Father's lament

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2012, 12:00am


My thoughts for months have been consumed with my younger son's future. His final high school exams, doubts that he did well enough to get a university place, the relief when the offers started coming in and the mad rush to get done in weeks what would usually take months: get him on a flight, find a place to stay, buy luggage, a laptop, clothes and sort out the bureaucracy of moving to a new country. It was miraculously achieved and, last Monday, he flew off. And, like most parents who have a child leave home, I am now trying to come to terms with the loss.

I will admit to being a big softie: I have shed more than my fair share of tears. The first night was difficult, so much so that I could barely sleep. To help me get a grip on my emotions, I sent him an e-mail putting the thoughts trampling through my head into words. It may be useful for other parents:

'Your brother's leaving for university was difficult for me; your heading off has been so much tougher. A memory of you when you were five is fixed in my head: the shy little boy who hid under the bed covers whenever someone entered the room. That vision stays clearly with me now, that sense of vulnerability, of needing to be safe and warm. It has been so vivid to me as I cry over my loss - of your leaving home for a new life, to grow and learn to stand on your own feet.

'Seventeen seems so young to be learning about independence. I was 22 when I moved out of home for another city. Even then, I felt unready to fend for myself. It is easier said than done.

'Some of my tears have, in part, been about your growing up; a worry that I have not given you the freedom to be able to do all those things that I really only learned when five years older than you. Others were for my shouting, yelling and ranting at you. Always it was not necessary, often an over-reaction to get your attention. But it wasn't about me trying to humiliate or make you cry. I always wanted things to be perfect and when they did not turn out that way, I would get angry with myself.

'I spent much of last night wandering around the flat, in and out of your room, sitting in your chair, thinking. So much could have been different, so much better. But I hope that what I did for you has been enough and that you have been happy.

'We are both beginning a new life. Yours will be adjusting to a bright new future in which there are endless possibilities. You can mould and shape that direction, choosing the path that feels best for you. I can guide, but you are the one to decide.

'Whenever you need help or have a problem, I am here. A phone call, an e-mail, perhaps a call on that new-fangled chatting program. I am that close. At times you will feel afraid, lonely or vulnerable. That is normal in a new situation, when you are away from what you know. If you don't understand something, ask. There is always someone to help.

'I never said this to your face, as the times when I wanted to felt so awkward. Still, I am saying it now in words, where the meaning is less confusing: I love you and wish you all the best for your new life. - Dad'.

His response, by the way, was a simple 'Thanks' - followed by a request to send him HK$500 to help him buy a new pair of casual shoes. Which makes me wonder just how successful a parent I have been.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post