I’m an awful father. When my daughter went off to college we put her on a plane to Asia and basically didn’t see her for five years.
When my eldest son went to college on the East Coast we took him to LAX with his duffle. “See you. Love you.” I visited him in Philly twice.
At the time it seemed okay. They were adults and had picked distant places and I was about as broke then as I am now and for fuck’s sake, my parents didn’t even tell me goodbye when I was eighteen, and I didn’t care because they were paying the tuition.
But with my last kid I figured maybe I should be more involved so when he invited me to orientation at UCSB I said, “Sure!”
UCSB is what bicycle America would look like. Cars are third-class citizens. Prime parking is for bicycles. Bike racks are everywhere. Pedal paths are the only roads on campus. Bikes have the right of way. No one wears a helmet, kids have wind in their hair, people look happy.
But once orientation began I stopped noticing that and noticed that I was surrounded by insane people. One woman anxiously hooked her arm through her adult son’s, clinging to him like a bad rash.
A father berated his daughter for the classes she wanted to take.
A Chinese couple reviewed the orientation schedule intensely, highlighting and marking it up as if it was the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Stock Market.
I had more practical concerns. What was going to happen when my son woke up after two months of classes and realized THAT THERE IS NO LAUNDRY FAIRY?
It quickly became clear that parent participation in orientation was designed to eliminate a student’s biggest obstacle to a happy college experience: Parents. The kids were gradually separated from the Klingons with a crowbar and taken away from their sobbing mothers and choking fathers, taken all the way 400 yards across campus to be academically counseled in private and advised to wear condoms.
As a booby prize we were shunted off into a series of seminars, each with a catchy title like “Don’t be a sniveling simp,” and “Your daughter will get banged so get used to it,” and my personal favorite, “You can’t do his homework any longer.”
After twelve hours only the moms were still standing. I had distilled the lessons into:
- Go away.
- Your kid is fine.
- Don’t call us, we’ll call you.
At night’s end we were hustled into one last session called “Saying Goodbye and Meaning It.” After a full day of serious note-taking, the moms were at an emotional climax. Finally we’d get to discuss what really mattered: The nattering minutiae of off-loading the kids without breaking down into a sobbing, hysterical, inconsolable mess.
I wish I could make this stuff up but I cannot.
“How many electrical sockets are in the dorm room?”
“Can we have laundry service for our child?”
“How can we check up on our child’s homework and class attendance?”
“How do we advocate for a teacher to give our child a better grade if we think he was unfairly graded?”
“Since we’re paying we demand to see our child’s grades. How do we access their academic account?”
“Where is the Target? WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE IS NO TARGET?”
“If there are three students per room and our child needs more than her one-third of the space, how do we arrange that?”
“What if we think our child’s roommate is a bad influence?”
“What if we don’t like our child’s roommate’s parents?”
And my personal, all-time favorite question ever in the history of helicopters: “I’ve noticed that no one on campus wears a bike helmet which is very dangerous. How do we make sure he wears one?”
Bicycle America, indeed.