A parent’s job never ends

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It was midnight on a Thursday last year in early September. My oldest son, Hunter, had just started his freshman year at ECU and he needed to talk to me. This sounded to me as if it was headed towards one of those father-son conversations that are sometimes uncomfortable for the both of us. I try my best to shoot him the truth about life no matter the subject even though I’m not too sure how effective I am. He talks with his mom about a number of things, but some subjects are best discussed between a father and son.

I wasn’t sure how this was going to go. Why was he calling so late? Immediately, my mind went in about 15 different directions.

Did he hate school? Was he lonely? Homesick? Were his classes too hard? Had he flunked a test already? Is he getting along with his roommate? Did he and his new girlfriend breakup? Did his car break down? Did he get in an accident? Speeding ticket? Was he sick? Did he get in a fight? Arrested? I was freaking out. This could be bad.

As every parent who has sent one of their children off into the real world knows, it is stressful. You just don’t know how it is going to go. There are no guarantees. For 18 years, you do everything you can to protect and prepare them for what lies ahead, but it is still a 50-50 call.

You can spend years overprotecting them, but then it is a complete shock to their system when they realize the whole world doesn’t revolve around them. Or you can give them plenty of independence and they might not be prepared because, let’s be honest, they are teenagers. Most of them are always going to take the easy way out. They need their parents push in the right direction from time to time. Like I said, it is a tough balancing act.

I’m the first one to admit I didn’t know what to say to my son when we dropped him off at his dorm last year. At that dreaded final moment when it was time to leave him, I always figured I’d have some meaningful speech about responsibility and smart choices. Instead, I just gave him a hug, patted him on the back, and said, “Don’t do anything stupid. Call me if you need me. Love you.”

Pretty lame I know, but practice time was over. Game day was here.

He finally called at 12:30 a.m. It was the longest 30 minutes of my life waiting for my phone to light up while I tried to watch Jimmy Fallon. “Hey dad. I knew you would be up.”

He sounded a little worried so my stress level didn’t come down at all.

“What’s up? Everything alright?”

I said a quick prayer before his reply.

“Well, I need some advice.”

And he sighed. Part of me was proud that he would call for advice. I guess I had done something right with him in the past. The biggest part of me was still freaking out while trying not to let on to him I was worried. There was no telling what was coming next, so I took a big breath and braced myself.

“Who should I start at quarterback this week in fantasy football? I’ve got two good ones and I can’t decide who to put in the lineup.”

Instantly, the stress left my body. I think I may have even blacked out for a quick moment. It might have been from relief or it could have been anger over the last 30 excruciatingly painful minutes I had spent watching my phone. Either way, it didn’t matter. I was glad that he was OK and it seems a little funny in hindsight that fantasy football was his biggest worry in life that night. We talked out his options for his quarterback “problem” and then hung up about 12:45 a.m.

“Thanks dad, I knew you would have some good advice. Talk to you tomorrow. Later.”

Whew. Everything was good — for now>

(Side note: Three nights after writing this column, my son called at 12:40 a.m. It seems somebody had backed into his car at a stoplight while coming home from the “library.” And, of course, it wasn’t his fault.)

David Lee is the Wilson Parks and Recreation Department Director. He is also a part-time golfer, part-time writer and, along with his wife, Dana, full-time parents of two boys.