It was a sweltering August day in Washington D.C as I walked through the campus of American University side-by-side with my first child who was embarking on her freshman year of college. I was trying to slow our pace as I knew the inevitable goodbye was about to come. Brewing were the same emotions I felt 30 years prior as my parents said their goodbyes to me on the steps of my dormitory. But, this was my turn as a parent. And, my turn to let go. As we crossed the quad, I was reminded of the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote I wrote in her high school graduation card.
“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
One of the hardest acts as a parent is the act of letting go. Be it on a bike with no training wheels or an urban college campus; we must loosen the reins and set them on their own path. This was a particularly emotional time as my daughter struggles with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. Who was going to watch her now? Who was going to make sure she ate a decent meal and remembered to take her medication? We had spent the better part of the last year dealing with therapists, new medications, an out-patient stint at an eating disorder clinic, weekly weigh-ins and a lot of fear about whether or not this day would ever happen. We endured and had finally reached a state of emotional and physical stability. We had plans in place for therapy, weigh-ins if needed and medication checks. It was time to say goodbye. After a long embrace and a few tears, we were both on our way.
As I made the long trip home, I was thrilled to be receiving messages from my daughter about her whereabouts and what orientation activities she was taking part in. The advancement of technology and social media has helped us all stay in constant contact with one another, which was an immediate comfort in the early days of her being gone. I had a glimpse into her new world, and all seemed to be going well. I often found myself checking my Find Friends App to see her location. Was she eating in the dining hall? What is she doing in Georgetown at 10 pm? I realized I had to let go of not only my daughter but the technology linking me to my daughter.
Eventually, she stopped sharing her location with me, but I soon found another way through Snapchat. I had to stop. She was ok. She said she was eating, going to classes and making new friends. I had to have faith that I had provided all the tools for her to navigate her own way. We are now week three into the new school year, and although she’s had bouts of homesickness and uneasiness at times, she’s learning to walk through it all. And I’ve learned not to be constantly checking-in. I cannot forgo my good morning emojis or my good night I love you, but putting time and space between us has made us both more resilient. She knows where to find me, and she knows I will always be there with an ear and a shoulder.
Now, I just need to stop bribing her younger sisters into sharing her Snapchat stories with me.
Mark O’Connor is the Manager of Clinical Outreach for OPG, working out of the New York Office. He has over 20 years experience as an Executive specializing in Media Relations. He is a devoted father of three teenage girls and hopes to help others through sharing his own recovery journey and experiences as a father.