DYCHE | The view from an empty nest - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | The view from an empty nest

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By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

Family matters have pushed politics more or less out of my mind recently. The state and national political scenes are pretty depressing anyway.

So this is a more personal column than usual. Please forgive my self-indulgence.

My wife Laura and I took our third and last child, daughter Mary, to college this week. She is a freshman at our beloved alma mater, Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where her sister Katy graduated and her older brother Aaron is a senior.

It was a gorgeous day. The campus, which is akin to holy ground to our family, was even more beautiful than usual. 

Centre has elevated the formerly arduous freshman move-in to an art form. New arrivals drive behind the dormitory and a team of upper level students descends on the vehicle.

These teams have everything unloaded and in the student’s room in a matter of minutes. My job was therefore mainly to stay out of the way while Laura and Mary transformed the small space into a special place. 

I read in the sunshine, walked, tried to identify trees, carried empty bins back to the vehicle, and made an emergency run to Wal-Mart for shorter tension rods on which to hang a closet curtain. Mary's roommate's father was considerably more useful.

The college hosted a "legacy lunch" for freshmen whose parents were Centre alumni. It was a wonderful event outdoors with good food and lots of familiar faces of faculty, staff, and friends, some from over 30 years ago.

Centre is still small as colleges go, but is approaching twice the 750 student body size it was when I arrived in 1978. An even bigger difference from those days is the greatly increased traffic volume on Danville's streets that run through the downtown campus.

Having done it twice before, and confident our daughter would thrive at Centre, our parting was more sweet than sorrowful. The hour-and-a-half drive back to Louisville gave my Laura and me time to brace for the reality of an empty nest that we had been preparing for in the abstract for months.

We returned to a childless home for the first time in over 26 years. Our only company now is Lucy, a 13-year-old Labrador/chow mix, who is deaf, almost blind, graying, and not nearly as mobile as she used to be. She and I share some of these attributes of advanced maturity.

The college drop-off, the empty nest, and the aging dog present us with a challenge and an opportunity. 

The challenge is to not go gently into that good night of later middle age and beyond. The opportunity is to do more of this new phase of life than merely mount a resigned resistance against the ravages of advancing time.

We have sounded out friends who have gone into this frontier before us. My wife, who has always been able to find new fields of interest and remake herself from time-to-time, is well ahead of me.

She eats right, exercises, meditates, does yoga, paints, tends flowers, and generally practices a prudent moderation. Her work, and indeed her life, has a huge component of helping other people in it.

What a good example and inspiration she is to me! The scary thing about our being one-on-one at home with only Lucy to distract or intercede is that I am not nearly so good of an influence for her.

She has heretofore charitably overlooked this, but without a child at home on which to jointly focus I fear she may at long last see me for what I have become – a "dad bod" who watches too much television, is overly occupied with politics and sports, and is not as funny as he once seemed.

Forgive me if any of this partakes of self-pity. The briefest consideration of my miniscule issues quickly and forcefully clarifies that I have been very blessed and lucky in life. 

Common knowledge and the daily news are powerful reminders that lots and lots of people face infinitely more formidable challenges. They lack the leisure to indulge in political speculation because their lives are filled with much bigger, more fundamental, and often existential crises than an empty nest, middle age, or old dogs.

All lives obviously involve some degree of introspection, but too much inward focus is inevitably counterproductive. It is one of life's great and mysterious paradoxes that the prospects of personal happiness increase as one orients more toward others.

Preparing for and living a life of service is therefore key, whether one is beginning a college career or confronting a new stage of later life. My daughter joins an academic community at Centre that is sincerely dedicated to that proposition.

Her doing so is a good time for renewal of it in her father's life, too. Pray for me.

John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.

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