We sat, as always front and center, four rows from the stage so we could have that all-important perfect view of our son performing. And, of course, so I could get ideal photos of the concert.
It was late May. My wife and I sat there feeling rather sentimental, thinking the same things but sitting quietly keeping thoughts to ourselves. This was our youngest's last high school concert... and to our sad disbelief it was also ours.
Where had the time gone? Just yesterday, he'd been sitting next to us, watching first his sister, then his older brother perform in some music or sporting event. Now we were watching our youngest, a senior in high school, nearing graduation.
Mamaroneck High School has a wonderful ritual each year... to conclude the annual Spring concert by honoring the graduating seniors, calling them each to the stage with a few words about their experience and where they are each heading off to next. College! My wife and I sat there quietly. Proud, beaming, but misty-eyed.
We were sad.
As we walked out of the auditorium looking for our son, we saw him standing with his closest friends, arm in arm, posing for the parent photos. He came over to us, we hugged as we always do after a concert, telling him how proud we were, how awesome he was. But we noticed, he was having a bit of a tough time. He had tears in his eyes.
We asked if he was OK. He looked at us holding back tears, and said, "I just can't believe it's over. It's really sad."
I looked at my son, proud he was comfortable showing his emotion amongst his friends who were also clearly choked up. And I remembered the words I said to my wife a few years earlier: "You're lucky to be sad."
I looked at Rob and reminded him, "You've had a special time, you've made so many good close friends, you are lucky to have had the kind of time that you will truly miss." He nodded.
When it comes to family, my wife and I, like many of our close friends, have looked at things a bit differently from other parents. Over the years, when it was time to send our kids off to camp or college, there would be those who'd say, "Lucky you... you must be so relieved. You have your freedom!" We'd see parents high-fiving each other as the buses drove away, several muttering to themselves, 'Finally, they are gone.'
We never understood them. We would sit in the car driving home quietly but clearly a bit depressed. We'd wonder if we were strange to not be seeing the separation as some parentally liberating event. We decided we weren't strange at all, just lucky. To have kids we preferred being with, children we would miss.
It was three years ago, nearly to the day. Our middle child was walking through the processional as Mamaroneck High School celebrated its graduating seniors. It was a perfect day and there we were, my wife and I, applauding, cheering and then, as always, photographing Will and all his friends as they left the high school field.
Our son was off to a graduation party and would meet us later. My wife and I sat in the car at the stop light, waiting to pull out of the high school parking lot. I remember the moment vividly. With a lump in my throat. I looked over to my wife, and she was sitting there with tears in her eyes. "I'll be OK," she said. I'm going to miss him so much. It's just so sad. "
That's when I first had the thought -- we are lucky to be sad.
OK. So my wife and I are a bit on the sappy side. But the truth is we have cherished our home-life, watching our kids grow up, being a part of their lives. I suppose that if it hadn't been so sweet, if we hadn't had year after year of times we would miss, we'd be driving away from the school high-fiving each other.
Several years before Will's graduation I drove my daughter to college for the first time. Not just any college. My college. What a mix of emotions that was -- reliving the times I'd had, sharing the stories on the long drive to Ithaca, hoping she wouldn't do the things I'd done, wondering how I'd feel making the long drive home alone.
We arrived, managed through the orientations, met the roommate's family and helped set up the freshman dorm room. Before I knew it, it was time to leave.
Jen walked me to the car. It was just the two of us. I looked her in the eyes, reminded her of all the fun she would have, all the care she needed to take, how much I loved her and how much we would all miss her. I will never forget this moment and how tough it was... for me, that is.
She walked away through the parking lot, joined her roommate, and proceeded down the lower quad toward the incoming freshman gathering. I stood by the car just watching her cross the field -- years of memories rushing through my mind, with disbelief that she was eighteen, with an ache in my stomach that she was really heading off on her own.
I decided I would watch her walk until I lost her in the crowd and then I would head home. It was just at the moment I was about to turn, when she did. Jennie stopped, turned from far across the quad where she was about to enter the crowd. She put her hand up in the air and waved to me.
I will never forget that wave, and you know what, nor will she.
To this day, we wave to each other every time we head off in different directions.
And every time I see that wave, I realize how lucky we've all been to have had the times we've had and to be the close family we've become.
Next week, our young Rob graduates from Mamaroneck High School. We will be sad. But we know how lucky we are to feel the way we do.
Rick Roth has spent many years in the advertising and marketing business, all over the world. Today, he is CEO and founder of Roth Partners LLC.