After many years, I’m heading back to college, this time with my daughter!
I’m driving my 17-year-old to tour a college campus in hopes that she will be a member of the class of 2023. She is a twin, which means double the college-search activities for me and my wife, who takes on far more than I do. My role today is to serve as transportation and be as invisible as possible.
Our destination is about two hours away, so we will have plenty of time to discuss the best route to take, the merits of this particular institution of higher learning, and generally what’s happening in my daughter’s life. As we pull onto the Mass. Pike headed west, I ask, “What do you hope to get out of this visit?” Silence. “No, really, what do you want to learn today, and where does this school rank in your order of preference?” Silence.
Then, turning my head just long enough to avoid sideswiping an enormous tractor-trailer from New Brunswick probably carrying a load of PEI mussels to Iowa, I see them. Those obnoxious white wires. They run from her phone to her earbuds and allow her to tune out a dad looking for a little bonding.
Ripping them out of her ears and tossing them out the window onto the windshield of the bivalve-toting semi is tempting, but I settle for a light tap on the shoulder. “Hon, let’s talk.” With a subdued eye roll, the earbuds come out and we begin to plan our day.
I am informed that even though the student leading the tour will repeatedly ask whether anyone has any questions, that does not pertain to me. I am instructed that any comments cannot begin with “back in my day.” Upon arrival, she signs in and we sit through an information session, then break into groups for the campus tour.
Our guide is cheerful, well informed, and wearing the school colors. Our first stop is the “dining commons” — apparently the word “cafeteria” is passé — and I have to summon all of my strength to keep myself from shouting, “There are more dining options for the vegetarians alone in one day than I had in a week!”
And the food looks incredible. I flash back to my friend George turning his congealed dish of Swedish meatballs upside down, only to have them stick to the plate. I am happy to see that there are no ashtrays on the tables, but I keep that to myself.
On to the dormitories. The rooms remain small, and there are a lot of boys milling about. Without asking, I conclude that these gentlemen and women share the same living space. I have to say that the campus is well maintained and, except for the maintenance staff’s inability to deal with an apparent infestation of skunks around the dorms, the place is in pretty good shape.
Once in the car and on the road homeward, my normally reserved daughter becomes animated, extolling the school’s virtues. “Dad, did you hear they have weekly bus trips to New York City? Their job placement and acceptance rates to grad schools are amazing. I think I nailed the interview.”
And then the best question of the day: “Dad, what did you think?” Shocked, I accidently jerk the steering wheel, prompting a honk from a flatbed truck with New Jersey plates carrying a load of rebar.
As we near home, my daughter sound asleep, I know deep down that today’s car ride was way easier than the one the family will take next fall. On that trip home, I’ll look at an empty seat and listen silently to the drone of truck tires on pavement heading, like her and me, to parts unknown.Stephen Burke lives in North Grafton with his wife and (for now) their daughters. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the best of the magazine’s award-winning stories and features right in your e-mail inbox every Sunday. Sign up here.