Military academy parents share many experiences. When I meet a fellow academy parent for the first time, I know I can strike up a conversation by simply mentioning I Day, that first summer, or any of a number of other things we have all endured with our child.
Just as car commercials warn us our mileage may vary, so too will the experiences of parents vary. Some peoples describe their I Day experience effusively while I mark it as the lowest point of my fatherhood. Others gush about formal parades while I found them intriguing the first time but of moderate interest after that. Some Naval Academy parents make their way to a single Army-Navy game while I anticipated attending four consecutive years, mesmerized by the pageantry and intensity.
The closest thing to a unanimous opinion surrounds the issue of goodbyes because nobody loves them.
That being said, your mileage may vary. For some, they can be wrought with emotion on both sides but sometimes that equation can be unbalanced.
My friend and fellow writer Annie Shine echoed the sentiment of many (maybe most) academy parents when she wrote recently that the goodbyes don’t get any easier. This proves my theory that your experience is the right experience.
Now I don’t want to dismiss the idea that the goodbyes don’t get easier because for many (again, maybe most) they don’t. And maybe I am the single outlier here but for me, the goodbyes slowly became easier.
Of course, they started at an incredibly low point. Like I said, I Day plunged both my Mid and the entire family into a deep, dark place. That goodbye was one of the most difficult moments of my life.
In retrospect, goodbyes probably had nowhere to go but up. Plebe Parents Weekend was only marginally better, almost imperceptibly so. As Plebe Year progressed and both he and the rest of us began to believe this was the right path, the goodbyes were sad but not gut-wrenching.
I would learn that like many things in parenthood, goodbyes would evolve and continue to evolve. Once his class conquered Herndon, we felt comfortable that he wouldn’t voluntarily walk away from USNA, the goodbyes merely expressed we would miss him while before they were colored by the unknown of what he might hear next.
To be clear, goodbyes did not get easy. They did get easier. Now that he is in the fleet, the goodbyes continue to evolve.
During post-commissioning training, the goodbyes were much more relaxed even though the visits were less frequent. Once he transitioned to his boat, the visits spaced further and then his first deployment hit.
A lot of the uncertainty that plagued me during Plebe Year returned because no matter how much you read about your sailor deploying, it’s no substitute for experience.
Seeing him after that deployment brought so much relief and reminded me of the first hug of PPW, especially given some of the conversations we had while he was able to call.
“We’re on an unexpected shire leave because [OPSEC redacted].”
“What do you mean, [OPSEC redacted?” (Heart rate escalates)
“It’s no big deal, it’s just something we have to take care of.”
“Well [OPSEC redacted] sounds like a HUGE deal!”
There were a few conversations that made my head spin and seeing him was such a relief. But when we said goodbye it was sad, but not overwhelming. He had survived what some of the boat’s veterans described as “the roughest deployment they could remember.”
As prepared recently for his second deployment, I helped him with a number of mundane “adulting” tasks – paperwork, truck repairs, etc.
When O Dark 30 arrived, I dropped him at the base, gave him a long hug, and waited for a text to tell me it was OK to go.
It wasn’t an easy goodbye. He’ll miss our planned trip with his sister and it will now be about 18 months between them seeing each other. It will likely be his second birthday underwater.
Despite all that, I found this goodbye easier than I Day and most of the Plebe Year goodbyes. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t as gut-wrenching. Was I sad? Of course. Not only because I miss having my son around but because he felt like his off-crew transpired in the blink of an eye. Was I concerned? Undoubtedly. The USS Florida is forward deployed, such is the nature of the boat. One of the more difficult parts of this goodbye (and most everyone once post-commissioning) was not knowing when the next hug would happen. Yes, the boat has a schedule but even if he could share the specifics (he can’t … OPSEC), it would likely become meaningless for any of a number of reasons that only make sense to those on board and oftentimes not even them. Those “X days/hours until I hug my Mid” timers are no longer of much use. Yet, like so many aspects of being a military academy parent, goodbyes have evolved. My ability to manage them traces back to the training the academy provides parents because I have come to understand that whether purposefully or incidentally, the academy prepares parents for their child’s time in the fleet as well as the child.
So now, much like when he was a Mid, I wait. I wait for an email. A phone call. But mostly I wait to hear that I can see him again and welcome him home.
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Plebes No More! Congrats to the Class of 2026!
Here’s your Herndon Playlist