My parents, like all parents, drew certain lines in the sand.
Making sure I showed sufficient gratitude was one of them. That meant insisting I always wrote my thank-you notes after Christmases and birthdays and prodding me to say “Thanks for having me!” to my friends’ parents after a play date. It was kind of a pain, but I see now why it was so important.
I’ll be graduating from college in almost exactly two months, so I figure there’s no better time than now to show them at least some of that got through to me. Mom, Dad: Thank you.
I didn’t go far for college – three and a half miles, if we’re being precise. As a result, this might be a little belated because I never had to think about saying goodbye or thanks for everything. I never really left, and you’ve never really stopped giving. It would have felt premature.
It still does, but that’s silly. Neither your love or my gratitude will end on May 20 when I drive up to Long Island. Goodbye and thank you don’t necessarily have to go hand in hand. But I hope, Obama willing, that I’ll be off your health insurance by the time I’m 26, and later, that I’ll be in the position to be there for you both if you need me. This feels like a turning point, one where we can start to give to one another in equal measure. I’m grateful to you both for taking me this far.
Mom, thank you for making sure I loved to learn. Your continued intellectual curiosity, to say nothing of your intellect itself, inspires me. The older I get, the more you impress me, and the more I appreciate just how hard you’ve worked to give me such a good life. Thank you for pushing me exactly the right amount to see things through when my attentions would wander and for worrying about me as much as you did. You steered me in all the right directions without my ever suspecting I was making anything other than my own choices. I needed that.
Dad, thank you for being my best friend. I know you haven’t always had an easy life, but I always knew you loved me. Every time I drive up Ephesus Church Road and past the elementary school, I think of the six years worth of mornings we spent walking that half mile to school together. I’m so glad you’re my dad, and I’m so grateful to have gotten to be your friend as well. I know a small part of you will always wish I’d followed through on the promise I showed as a Little League pitcher, but I also know you’ll be proud of me no matter what, and that means everything to me. You’re a kind, brilliant and loving man, and I hope to be like you one day.
When I began applying for colleges, my primary goal was to find some way to leave Chapel Hill – North Carolina too, ideally. You both made me feel like I could do anything I wanted wherever I wanted to do it. Ultimately, I stayed put, and four years later, I’ve started thinking about how it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever to send my kids to the same schools I attended, to give them same amazing childhood you two gave to me.
In fact, the hardest thing about starting college ended up being the realization that you had both put your lives on hold, in one way or another, for the better part of 18 years to take care of me. At the time, that kind of sacrifice was incomprehensible. I’m only beginning to wrap my head around it, but I know now that if I have kids, it will likely be the most important thing I ever do. And I’m confident that if I’ve learned anything from being your son, they’ll turn out fine.
So, Mom, Dad: I love you both. I’ll brush my teeth plenty when I get to New York, but I can’t make any promises about flossing. We’re all just going to have to live with that.
Henry Gargan is a a UNC senior and the opinion editor of The Daily Tar Heel.