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The Greatest and Hardest Day

I had to wait a day or two to write this post to make sure I could handle it.

On Monday we dropped our oldest son, Charlie, at Emerson College for his freshman year. It was a memorable day, in every sense of the word.

I’m going to sound like a typical parent here, but Charlie is a remarkable person. Incredibly kind and extremely funny, he lights up any room he’s in. He’s a great son and a great friend.

So I knew it would be hard letting him go. But I didn’t quite realize how hard.

It first hit me about a week before he left. We’d had a great summer, he was in a fantastic mood, but one night I suddenly realized that in a week’s time, he’d be gone.

That was the first night I cried.

We had a great week after that, though. A lot of fun events, including my book launch events and a commercial shoot with Paul Rudd, kept us occupied and distracted.

But then came Sunday night.

Charlie hunkered down with his brothers Joe and Jack to watch the season finale of True Blood. They watched the show together religiously, every week. It was fortuitous that the season finale was broadcast the night before Charlie left for college and Joe and Jack had their first day of school.

I was watching Charlie as the show ended. He was completely wrapped up in the episode, but the second it ended, his face changed. It was as if he knew summer was officially over, and tomorrow he would be leaving. For the first time, I saw a hint of doubt and nervousness creep into his expression.

It was getting real.

We did a little packing and a lot of hugging that night, and I’m not gonna lie (one of Charlie’s favorite expressions), sleep was a little tough to come by.

The next morning, Monday, we sprung into action. Charlie and I took Moose and Coco for one last walk – his relationship with the dogs is a thing of beauty – and Cathy helped him with his last-minute packing (or should I say stuffing, since his suitcases were garbage bags. A great space-saving technique, btw.)

We hit the road about 11, and had a great drive up. Good conversation, a little nosh, easy traffic. We talked about a lot of things that made us feel good, including that fact that when you add it all up, he’s basically only at college 6 ½ months of the year, and home the other 5 ½ months. At these prices! Never have I been so grateful for being ripped off so royally.

We pulled into Boston around 2 and turned the corner onto Boylston Street, where we were immediately greeted by the uniquely Emersonian brand of happiness. Adorable students gave us our parking instructions while dancing in the streets; incredibly nice people all over the place got us checked in and situated while music blasted through the halls; we found Charlie’s room, which has a view of the Boston Common that rivals anything on Central Park West.

The hole in my heart was being nicely obscured by all the good vibes around us. But it was still there.

Cathy was a rock; Charlie seemed nervous but excited; and we were running out of excuses to stay by his side.

Finally, with the bed made, the clothes put away and the laundry lesson over, we all took the elevator to the lobby one last time. We contemplated going over to the campus store to take a look around, but Cathy said, “You know what? It’s time to go.” And she was absolutely right.

No long goodbyes, though. That was agreed upon well ahead of time. Cathy and I each gave Charlie a quick hug, kissed him, and sent him on his way. No looking back. Only looking ahead.

The ride home was not easy. Cathy and I cried. But we talked a lot, too, and managed to remind ourselves how blessed we are to have a son that we are going to miss so much.

Last night, Jack, the family computer whiz, hooked up our first video chat with Charlie. It was great to see him. He was funny and goofy. He seemed genuinely happy – although knowing him, even if he wasn’t, he’d pretend to be for our benefit. But I believed it. And since my happiness is in direct correlation with my children’s happiness, I was able to sleep a little better last night.

Time is a funny thing. Relentless, but forgiving. A stealer, and a healer. It’s also a paradox: I don’t want it to go fast, but yet I can’t wait to see my son again. In the meantime, we’ve got to sit our son Joe down this weekend and get down to business.

He’ll be applying to college this fall.


  1. August 29th, 2012


    Okay you have me crying!

  2. August 29th, 2012


    That is so goddamn touching and earnest, Tom. I remember the night before I left for college like it was yesterday. I was scared shitless. My dad and I stayed up all night together, reveling in stories of the past and visions of the future. We both cried like babies. But that catharsis — and that bond with him — will stay with me forever. You’re a great friend, a great dad and a great guy. If only you could write.

  3. August 29th, 2012


    It is the ultimate paradox, that you raise them up so that they can go off into the world. I read this to Jeremy, who heads back to Boston today. Time will fly, and you can always harness up the dogs and make your way up.

  4. August 29th, 2012

    Fred Miggins

    WOW! What a moving authentic father son relationship. You are blessed to have created that.


  5. August 29th, 2012

    Judd Fuller

    Jeez, Bro. Great stuff. I am misty-eyed. Seems like just yesterday we were jamming in Eric Michaels’ basement, now here you are….letting the first bird fly free. I’ll hoist a toast to u guys tonite!

  6. August 29th, 2012

    mike winchell

    As a father of a nearly two-year-old, this kind of stops the clock and makes me appreciate my “now” moments. What is more touching than anything about this is that you are a great dad. It is uplifting to see that, since it seems so many of our generation dropped the ball on fatherhood. Be proud and revel in the fact his name comes first in the books too.

  7. August 29th, 2012

    Jennifer P

    ok- I have tears streaming down my face- I wanted to come say goodbye but intentionally did not- I will see him on FB and hear about him from you guys.

  8. August 29th, 2012


    wish i could tell you that it gets easier each year, but i cry every time. Next year for me will be the worst, as the last will be leaving the nest. I am trying to cherish every minute. I will tell you though, the 4 years are done in a FLASH! good luck to Charlie a the start of his new adventure…

  9. August 30th, 2012


    You know I am crying…seems fitting that I am reading this right after a show with Anthony and the kids (Peter and the Starcatcher)
    Thinking of Charlie, wishing you all well

  10. August 30th, 2012


    Nice cry to start my day. This is amazing Tom. Our two girls are growing up so fast…I’ve been starting to feel the pain of them leaving and they’re only 10 and 8! . This is a great reminder to work on your relationship with your kids (in b/t the nagging to get homework done/be responsible/clean up after themselves, etc.!) . Thanks for sharing.

  11. August 30th, 2012


    thanks for such a great accounting…….and for starting my day off sobbing………ugh …so well dexcribed, no wonder ur books are such a hit

  12. August 31st, 2012

    Mark Noonan

    Beautiful, Tommy.

  13. September 3rd, 2012

    Carol Montparker (your mother's friend)

    Tommy, your Mom forwarded this to me. It is utterly beautiful and touching. I wish I knew Charlie! But I do know my own grandson, Rollie, a sophomore who stayed at LSU where his parents both teach and therefore did not have to say goodbye. I remember Dennis’ departure to Indiana U, though, and how Kim and I cried when he and his father drove off into the sunset.

    And so it goes–and so it should go. Your family sounds wonderful, and I know how much B and J adore them.

    Loving regards,

  14. September 13th, 2012


    I started reading this a few weeks back and couldn’t finish thru the tears. Been saving it for a quiet moment when I could soak it in. Just did it. Still little weepy happy tears of total fear and joy but also hopefulness about what’s (hopefully!) ahead of us in 5 short years…thank you for the heads up and reminder to make the Here and Now count.

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