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It's Our Turn: Reflections of a father from an empty nest

Joseph (left) and Zach as young boys ready on the morning of the first day of school. (Philip Drown / Echo Press)1 / 3
Zach Drown flies the nest.2 / 3
Joseph Drown on his new motorcycle. 3 / 3

The house was extremely quiet. My wife, Jeannette, and I had just returned from moving our oldest son, Joseph, into the dorms for his first year at college. Jeannette took off again to do some errands. My youngest son, Zach, was at work. I was home alone.

I wandered about the house for a few minutes trying to settle my mind. I opened and closed some cupboards in the kitchen; turned the television on, then off again; walked downstairs to my office and pushed a few papers around on my desk. Finally, I made my way down the hallway and stepped into Joseph's empty room.

I sat down on his bed and looked around. He was gone. He wasn't so far away — less than a two-hour drive. But his years of living at home had come to an end. I took a moment and allowed myself the freedom to experience the emotion. My eyes welled up.

My mind flashed backward to memories of his first birthday. As I looked at him that day gleefully, yet somewhat obliviously, opening presents and bumping around the living room floor and furniture, I suddenly realized just how quickly his first 12 months had passed. All I had done was blink my eyes and they were gone.

In that moment, I had a revelation: My son will be 18-years-old — like tomorrow, and I need to savor every second I have with him.

That day I made a vow to prioritize my family above anything else, and make sure my kids knew that I would always be present for them and that I would be a safe place. I knew I would never be a perfect father. I just wanted to be a good one.

This past June my youngest son, Zach, left for college. I was happy for him because he was ready to be on his own. He moved in with his brother for the summer until the college dorms opened. They were close growing up, and I was so happy to know they could bond again as young adults in their new independent lives.

I was always happy for my sons with each new phase of life they entered, but I usually teared up just a little as I watched the previous stage slip away.

As Zach pulled out of the driveway last June making his official flight from our nest, my mind once again journeyed into the past.

I thought about walking them to school on their first day. I remembered all of the times we went on walks together as a family or played board games or watched "Hogan's Heroes" on a Friday night or took a Saturday to get out of town and gallivant.

I thought about the month I took up roller blading so that I could spend quality time with Zach (I broke my ankle, thus ending that adventure), or the winters driving them around on their paper routes. We always stopped for hot chocolate before beginning the deliveries and had a good time laughing and chatting our way throughout the neighborhood. I considered my wife spending endless hours meticulously working with them to prepare their transcripts for college.

Watching Zach leave was an end to all of that, but the beginning of something new and something just as exciting. Now they are full-grown adults — both off to college. I am happy that they are happy, and that they are strong young men with good heads on their shoulders who are prepared to take on their worlds.

Raising a family is a rough-and-tumble business, especially when you are fighting the battles of life. It was not always easy, but we gave it everything we had. Occasionally it all got too busy and too complicated. Sometimes the lessons we planned to teach them did not pan out — but sometimes they did.

We didn't get everything right and even our best intentions sometimes turned out wrong. But what ultimately mattered were the moments: The times they needed to talk, and we listened; the times they needed help, and we were there to guide them. In the end, it was the time we spent just being together that we savor the most.

Recently both of my sons told me separately that my wife and I did a good job raising them. They meant it, and that is all I will ever need to hear.

As the expression goes, "Our nest may be empty, but our hearts are full."

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"It's Our Turn" is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.

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