Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.
- Mattie Stepanek
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It was both an eventful and poignant day. It was our son’s first day in college. He was going to pursue a degree in Computer Science which would keep him away from us for five years. Few days back, we threw a best of luck party for him to wish him success in his future endeavors. His college was about four hours away from our home. During the journey my wife kept on asking him whether he had packed all his belongings like any other mom would do. As my son was ready to go, he gave me a warm hug and said, “Do not worry about me. I will return in a matter of time. Take care of yourself”.
My heart was filled with melancholy. I couldn’t utter anything. However I had full faith in my son. One day he would make all of us proud. So we returned back home. In the evening I called him up and asked him how his first day in college was.
“Pretty good, dad. It was indeed a wise decision to choose this college. It has got myriads of opportunities to offer. Thank you dad for whatever you have done for me.”
I became emotional again. Indeed I supported him and made arrangements to enroll him into that college. At the dinner table, I noticed that someone was missing. I called out to my son but there was no response. He always used to be late for dinner and I had to remind him. It was on my wife’s intervention that I realized that he would no longer dine with us. Somehow that empty chair at the table bothered me and I stared at it repeatedly. That day’s dinner was quite abnormal I would say. The usual dinner table conversations both of us used to have with our son were missing. After all this was the blissful time of the day when the entire family got together. As I ate, I could not help but think what was my son eating there? Whether he was given enough to eat or not? Did he like their food?
After dinner I went to bed. But before that I would always glare at my son’s room for one last time and tell him “Good night”. It had become a regular habit until it dawned upon me that day that it was pointless now. His room was now pitch dark and gloomy. Nostalgia gripped me. I recounted those days when he used to wake me up midnight to request me to escort him to the toilet. That timid boy grew mature and responsible. He started studying day and night. I used to fall asleep but could see the lamp still glowing in his room. Sometimes he used to doze off at his study table itself and I used to lay him in bed and switch off his study lamp. Those memories did not let me sleep that night. As I tried to close my eyes, the image of my son flashed in front of me. Was he fine sleeping away from us? Was he studying like he used to do at night? Were his roommates amiable?
I was retired and my son had gone to college. I did not like the blank space in my schedule. So I had to find new ways of spending my time. I also had to find a remedy instead of being miffed by my son’s absence. To coup up with the situation, I went to my neighbor’s house whose daughter had also gone abroad to study medicine. What I felt was that my neighbor would realize my plight since his own daughter was away for a long time. But alas! How insensitive today’s parents have become. He advised me to be happy when my son has left home and lectured me about the ill-effects of being so apprehensive. That day my perspective changed. Till then I used to admire my neighbor. But that lecture changed it all. Were their hearts made of stone? How could they be so relaxed when their child is battling out in a foreign environment? My respect for them dwindled.
There was an epic soccer derby coming up the following week so I decided to buy its tickets. I returned and informed my wife to which she asked, “That is great! But who is the other one going along with you?”
What a stupid question it was. Obviously it had to be my son. But then again it dawned upon me that he’s gone. I asked my wife hesitantly whether she would go but she declined. Where did those days go when my son and I used to watch our favorite team play together and cheer them irrespective of victory or loss? I taught him that loss should never affect him. He should be bold enough to compete with others. Once after the match my son got lost in the gigantic crowd. I hunted for him everywhere. Fortunately I did find him, sobbing and wiped his tears. Till today I do thank the Almighty for not separating my son from me. Even my wife is unaware of this incident. But the question was what to do with the other ticket. I was helpless but to watch the match with my “unsympathetic” yet soccer-loving neighbor.
Winter set in after a few months. This was the time when I and my son used to sip hot chocolate in front of the fireplace. We also used to play with snowballs when he was a kid. Later I suggested him to clear the snow in front of the houses and the vicinity and earn a few pence instead of that. I have always taught my son to be self-dependant. I believe that even in the future he will not borrow money from anyone but rather earn it by his own diligence. Questions popped up in my mind again. Did he have adequate warm clothes? Did he know how the remedy to cough and cold? There was a jaded Christmas that year which lacked pomp and vigor. We simply exchanged greetings. I called up my son again. By his voice I could make out that he was joyous. It gave me some respite.
In this way winter went by and spring arrived. Spring did bring good news for us. Our beloved son was going to come back home during summer vacations. Surely he did indeed come and hugged me which gave me a déjà vu feeling of that time when he departed for college. However what I felt was that the warmth and affection were missing from his hug. Maybe I was mistaken. In order to spend quality time with him, I bought two tickets of our favorite team’s match. However to my shock he turned down my proposal saying that he no longer supports that team. I was heartbroken at this change in interest. My son’s mannerisms had undergone a sea change. He did not interact with me the way he used to do before. I realized that the bond between us had changed with times and was now only a cordial one. I did not wish to go with my neighbor again so I tore the other ticket. Yes the seat beside me was empty.
One fine morning I made up my mind to cook my son’s favorite dish for breakfast. Yes you did guess it right. It was his birthday! I left no stone unturned for this day. I was the first one to wish him as well. He did enjoy my breakfast but told me not to undertake anymore ventures since all elaborate arrangements has already been made for his birthday. Imagine our son returning after such a long time but still does not have the time to spend his birthday with those who gave birth to him.
He went back after a week leaving his room in darkness. I was left lonely again. The void in my life grew further with every passing day. My son was my sole hope and I was glad to see him succeed in his endeavors. Desolation and isolation spread their wings over my life. My son was the only staff who shooed these birds away but however a time comes when even the staff does not listen to its master.
Days past by in this way. In the meanwhile the case of a student who got killed by intense torture and ragging made the headlines. I was anxious and frightened but my wife convinced me that nothing of such sort could happen to our son. But this bug of fear and doubt did not spare me. My heart eagerly longed for him. So I did set towards my son’s college at night irrespective of the consequences with the objective of bringing him back. Before causing any mayhem my wife registered a missing complaint with the police to bring me back.
Everything did change from that day onwards. My wife made it sure to keep the car keys out of my reach. A psychiatrist was summoned for my treatment. I informed him about my depression and seclusion. He answered that such disorders are quite prevalent in modern times. He named it Empty Nest Syndrome. True to its name-the empty chair at the dinner table and the empty seat in the soccer stadium and the empty room in our house. He offered me some tips to deal with this mania or whatever. Strangely there is no medicinal remedy for this which means it cannot be cured unless you program your mind accordingly. What astonished me the most was that similar ideas were given by my neighbor as well barring the technical terms.
These few years were like a revelation for me. We never did let our son know about that incident. My son completed his degree from college and was selected for a job in a multinational company. He did come to meet us one last time before settling elsewhere in a foreign land. I did organize a small get- together in his name. Yes he did make all of us proud but at a heavy price. As he departed I wished to tell him,” Son, please don’t leave us alone again. We shall not burden you. Take us with you. “. But these words remained stuck in my throat. My five years of experience taught me that he won’t understand my plight until he becomes a father himself. My son cannot read my eyes, the eyes of his father. The bird whom we nurtured throughout our lives was now ready to fly in the sky, limitless and unhindered. All this while I was curious to know something. So I asked it rather blatantly to my wife,” How could you be so indifferent to your son’s welfare? Didn’t you ever love him?”
She replied,” I do love him as much as you do. But I had anticipated this crisis earlier and got equipped accordingly with the help of our neighbor. This is where you faltered and could not accept reality. There are some birds which throw their fledglings out of their nest in order to make them learn how to fly. Are they merciless? NO, to me, this is the best form of parenting.”