Bill Bryson is my favorite author, and puts my writing skills to shame. His humorous travel writing (e.g., In a Sunburned Country, A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson’s African Diary, Neither Here Nor There), memoirs (e.g., The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, I’m a Stranger Here Myself), and science/history books (A Short History of Nearly Everything, At Home) are all fantastic. He may have written the best passage about Fathers, Work and Family that I have ever read. The following is excerpted from “On Losing a Son (to College)” from Bill Bryson’s book I’m a Stranger Here Myself, 1999:
This may get a little sentimental, and I’m sorry, but yesterday evening I was working at my desk when my youngest child came up to me, a baseball bat perched on his shoulder and a cap on his head, and asked me if I felt like playing a little ball with him. I was trying to get some important work done before going away on a long trip, and I very nearly declined with regrets, but then it occurred to me that never again would he be seven years, one month, and six days old, so we had better catch these moments while we can.
So we went out onto the front lawn and here is where it gets sentimental. There was a kind of beauty about the experience so elemental and wonderful I cannot tell you – the way the evening sun fell across the lawn, the earnest eagerness of his young stance, the fact that we were doing this most quintessentially dad-and-son thing, the supreme contentment of just being together – and I couldn’t believe that it would ever have occurred to me that finishing an article or writing a book or doing anything at all could be more important and rewarding than this.
Now what has brought on all this sudden sensitivity is that a week or so ago we took our eldest son off to a small university in Ohio. He was the first of our four to fly the coop, and now he is gone – grown up, independent, far away – and I am suddenly realizing how quickly they go.
“Once they leave for college they never really come back,” a neighbor who has lost two of her own in this way told us wistfully the other day.
This isn’t what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear that they come back a lot, only this time they hang up their clothes, admire you for your intelligence and wit, and no longer have a hankering to sink diamond studs into various odd holes in their heads. But the neighbor was right. He is gone. There is an emptiness in the house that proves it.
I haven’t yet suffered the loss of a kid going away to college, but I do make an effort (not always successful) to always be available for a baseball catch or light-saber battle with Nick (who, coincidentally, is not much older than seven years, one month, and six days). This passage is a great reminder to take the moments to enjoy connecting with our kids, even when we are busy. These opportunities are fleeting, and as Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast, If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it“. This goes double for fatherhood.
What are your thoughts on this? your experiences? Let’s discuss in the comments section.