Starting uni: a dad's perspective on saying goodbye

Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;

                        for the LORD has spoken:

            I reared children and brought them up...

Isaiah 1:2a

I was packing bags, dashing up and down the steps with boxes, and busily loading up my dad’s car. This was the moment I had been waiting for: I was leaving for university. My dad was standing by the door, car keys in hand, and I had just made a final rushed check on my emptied room. Because I had been waiting for this day for so long, it all felt quite natural, as though it was part of a very natural course of events. The time had come. I rather unceremoniously told my siblings goodbye, then turned to give my mom a hug. 

She was crying. 

To give you an idea as to how clueless I was as an 18 year-old boy, I found my mother’s tears a complete surprise. Mom, c’mon—we have known this day was going to come. You have been prepping me for it since I can remember, dropping hints that you wanted me to go to uni, and you even bought me some clothes and some plastic hangers and stuff. Why are you crying? I mean, this is one of the most exciting days of my life! Why are you so sad?

Like I said, I was clueless. 

That was a long time ago. And during that time I spent almost a decade in student ministry. For many of those years I stood ready in front of residence halls greeting 18-year- olds and their moms and dads, helping them unload cars and carry clothes, boxes, plastic hangers and stuff up to an empty dorm room. I have seen the parents tear up, seen the struggle to maintain composure while giving goodbye hugs. 

Since I have four children of my own, while helping some dad bring suitcases up to a dorm room there has been a gnawing sense that one day, my little kids will say on the way out the door for uni, “Bye Dad. See you at Christmas.”

I have about 18 months before I find myself in my mother’s shoes, but I think I have been a parent long enough to be able to formulate an answer to that question from my 18-year old self:  C’mon, Mom—why are you crying? Why am I crying as you prepare to dash out the door and off into the wide world? 

Because I remember your weight in my arms when you fell asleep on the floor that time on Christmas Eve and had to be carried to bed. 

Because I remember those times of holding your hand in the A & E.

Why am I fighting tears while your hand is on the door? Because I’m was the one you came to for comfort when that movie gave you such a fright, even though you acted so brave around your friends. 

Because even though you have kept secrets from me among your friends, I am still keeping so many of your secrets, those embarrassing things that happened at home you would never want your friends to know. 

Why am I sad, now that you are about to walk out my door? Because I taught you how to ride a bike. 

Because I have made you pancakes every Saturday morning since you could eat solid food.

Because the only reason you are alive today is because I made you hold my hand when we crossed the streets and taught you not to chase the ball when it flies loose into the road. 

Why am I sad? Because every night for the first decade of your life, every night, I came into your room, pulled the covers back over your shoulders, and kissed your messed-up hair, though I knew you'd never know I was there. 

There is a tear in my eye because your welfare has been my life for 18 years, because the only reason you are able to dash out my door for bigger and better things is because of all these things I have done for you day in and day out as your dad. And I know you will barely remember it. So let me shed a little tear, oh 18-year old daughter or son. You needed me every day of your life, and now your sense of need for me is already fading away. 

But as you depart through my door, there is another Father who will still be there when you fall asleep, who will ache when he sees you in pain, who will laugh when you do something silly, whose help you will never not need... even if you no longer need me. And of all fathers, he is the Best. 


This beautiful guest blog captures the words of Andy Byers; a father, a brilliant friend of Fusion, a gifted preacher and he happens to also work teaching theology to hundreds of students at Cranmer Hall in Durham

Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

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