Matthew Keenan

What is good about good-bye? (published in August 435 South)

by on Sep.13, 2014, under 435 South Columns

Someone help me here.

Whether used in solemn occasions like when my mother died 12 years ago, or even lighthearted ones in everyday conversation with friends, there can be little good about someone you love leaving.

And when that someone is your only daughter, your last child, and the one whose existence has represented thoughtfulness and kindness juxtaposed against a universe defined much differently by her three older brothers — yes, I am challenged to find something constructive in watching her leave for college.

There is nothing good about this farewell.

There. I said it.

And as long as I’m challenging conventional notions, let me bulldoze another one: Whomever said parents shouldn’t play favorites didn’t have three sons and then a daughter.

Maggie’s world view early on has been defined by a prince on a white horse, met by a beautiful damsel walking among day lilies under a crystal blue sky. Artwork, worth noting, that does not include guns, monsters, tanks or GI Joe in a combat vest.

In grade school, inside the closet of her bedroom, she sketched a fairytale of her wedding to a first grade classmate. So beautiful and imaginative that even today, it remains more treasured than any fixture in that home.

And we haven’t lived there for 12 years.

As for that once darling classmate? All knees and elbows. The Golden Child, on the other hand? That part, for sure, remains storybook.

So spare me the dreadful yammering that Maggie’s send-off contains a silver lining. That she is ready for the real world, the next adventure, blah blah yada yada.

Just. Stop. Now.

I care nothing about Dr. Phil types who claim this is all a reaction to a fear of losing control. That has nothing to do with it. What is it about?

Three things.  1. Me.  2. See #1. 3. See #2.

Maybe it was denial, maybe it was distraction, but her pending farewell really didn’t hit me until this spring. Her final high school dance and then high school graduation — all dress rehearsals for the big show. I navigated those spring events relatively smoothly, thanks to another senior dad — Bill Kerns — who dispensed sound advice for all dads – “show up, shut up, and pay.”


But what’s the plan now? Show me the playbook, the 10-step plan for recalibrating my life. Give me the strategy and I will read it, and then shred it. This is the child whose cowboy boots on the hardwoods break the silence, whose doors fly open to a “hello,” who introduces me to television shows with vampires who keep diaries. She talks, even converses — an art her brothers lost back when Clinton was president. This is the child who, at age 15, wanted to earn her hunter safety certificate to duck hunt with you-know-who. Someone who walked into a crowded room at the Olathe Bass Pro Shop jammed with NRA dudes wearing ACCO Seed ball caps and then set the curve on the gun safety quiz.

Yeah, her.

The kid who buys advance tickets to “The Fault in Our Stars” — about two teens who meet at a cancer support group, fall in love, and, spoiler alert — one of them dies.

“I read the book in four hours,” Maggie told me as she headed out to the premier with five of her friends.

I’ve talked this over with my better half, but the conversations are difficult — especially with Lori curled in the fetal position surrounded by York mint wrappers.

I’ve asked other friends for guidance. “Get a Panera card and then a bird feeder. Visit the Goodfeet store. Get rid of the clock that rings every hour. Start a hobby.”

I have a hobby. You’re reading it. And it’s not working. Not one bit.

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