Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Ask a College Dad

Dear College Dad,

When my wife and I dropped off our daughter at college, everyone in the family had been wagering on who would cry the most. Oddly, nobody cried, not even my daughter. I thought her eyes would at least get shiny, but she was utterly emotionless. I think her exact words were, “Shouldn’t you and Dad be getting on the road?” Is this in the realm of normal, or have I raised an ice princess?

Shannon M, Hilliard, OH

Dear Shannon,

Not to worry, her behavior is completely normal. Don’t take this wrong, but your kid has probably all but forgotten about you by now. She’s rushing off into her exciting future and doesn’t have the mental space to get all wistful like you. That would be like doing 80 on the freeway while gazing at the rearview mirror.

Of course, as with all child development realms, the range of normal is very broad. Many kids cry their eyes out. This is usually because they’re totally unprepared to be college students. (Kidding!)

Dear College Dad,

I live in a college town and have been haunted for weeks by something I saw during Welcome Week: a very young looking girl barfing in a nightclub parking lot after being ejected by the bouncer. She was so drunk she could barely stand! Ever since then I’ve been on pins and needles because my son started college last month at Chico State, a notorious party school. How on earth will I stay sane for the next four years?

Dave R, Carmichael, CA

Dear Dave,

Don’t you remember your trip to Mexico with the YMCA when you were 15, with scant adult supervision, when you got sick on $8-a-liter vodka and woke up on the beach at noon with a terrible sunburn? Okay, maybe you didn’t do all that, but lots of now-adults did such things. The fact is, parents have a tendency to worry about the kinds of trouble their kids could get in without comparing it to what they themselves did. (Or maybe it’s only good parents who do this.) Your sensibilities suggest that your son didn’t grow up with oblivious parents. He will probably survive.

Dear College Dad,

When I was down at Parents’ Week at my son’s school this past weekend, I saw an elderly couple with his-and-hers sweatshirts: “UCSD Grandpa” and “UCSD Grandma.” It didn’t even occur to me to invite my parents along to participate in this milestone. Did I totally drop the ball on that?

Michael B, Fresno, CA

Dear Michael,

Having his or her grandparents there for the drop-off was probably a huge embarrassment for that grandkid, which is a really good thing. Still, it’s not always that practical to involve the elderly like that so it’s certainly not standard practice. Here’s an economical idea: next time you visit your kid on campus, show up wearing a “UCSD Grandma” sweatshirt yourself, if you can find it in a unisex size.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter came home to do her laundry last weekend, and I overheard her talking on the phone about “Yes Means Yes.” I have no idea what it means other than it’s almost certainly related to “No Means No.” Can you help?

Nadine Roberts, Fremont, CA

Dear Nadine,

First off, if your daughter doesn’t mind talking about this when she knows you could be eavesdropping, she may well be receptive to a useful dialogue that could begin with you asking her this question. Myself, I don’t have any special knowledge of this concept, and its associated laws, that you couldn’t easily Google. You might check out this link and this one.

Dear College Dad,

My son just started his sophomore year of college. He never called me when he was a freshman, but I chalked this up to his being overly busy and wanting to really hit his stride as a student. We got along great when he was home for the summer, but since he’s been back at school he hasn’t called me once! What do you think is going on here?

Rebecca M, Southfield, MI

Dear Rebecca,

The answer is utterly simple: sons don’t call their moms. They just don’t. Never have, never will. You might find a few counterexamples, but those are just outliers, like that tiny minority of cats who are willing to be put on a leash. (Don’t read too much into my metaphor.)

Dear College Dad,

My son left behind a couple of MP3 players when he went off to college. He obviously doesn’t want them anymore since they became obsolete the day he got his smartphone. Would it be ridiculously sentimental of me to start listening to these, to get to know my son better through the music he likes? Kind of like a virtual meet-up in the musical realm?

Andrew B, Hillsboro, OR

Dear Andrew,

That wouldn’t be ridiculously sentimental, but would probably be ridiculous. Just because you latched on to “Dark Side of the Moon” as a teen and identified strongly with it doesn’t mean modern teens relate to music this way. Through platforms like Spotify, they’re omnivorously moving through countless songs and artists, sampling and discarding at an astonishing rate. Whatever tracks are still on your kid’s MP3 players are ancient relics of a time so fleeting it wouldn’t register in any historical sense. But if you think you might enjoy a crash course in obscure bands like Because It’s Tuesday, why not take a listen?

Here’s an idea: email your kid to tell him you’re enjoying the tracks on his old MP3 player, and he might well react in a favorable way, such as expressing exasperation that you’re wasting your time with music that is so 2014. This might set you up to ask for a “mix tape,” sparking a robust dialogue about what the hell a mix tape is. Your kid might even style you out with a current playlist.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter started college this term, and my husband and I never hear from her! I mean, when I was in college all we had was a landline that we shared with our roommates, so it was a little more difficult logistically, but I still managed to call my folks. Now these kids have their smartphones on them at all times and can so easily shoot off a quick text … but I still get nothing! I’d happily settle for “All is well – luv ya mom!” (though a call would be even nicer). Am I being crazy? Have I somehow offended my daughter (meaning I should reach out and make up, as if she’d even answer her phone or my texts)?

Megan S, Topeka, KS

Dear Megan,

Now you know how these teens feel, when their friends don’t respond to their digital overtures! The sad fact is, the ease of all this technology has unrealistically raised everyone’s expectations of what a reasonable response interval should be. The relative inconvenience of traditional landline phones probably prevented a lot of hurt feelings … it was possible to go long periods without contact without inferring that total neglect was the culprit. Just be patient, as the passage of time is surely experienced differently by your kid.

Now, if you get really desperate, it couldn’t hurt to occasionally employ the texting equivalent of click-bait. For example, if your daughter used to share a bedroom with her little sister, you could text, “Wow, Fiona has really torn your old room apart! It looks like a hurricane went through there.” What college kid could resist responding to that? Not mine, I’ll tell you that much…

Dear College Dad,

My daughter shared with me this shocking tale: her roommate’s mom showed up at a frat party (during parents’ week) with a bottle of tequila and ended up riding the mechanical bull while delighted freshman looked on. This happens every year apparently as certain moms try to relive their own college experience. Has everybody gone mad?! Should I be worried about the effect this college scene is having on my daughter?

John H, Albany, CA

Dear John,

That really is shocking. I hope that a) the mom wasn’t injured, and b) that “mechanical bull” still means what it used to and isn’t a euphemism for something unthinkable I’m too naïve to even know about.

As for the impression on the other partygoers, I’m sure this woman’s daughter was mortified (at least, I hope so) but all the other college kids are probably the better for it. This parental behavior might temper the allure of drinking … maybe parents will make alcohol abuse seem lame, like they did with Facebook.

Dear College Dad,

If my child leaves NYC on a train headed for Stanford University at 7 am on Sunday morning, traveling at 100 mph (as if!), and Stanford is 3,246 miles away, how long will it take before I have exactly $0 in my retirement account?

John L, Ithaca, NY

Dear John,

I was really starting to sweat about having to do math, and then I realized this is a trick question. Of course the answer is, if you have a retirement account, then you are in the subset of Americans who have too much money to get financial aid from Stanford, thus you wouldn’t be sending your kid there to begin with. Any functional adult living as close as you do to Cornell, a legitimate university, would see through the thin façade of Stanford’s inflated reputation, acknowledge that it’s more of an incubator for tech than an actual university, and refuse to spend a red cent there.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter keeps texting me asking for photos of our cat. It’s starting to get ridiculous … this is practically the only contact we have: me obliging her with cat pix. Is my kid’s brain going soft or something? Any hints on how I might try to elevate the conversation?

Irma T, Dallas, TX

Dear Irma,

I suppose this could be a “safe” way for your daughter to reach out … it’s possibly easier to admit you miss your cat than to admit you miss your family. (Or, it could be that your cat is just much, much more attractive than you are—no offense.) One way to promote a more robust discourse would be to reply and say, “Given the number of cat photo requests you have made, I need you to prove to me that you’re not a bot before I send any more.” Or, better yet, insist on a photo for a photo: “You can send me a photo of whatever you feel like photographing, and I will reward you with a cat photo.” It’s even better than being on Instagram (or “Insta” as the kids are evidently calling it).

Dear College Dad,

My child seems like a good kid and is pretty well adjusted and happy, though not exactly a valedictorian. Is there any hope for him?

Samantha W, Cary, NC

Dear Samantha,

No. No hope for him at all.

Just kidding! Doom-and-gloom rumors of colleges being impossible to get into have been greatly exaggerated. Meanwhile, with marijuana being legalized in state after state, and addictive video games on the rise, any well-adjusted, non-addicted, and happy kid will soon find the world his oyster, through the attrition of his would-be rivals.

Dear College Dad,

My daughter is a sophomore now, and every time I ask her what she ate for dinner she says either Kraft macaroni and cheese or quesadillas. I’d been so relieved she made it through her freshman year without gaining the infamous “freshman five” (or fifteen or whatever it’s up to), but now she’s developing such bad habits! I feel guilty because I never taught her how to cook. Is there a tactful way to warn her about gaining weight with her reckless diet-of-convenience?

Jennifer P, Stamford, CT

Dear Jennifer,

I’m no expert on females, but every cell in my brain tells me there’s no tactful way to broach this topic, and almost zero chance your advice would be appreciated. That said, you can at least get her off the Kraft crackaroni & cheese with a pair of non-weight-related rationale. First, since all Gen-Z kids care passionately about the environment, remind her the cheese powder packets aren’t recyclable. Next, point out that these same packets introduce potentially harmful phthalates into the cheese sauce. Homemade mac ‘n’ cheese is much yummier—and won’t feed your kid’s addiction to convenience). Send her this link.

Dear College Dad,

You were sure harsh about Stanford in your response to John of Ithaca. Is that really appropriate, given Stanfords widespread reputation as a top school?

Laura S, San Francisco, CA

Dear Laura,

First of all, Stanford really is pretty lame. Second, I’m a Berkeley grad … what would you expect me to say?

Dear College Dad,

I can’t help but notice the majority of your letters are from moms, not dads. What’s up with that?

Beth A, Arvada, CO

Dear Beth,

It’s simple: dads never worry about anything. They’re too busy watching the game.

A College Dad is a syndicated journalist whose advice column, “Ask a College Dad,” appears in over 0 blogs worldwide.

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