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A crash course in letting go

DEAR COLLEGE punks:

So you’re finally going off to school -- to indulge yourself in freshman year, perhaps the greatest perk in American life, a fantasy league of 18-year-olds just like yourselves, acne for the most part going, going, gone.

You kids are the pride of our land. The future of this great republic. The next year will be filled with friends, fights, flirtations, romance, debate, laundry, naps, rants, clumpy cafeteria food, homesickness, bad sangria, lousy music, even the occasional book. You will get sick, and your mom won’t be there. You will get the first C of your entire life -- and your mom won’t be there.

Whatever you do, don’t look back.

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Because your parents are, for the most part, a mess. Sure, they’re putting up a brave front at your leaving, hugging you hard and cuffing you reassuringly on your uncombed head. But right now, they’re missing you in a way they’ve never missed anything or anyone before.

And before you say “what a bunch of babies,” please remember this: Your folks are discovering at this very moment just how profoundly they love you.

Cool, huh? Whatever.

Right now, they’re missing a lot of little things about you -- the toilet paper in the trees, the way you chatted all night on the phone about nothing.

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They’re even missing those petty arguments you used to have. You and your mom could argue for hours over what the dryer did to your favorite pair of jeans. Or the dump you made of your bedroom.

Then there were all those other little disputes: curfews, thongs, boyfriends, girlfriends, cars, tickets, MySpace, outer space, personal space, iPods, skin care and grades. Were you ready to be on your own? You bet.

Just don’t look back, OK?

Because if you do, you’ll see big Bruce. Bruce is a gruff and funny dentist with a voice like Foghorn Leghorn and an old-school approach to parenting, God bless him. He insisted he wouldn’t cry when he dropped Megan off to college in New York, the blond with the Disney deer eyes, his precious oldest daughter.

“I’ll leave the crying to others,” Bruce insisted. “I’ve got to be strong for them.”

Right. The Kleenex is over there, pal.

Hey, I said don’t look back. Because you’ll see my buddy Don. Don and his daughter had their moments. The hormones flew like crows to a state fair. But after he carted his lovely Molly off to Arizona State last week, you could have driven a semi through the hole in his heart.

Just do the guy a favor. Don’t look back, OK?

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And the moms, they’re not much better. Tough as they try to be, the moms are a mess too. Take Val, the tough-love mom with the standout daughter. Took Gillian off to Berkeley just last weekend, a great school, a great kid. Val will admit she’s still a little shaky over this milestone event. The too-quiet bedroom. The phone that doesn’t ring. The things we parents miss, go figure.

Times change. My buddy Eugene remembers going off to his freshman year at Colgate almost 30 years ago, with parents and all his siblings in tow. As parting time neared, he started to mist up, till his dad popped him in the chest and said, gruffly, “Dry up, huh. What’s wrong with ya?” and got back in the car and left.

Those were the days.

If I remember correctly, my dad didn’t know where my college was. For the first six months, he thought I’d run off to join the circus. He did visit me once, sophomore year, and opened the minifridge to find a battalion of Old Milwaukee beer and a lonely jar of Skippy peanut butter.

Long as I live, I’ll never forget the look of disappointment on his face. “Peanut butter?” he asked. “What’s that &%$!){circ}&#@ stuff doing in there?”

That’s how dads did it back then. They put a little distance between themselves and their kids, let the little punks discover a few things on their own -- to experiment, to fail. Which probably isn’t such a bad thing. Like everything else, dads change.

And now there’s now.

The thing is, with cellphones, you college kids never really leave. With e-mail, you’re never very out of touch. They are technologies our generation invented, and little did you know it was just so we could hound you from afar after you went off to college.

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Ha! Last laughs are best laughs. Be sure to check your messages, OK?

And don’t look back either. Hey, I said turn around.

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Chris Erskine can be reached at chris.erskine@latimes.com, or at myspace.com/chriserskine.


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