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Thu September 13, 2012
Chris Tucker: Empty Nest
This time of year, many families find themselves in a period of transition as kids depart for college. Commentator Chris Tucker has these thoughts on a big change in his life.
Recently, like thousands of other American parents, I was laid off from the best job I ever had.
Parenting was a job I dearly loved and something I was pretty good at, I think, which I should be, having worked at it for 18 years.
My resume includes supporting the baby's head when I held her, laughing while she toddled from her mother's arms to mine, buying her picture books and chapter books and, more recently, Harry Potter books, taking her to piano lessons and voice lessons, acting completely confident that some boy would ask her to the freshman dance, teaching her to drive in the high school parking lot, taking her on college visits to intimidating schools, wondering how she could look so graceful in that shapeless graduation gown, helping her squeeze all those pairs of shoes into a tiny dorm room, and hoping she’ll find wise professors who will help her toward not only a career but an education.
It's a funny thing. Just when you think you’re getting the hang of it, time hands you the pink slip and says, “Thanks so much for your contributions. Please don't take this as a reflection on your performance, but we've decided to go in another direction over the next few decades and we're eliminating your department. Many of your functions are being outsourced to a bunch of strangers you will never meet.”
Now it helps a little bit to know that I'm not in this alone. My wife, who really ran the parenting department in our house, is being let go, too. Her resume includes many of the above duties and many, many more, including mentoring a stubborn guy who too often insisted on stricter discipline than he grew up under.
Being laid off from my parenting job has caused me once again to reflect on the paradoxes of human life. The most important passages of existence - birth, growing up, falling in love, getting married, building a career, growing old, dying - are both commonplace and unique. First love is a universal cliche, but your first love is yours alone. Raising a child is as old as humanity, but raising your child seems as distinct and personal as your face in the mirror.
Also universal is the knowledge that this is nature's way. Children grow up and go away, and that is how it's supposed to be. We all know that "failure to launch" is funny in the movies, but in real life nobody wants a 30-year old slacker rolling in at two a.m.
Our friends who have become "empty nesters" over the past few years tell us that it may take a while, but sooner than we know, we'll get over the sense of loss. We'll be out running around, finding endless ways to use this new windfall of time that we suddenly have now that 18 years of joy and worry have come to an end.
I'm sure they're right. One day this will all seem like a long time ago. I know there’s life after the layoff, though I’m not exactly sure what form it will take. In the meantime, we’ll be getting texts and maybe even phone calls from a distant college, catching glimpses of the woman she becomes. And who knows? Maybe she’ll bring us in for some contract work and a little consulting now and then.
Chris Tucker is a Dallas writer.