This isn’t laced with deep regret about it being too late to say what I wanted to say. Our oldest child went off to college a year ago this weekend and I started writing this letter to her that next week. But I didn’t finish it until she was nearly done with her first semester and at that point it seemed a little late. This weekend as we prepare to move her back for sophomore year I decided it’s never too late. So this is the letter I wrote and wish I’d sent a year ago:
You’re off to an exciting start in this new phase of your journey! The college move-in was an intense day with all sorts of emotions: excitement and joy mixed with a little bit of apprehension and sadness. Of course, that goes for all of us.
I’m excited about the beginning of your college career and I think you know how proud I am of you. But part of me really wishes I could have had our girl at home with us for just a little while longer.
It’s hard for Mom and Dad let go. It’s not that I don’t think you can make it as a college student or as an adult. I KNOW you can. You have a level head and you know how to make good choices. It’s just that we don’t want to let go.
You’ve been a bright ray of sunshine in our lives for 19 years. That’s right, even before you were born – as soon as we learned we were expecting you – your presence blessed us in ways that words could never fully describe. And it’s been a great adventure watching you grow into the beautiful young woman that you are. You have a strong faith that shapes who you are. You’re a born artist. You’re compassionate, especially toward people who have disabilities or other strikes against them. You’re an amazing big sister. You’re hilarious. You’re fun. You’re bright and you love to learn. You’re a loyal friend. You’re an amazing daughter. Who wouldn’t want to keep someone like that around?
We’ve known this day was coming all along. The past two years have been consumed with college research, college visits, college applications, college everything. (A few weeks ago I looked back at my most-used words on Facebook posts, and “college” was close to the top!) So it wasn’t a surprise when you suddenly were at college and weren’t here anymore.
It just seemed to come so fast and we still weren’t ready. I guess parents never really are ready. Even though I’m proud and excited for you, it felt like a piece of my heart was being ripped from my chest.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take the next step. You’ve proven that you are ready. Remember when you turned 13 and I told you that as you made good decisions you would earn more freedom? Well, you showed very clearly that you know how to make good decisions. Keep making those wise decisions and you’ll do well.
Part of my job as your dad has been to protect you while you were growing and learning how to navigate this world. That’s a very powerful force in a parent, and after so many years it’s one that doesn’t just switch off like a light when you go off to college. It makes letting go such a hard thing to do. And even though I sort of get used to your being away, it’s almost as hard to watch you leave again every time you’ve been home for a few days.
Obviously, even though I will always be here for you and would drop everything if you needed help, I’m not there with you every day any more. I can’t control the world around you from a distance, no matter how I wish I could. What I can do is keep you in my prayers non-stop, as I’ve done for the past 19 years, and try to remind you of a few things I hope you will keep:
Keep the faith. You know the One who holds you in His arms will never leave you or forsake you. Always feed your faith and surround yourself with people who will nurture that faith. The world of academia doesn’t always do that nurturing, so you need to find people who will, and then you need to encourage each other.
Keep your eyes open. You might have gotten tired of hearing me say it, but you always need to know what’s going on around you. Part of that saying is obviously in the context of your safety. You’ve got to know your surroundings and watch out for yourself wherever you are. But in a broader sense, you never know what new experiences are just around the corner that could open some exciting new door. Don’t miss something good that could be about to drop into your lap at any moment.
Keep focused on good stuff. A wise man once said, “We become what we think about.” Feed your mind with things that are worth thinking about, and don’t let negative or discouraging thoughts hold you down. Or, as Paul said to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” ~Philippians 4:8
Keep your passion. Dance is your passion, and that’s very cool. You’ll probably see more “passions” develop as you make your way through your college years. The key thing to remember is, always be passionate about something worthwhile. Don’t ever let those sparks die out. They are what make you alive.
Keep your perspective. OK, you’re ready for college and independence, but you’re bound to make a mistake or two along the way. The key here is to learn from them, and don’t make the same mistakes twice. And don’t let the mistakes derail you or distract you from your purpose. Mistakes are learning opportunities, but they’re just a piece of the whole picture.
Keep your head. Independence brings new temptations. Lots of them can bring painful consequences. Some consequences can last a lifetime. An unwise person could lose their head when faced with new-found freedom. Keep making those wise decisions as you’ve learned to do so well.
Keep home in your heart. I will always be your daddy. I will always love you. I will always be here for you as long as there is breath in me. Come home and give your old man a hug every now and then.
All my love,