A father’s lament

Two weeks before Father’s Day we moved our daughter into her apartment near campus. We started the day by loading the SUV with furniture, dishes and household supplies; our daughter packed her car with clothing. We delivered the lot on one of the hottest days of the year. The apartment, on the first floor of a three-story brick building that looks more like an old factory than a home, doesn’t have air conditioning. But a breeze blowing through the bedroom window in the back made things bearable.

The entrance is old school, reminiscent of the mansions that still dot the edges of campus in this post-industrial town. A glass door leads up several steps through a marbled entryway to double wood-and-glass doors and into a foyer, with a banistered staircase and silver mailboxes flanking the apartments. Hers consists of a living room, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms. Our daughter took the one in the back, facing the parking lot and a fire escape; her roommates will share the middle room.

Univerity Commons entrance 72The living room was barren except for what we brought: a fan, a floor lamp and a dresser my father used when he lived at a retirement home. The walls looked bare and forlorn. A cable for the TV curled on the carpet. Every 20 minutes or so a city bus would rumble by. I don’t think any of us remembered how empty an unfurnished apartment looks but gawking wouldn’t fill the rooms so we placed Dad’s old dresser along a wall in the bedroom and started lining its drawers with shelf paper.

While the girls shopped at Wal-Mart for supplies, two guys from a local furniture store delivered the queen-sized box spring and mattress, the clicking of their tools echoing from the plaster walls.

The girls returned with glasses, cereal bowls, silverware, paper products and a case of iced tea. While they made the bed and stocked the bathroom, I washed the dishes. Out the back door I could see a rusted fire escape, a dirt parking lot spotted with watery holes and an alley between the apartments and the cement-block building that serves as a laundry. Mercifully the alley looked free of broken bottles, tumbled garbage cans and strays, both feline and human.

I have mixed feelings about the move. As a parent I know my job is to help the kids grow into independent adults capable of functioning on their own. On the other hand, as the police say, our inclination is to preserve and protect. You’re not old enough, we think. It isn’t as safe as campus. Since you’ll have to cook you may not eat. Our daughter had no such doubts about the move: living here is less expensive than a dorm. She could choose her roommates. They’d learn to cook. In the end, it was our job to support her decision.

As parents we face a painful paradox: we want to protect our children from themselves and others and at the same time push them out of the nest. I guess that’s how it is: one day your child is helpless, the next day it’s your turn.