Fatherly Musings on When the Real Training Wheels Come Off

She’s leaving home.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Steve Seidel
  • Illustrated by
    Nikki Smith

I just dropped off my daughter for her freshman year at college. Moving her in brought me immediately back to my own college experience, leaving me wondering if they bottled the essence of dorm room atmosphere and sprinkled it throughout college living facilities everywhere. Eau de dormitory toilette. That scent was oddly triggering. I vividly remembered standing in the hallway of my dorm room on move-in day and meeting my new next-door neighbor. Seemed like a pretty cool guy. Little did I know that he would become my best friend, marry my wife’s best friend, and our kids would become great friends decades later. 

Is this some sort of time warp? My college experience couldn’t have been more than a few years ago. How could it be that my daughter is going through it already? I feel like I just taught her to ride a bike. 

For all the irrational pressure being placed on the college experience, this is what I know to be true: There is more to college than simply getting an education; you don’t need to waste money on all those “essential” dorm supplies that won’t fit in 100 square feet of living space; and there will be excessive partying and regrettable late-night decisions. 

As I told my daughter, college is real life with training wheels. It’s living on your own, but with roommates, a meal plan and minimal expenses. Hard for the protective father in me to say it, but now is the time to screw up, oversleep, study for the wrong test, eat questionable cafeteria food. Just like when those bicycle training wheels came off, there comes a moment when you’ve gotta let go and hope that all of the Yoda-esque wisdom imparted on my young Jedi soaked in. She seemed to get it. I’m not too naive to think that boundaries aren’t going to be challenged, but her “I know, Dad” responses were delivered with reassurance, not an eye roll. Hey, it’s a start.

My baby girl has moved on. Sure, she’ll come home again for school holidays and summers, but once she’s spent time in the real world—even one with training wheels—it will be like that time I loaned a friend my leather jacket. When I got it back, it never fit quite right again. 

As difficult as pandemic living has been, I loved every minute of wearing matching Comfys, bingeing on Breaking Bad, enjoying to-go sushi from Little Izaka-ya, and discussing the comedic merits of the latest dank meme. It’s not just that my firstborn has moved away; so has a good friend, my concertgoing sidekick and spiritual panacea who—quite honestly—kept me feeling young. In the blink of an eye she’ll graduate, land a job, move into a crappy apartment, and carry on with her own journey of life. I’ll be left with the consolation prize of turning her old bedroom into my man cave.

Steve Seidel, a proud graduate of UC Santa Barbara, lives with his wife and son in Sherman Oaks.