It’s a feeling that hits you when you drop your kid off for a summer karate camp, knowing that you’ll pick him up a few days later.
A few days later.
He’s nine now. He’ll be fine. He’s nine, he’ll be fine. Sure, he’ll be fine.
And he is fine. He was fine. Things went fine, fine, fine, fine, fine.
It’s that melancholy feeling, with a heavy mixture of pride when you realize that your kid doesn’t quite need you like he used to. He can tend to many of his needs. He can dress himself, bathe, brush, eat, and even prepare a simple meal. At the very least, there’s comfort in knowing that, when he gets up in the morning before you, you can still sleep in a bit because he’ll get his own bowl of cereal.
He’s going to karate camp for god’s sake. He’ll be at a camp that literally sits right outside an Arizona DPS station, our equivalent of the highway patrol. There are cops at the entrance of the camp and many of the adults at the camp are black belts with a couple of grandmasters here and there and one, yes, one Shaolin monk. (Seriously, one is all it takes.)
He’ll be safe, you know that. You know he’s protected, fed, looked after, and cared for. He’ll be learning new things. He’ll pick up the basics of kenjitsu from a grandmaster. He’ll learn sanjiegun (three-sectioned staff) from the aforementioned Shaolin monk. He’ll have squirt gun fights, sing songs, carry a camp flag, and all of the stuff that you know goes on at summer camp because you’ve seen Meatballs more times than any human should and you watched the entire run of Camp Lazlo when it was on Cartoon Network.
And wow, he certainly doesn’t need you like he used to.
Certainly there’s pride there. He’s growing up well, learning new things, and can take care of himself to some extent. Yeah, he’ll probably skip a shower or “forget” to brush his teeth at some point, but whatever. He’ll survive and your parenting has given him some of the skills to do just that. He’s not moving on more than he’s simply moving up. In role playing game parlance he’s “leveling up.” He certainly socializes better than you did at his age. Hell, he’s playing with friends he just met while you’d have been sitting on the bunk in the dorms, reading a book or something.
So you drop him off, kiss him goodbye, give him a hug, and head home… which is over 150 miles away. He’s not supposed to call unless there’s an emergency and visiting is out of the question. You spend the next few days wondering how he’s doing, what he’s doing, and worrying that he’s not having a good time and you’ve dropped him into the middle of Han’s Island from Enter the Dragon. Sunday arrives, and your wife can’t make the trip because of birthday parties. Thus, you’re the one to saddle up, grab some coffee, and make the 300 mile round trip drive to pick him up and bring him home.
You see him at the closing ceremonies marching with his troop. He gives you small wave when he sees you, then sits for the rest of the ceremonies. After it’s all over you walk over to him, finding him amongst the crowd.
He hugs you, holds you for the longest time. You ask if he’s okay, and if he’s had a good time. He assures you that he has, he’s just happy to see you. He missed you, Daddy, and those tears he’s hiding? Yeah, he may not need you like he used to.
But he needs you now, and for now, that’s enough.