Fatherhood changes when teenagers are almost ready to launch

I was so happy and proud for my sons on the days they started Kindergarten. I could feel them growing up as they boarded the school bus, their hands on the rail and their superhero backpacks hanging low. I’m sure my grin was plenty goofy as I watched them go.


My older son was absolutely thrilled to get to ride the bus. He had watched his stepbrother do it for years and was just sure it must be totally awesome and a real sign of being big. When I came home that afternoon, he chattered for a long time about the bus ride, telling me every detail. When I asked him how school was, he said it was okay and told me more stories about the bus ride.

His younger brother was unsure and anxious when his turn came, but he did fine because his bigger brother was there to show him the ropes. When I came home from work that day, he had no stories to tell. When I pried a little, he admitted that he didn’t particularly enjoy the bus ride and wasn’t excited about school. I think that all the new stimulation overwhelmed the poor boy. He slowly adjusted and ended up doing fine.

I was excited to be there for every new adventure, whether happy or challenging, as my boys grew up. I cheered on every rite of passage, unlike their mom who struggled with seeing our sons’ littleness fade and every era end.

My sons are 15 and 17 now, a sophomore and a senior in high school. My older boy has become a little more interested in spending time with his friends than with his family. My younger boy, who is the solitary sort, pursues some deep interests that he has developed.

As a parent, the finish line is finally coming into view for me. My sons are starting to form identities separate from their family and to think about what kinds of lives they want to live on their own. These are natural passages.

But now it’s my turn to struggle. I’m still excited for their adventures to come, but very sad that more and more of them will happen without me in the audience.

During the summer, my sons live one week with their mom and the next with me. They’ve needed less and less direct care over the years, but this year it’s been clear that they are able to stand almost entirely on their own. This was proved by how well they took care of all of us for a couple weeks while I was laid up after surgery. And where in past years they were happy to make day trips with me or just run up to the Dairy Queen for a sundae, this summer what they really wanted to do was play games online with their friends. (Side note: Do kids actually go see their friends anymore? My older boy doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet. He says, “Why do I need it? All my friends are on Skype.”)

Unglaciated view

Can I just admit that it was a little bit of a desperation move on my part when I took vacation the week before school started and booked a couple days away for us? The school year’s grind would soon be upon us, and I wanted a couple of distraction-free days to just hang out with my sons. So we rented a cottage in beautiful Brown County and spent a day exploring the art galleries and shops in Nashville and a day hiking through the state park to take in its stunning views.

I had a good enough time. I think my sons did, too. But both of them were obviously glad to come back home. One of them even told me he especially enjoyed his time at home that week as he could just relax with his friends.

And so it’s time for me to start to let go. I know my sons still value time with me and in my home for the familiarity and security they provide. I know they still need me to guide and coach them. But these things serve more as a launching pad now, a safe place for them to figure themselves out and build their futures. But more and more now I find myself hanging on their every word, even as they chatter on about a video game they just played, wanting to feel like I’m a part of their lives as I was before.

After the divorce, fatherhood brought other unexpected challenges. Read about it here.


11 responses to “Fatherhood changes when teenagers are almost ready to launch”

  1. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    For everything, there is a season.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Is it OK if I like some seasons more than others?

      1. bodegabayf2 Avatar

        Oh yes. Of course!

  2. na0s Avatar

    I’m two years older than your oldest. My friends and I used Skype every day and still do. It offers incredible convenience because I can talk with my buddies for an hour and then stop and do work for a bit without having to commute to and from someone’s house. That said, I wouldn’t worry about your son never seeing his friends in person. The convenience of Skype does not replace the more simple pleasures of meeting with friends in person.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m astonished by how popular Skype has become with teens. I’m sure I would have used it extensively if it existed in the early 80s when I was in high school!

      1. Steve Miller Avatar
        Steve Miller

        I was just thinking the other day of all the time I spent on the phone with my high school girlfriend. Wonder what in the heck we found to talk about that occupied so much time. And yeah, this was back in the day when most homes had _one_ phone, usually in the most accessible home in the house.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Our family phone, which still had a rotary dial well past the time I left home in 1985, was in the kitchen — but you could easily walk three steps into the basement stairwell to have a semblance of privacy on a call!

          We had another rotary-dial wall phone at the bottom of the stairs in the basement, too, for extra privacy.

          I guess I was lucky!

  3. bwc1976 Avatar

    I would have totally loved being able to text friends at that age! A few of us did have computers and modems and frequented the local bulletin boards, but we were a very small and geeky minority.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Heh, yeah, I did the bulletin board thing, too. It was fun.

  4. tina Avatar

    I wish there was some way we parents could be apprised of the ramifications of this event beforehand so we could prepare. How ironic that the love we feel most naturally, that of a parent for a child, is the one that goes through such a radical transformation. The child is almost our possession, and then the child leaves our life – maybe not completely, but drastically. The relationship is turned inside out. It’s been a very difficult transition for me, especially because I don’t want to make my kids feel guilty about growing up, so I keep my grief mostly to myself.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think it’s wise not to burden your children with your grief. I think one positive we can look forward to is the freedom that comes with the empty nest.

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