My eldest son Zac went off to college this past year. It is one of those periods in life when a parent is both proud and skeptical. Proud that he was accepted to such a fine university. But, skeptical in the fact that he is prepared to be out on his own. Nonetheless, he was now a freshman living far from home.
The first several weeks he was gone were rough on everyone – especially mom. However, everyone was looking forward to Freshman Parent’s Weekend. It would not only provide us the opportunity to see Zac in his new environment but also settle some of the parental nerves that naturally exist when your first child leaves the nest. Unfortunately we would quickly realize that although our son may appear mature by many, the great communicator he is not.
Upon arrival for Parent’s Weekend we were quite excited. We have not seen Zac in many weeks and we looked forward to seeing his classes and meeting his friends. With that said, we wanted to make a good impression on his instructors and friends as well. Therefore, we insured that not only were we well dressed but that we brought significant items to keep his little brother entertained.
It was a chilly day with snow and slush on the ground. My wife was beautifully dressed in nice jeans, a sweater, 3-inch heels and a long white wool coat. Her attire was practical, warm and classy. We were ready for a pleasant day walking the university campus with our son.
When I picked up our welcome pack and reviewed the event schedule, I quickly realized that we would be leaving the campus. My son decided to join the ROTC. We knew that we would observe an ROTC event, but we assumed it would be similar to the march illustrated in the movie Stripes. We would sit in the bleachers as the troops came marching by. Oh, how wrong we were.
As my wife and I walked into the Gathering Hall, virtually all eyes turned and immediately looked our way. They quickly began whispering to each other while a few pointed in our direction. As we looked around the room, we realized that our attire was far different than that of everyone else. It was at this moment that a very sweet lady came walking over. She said; parents of a freshman? Yes, how did you now. Oh mam, that coat is not going to make it………and do you have any other shoes?
We felt pretty comfortable in our attire but then we looked around the hall. While we were dressed to go out to a nice causal dinner or walk around a university campus, all of the other parents appeared as if they were going camping. Suddenly, one of the freshman cadets announced that the buses would be leaving in 2 minutes and everyone needed to board the bus.
Although Zac’s little brother thoroughly enjoyed riding in the old school bus, my wife and I surveyed the situation and knew it was going to be a long day. Zac did tell us that we would be observing an ROTC event, what he failed to mention is that the event being observed would require following the troop through 8 miles of hiking, climbing and war exercises. Did I mention the snow and slush? Did I mention the 3 inch heels? How about the white wool coat?
It was during the third mile that the right heel broke. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that from behind her coat looked like a Dalmatian. But, it didn’t matter since as the soldiers came by through the puddles, whatever appearance of white was remaining quickly disappeared. As I was trying to keep a safe distance back and keep Zac’s little brother out of harm’s way, one of the Lieutenants approached my wife. He was trying to make light of the situation, be supportive and obviously attempt to preserve the well-being of one of his newest freshman cadets.
It was a 6 hour event. We were all cold, wet and bruised (and we were only observers). As we headed back to the bus, I saw the Lieutenant walk up to Zac. He said, Cadet you know how we instill survival skills in our soldiers? We train all of our soldiers in the art of adaptation and self preservation to insure their survival regardless of what situation they may encounter. Yes Sir, Zac replied. The Lieutenant then smiled and said, well Cadet I am not sure any of this training will help when you see your mother this evening. Good luck.
As we stepped off the bus and observed many parents clean, warm and happy as they walked the campus with their children; we selfishly thought to ourselves why did our son make us basically crawl through the swamp today. Then, there was the epiphany. During this period in our culture of entitlement and self-absorption, our son has chosen a path to serve. To put others before himself. We were cold. We were sore. We were wet. We were tired. But most of all, we were proud of the man our son has become.