years, to prepare our daughter for independent life, there’s only so much that any two of us can do. It’s impossible to reconcile the desire to fully and completely protect your child from the harms of the world with the understanding that at some point, they need the freedom to make their own mistakes, seize their own triumphs.
And that’s the heart of my struggle. I’m so damn proud of what an extraordinary young woman my daughter has become, and so excited to see how she will continue to grow and flourish, given her newfound independence and the opportunity to study, learn, and make new relationships on a remarkable college campus. But she will always be the little girl I held in my arms; she will always be the fragile flower that I would sacrifice my life to protect.
Letting go is the most difficult thing I have ever done. But I know it is also the most important.
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Read the rest of…
John Y and The RP: Sending our First Borns to College