An Atypical Son Heads to College

I know you visit this blog to hear about thoughts & strategies re: Social Media Marketing and Public Relations.  And that’s what you get 99% of the time.  So I hope you’ll forgive me when, 1% of the time, I make this blog personal.

A few years ago I told you about my wife, on the eve of her graduation from nursing school (by the way, if you know anyone hiring nurses in the Bay Area, please let me know).  Today I’d like to take a moment to tell you about our son Luke, who leaves for college this week.

Luke is not perfect.  His room is in a constant state of disrepair.  He couldn’t find a household chore we didn’t point him toward.  He’s been known to take out his teenage angst on the occassional closet door.  His dedication to scholarship has been spotty.  That’s how he is typical.

This post is about how he is not typical.

Last year Luke traveled to Thailand during his summer vacation to serve the poor.  Yes, we pushed him to do some community service, but to his credit he dove in — and upon his return spoke poignantly of the poverty he witnessed.  He was impressed by the guileless joy of the Thai schoolchildren and described living conditions so impovershed that it made us gasp.  And because he was 17–years-old, and apparently bulletproof, Luke also found a way to break away from his group and party pretty hard in Bangkok.  Bangkok!  One night in Bangkok will make a grown man crumble (or so they say).  Our boy emerged grinning from the adventure.

This past Summer, he traveled alone to an orientation program at his college.  We arranged for a ride to the airport, etc., but he was largely on his own.  Despite umpteen reminders, Luke forgot his wallet with his I.D. and money.  That’s another example of how he is typical.

How he is not typical?  He cadged his way past the gate agent and the TSA agents in the Security line — without a scrap of I.D.  Luke didn’t call to let us know about this misadventure until he was boarding the plane.  “I talked ‘em out of charging me that new baggage fee, too, Dad,” he gloated.  (We fedexed his I.D. and $$.)

Upon his return from that same orientation program, his connection was delayed and Luke was going to be stranded overnight at JFK.  I started to panick; I was googling, “best terminal to sleep in when stranded at JFK.” But our atypical son never lost his cool: he called me up from a nearby flea-bitten hotel; he “would have called sooner, sorry,” but he’d been arranging for some Chinese take-out to arrive at the hotel.  The man had his priorities straight: shelter, food, and “reassure Mom & Dad,” in that order.

They say that a parent’s job is to give their children “roots & wings.”  A stable home life that instills decent values, and a sense of confidence that will allow them to handle Fate’s slings & arrows.  As our boy joins the ranks of the Class of 2014 this week, it will be with tears of pride that we watch him take wing.  Something tells me he’s going to be just fine.

Good luck, son.  Make good choices.  We love you!

Posted on: August 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm By Todd Defren
16 Responses to “An Atypical Son Heads to College”


  • Todd,
    Roots, wings and safe place to land. I’m sure you know this, but Luke is all the more lucky to have you as his dad. Connor, my 16-year-old, is two years away, and all I can do is love him more and more every day. Wonderful post and I remain, your fan,


  • Linda says:

    Wow – very inspiring post. My own son is just 13, but I’m already dreading the day he goes off to college. And while right now it seems he wouldn’t remember his own head if it weren’t attached, your post reassures me that this is just a momentary chapter in his life. I will give him an extra hug today and remember to enjoy this time we have with him right now before he leaves the nest.

  • Todd, seems like you raised him well. Congratulations. Des

  • I loved the personal touch too! Luke seems like an amazing guy — quick thinking too. It is those life skills that you gain from traveling and accepting other cultures that *really* allow you to grow as a person. Kudos to your family for raising such a well-rounded young man!

  • Mu says:

    wow, great stuff ahead. I’m still a daughter so I also wish my father talked about me like that. I’m sure he does.

  • Renee Malove says:

    Wow! It sounds like you have an amazing young man on your hands. What’s he going to be studying? Are you and your wife ready to send him off to college, or is there a certain amount of anxiety that goes along with it even though you know if he can talk his way past an air marshal he’s going to be just fine! (You’re going to have to tell us how he managed to pull that off.)

    My own kids are just starting to tiptoe into the deep end of the elementary school pool. I hope they manage half as well.

  • Jolie says:

    I loved this post. You made my heart smile. My son started kindergarten yesterday and I’ve been mourning the loss of “my baby”. You’ve reminded me to feel excited about watching my own atypical son grow. If the first five years are any indication then these upcoming years should prove interesting. :-)

    Best of luck to you and your family!

  • Elizabeth Sosnow says:

    As the mom of 3 boys, I recognize a number of the behaviors you mention in your post ;) I also recognize that feeling of love that threads through every up and down of family life. It all changes so quickly, so it’s important to recognize how blessed we are. I hope that Luke enjoys his next great adventure – and that his parents enjoy a little more time to themselves…

  • kim KOLB says:

    Thanks Todd for reassuring me that there is hope for my soon to be 21 son and 18 year daughter!

  • Ken Jacobs says:

    Loved your post–so glad you made it personal. It really resonated with me, because our 23-year-old son, who shares many of Luke’s attributes, just left for a 10-month gig teaching “Oral English” at the University of Liaocheng, China. (And we were sure we were going to get a call from some official about a lost passport or visa!) Although he was in China for three weeks last year, and speaks a little Mandarin, Liaocheng is very different from Beijing or even Shanghai, and worlds apart from Hong Kong. There is only one other American on campus, and only a handful of English speakers.

    We’re encouraging him to blog about his experience.

    Our daughter will be leaving soon for her freshman year at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA, so the nest will be empty and the chicks so far from home.

    “What did we do that made our kids want to go so far away?!” we asked ourselves. Then we remembered: Encouraged them to travel, to understand and respect other cultures, and to pursue their passions!

    Thanks for letting me make it personal!



  • You have an amazing family Todd. Take a moment each day to be grateful. I enjoyed reading this post and the link to your post about your wife.

    I don’t think a day ever goes by when I’m not dazzled by my 10 YO daughter and 4 YO son. Kids are so damn smart and we need to let them be themselves; even if there are times that we have to bite our tongues and let them learn a lesson on their own. To me that’s the hardest part – when you know what the outcome will be but have to make the decision to let them learn the lesson on their own.

  • Stephanie says:

    What a great post! It is always nice to see some personal posts – no need to apologize. Sounds like you’ve done a great job with your son and I am sure he’ll be just fine. Reassuring mom and dad is in the top 3 – you’ve got nothing to worry about!

    Good luck Luke!

  • LIz says:

    Loved your post. It’s always good to inject the personal. My daughter left for college last week as well and I share many of your feelings and thoughts.

  • Gillian Farquhar says:

    Hard to believe he’s on his way. I do believe I remember you having small children when I worked at Sterling Hager. Time really flies.

    Best of luck to your son and may he savor the best of college life and experience! They really are the most amazing years.

  • DONNAMARIE says:

    I just subscribed to your blog a few days ago and I so enjoyed reading this post. I can definitely relate to the “typical” son. Ours is just a sophomore but time passes oh so quickly.

    I think it’s important to add a bit of personalization to your posts; when your readers get to know you as a person they will enjoy your regualr posts even more.

    Good luck to Luke!

  • Rod says:

    Very touching post. My son is 10 and I’m having some of the same moments. Just yesterday he had his very first guitar lesson. For a kid who devours video games and Cartoon Network, he actually dove in and really listened to his teacher. Even started to read a little music. Our kids can really amaze if we let them.

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