Of the many observations I made visiting my son this weekend, one made all the rest possible: he is happy and thriving on the path he has chosen in life.
That confirmation allowed me to enjoy the weekend, without any of the common parental worries about how our adult children are faring in this often chaotic and soul-crushing society of ours.
Free from any angst or conflict, I was able to spend quality time with him and soak in the atmosphere of his milieu — a sprawling state university where he is in graduate school and will be for the next several years.
The “observation” element of the trip was due to my constant push to pay better attention to life and how I’m living it. Three main observations:
College campus atmosphere
The bigger the campus, the better. As a graduate of The Ohio State University, I’m biased. My son also is a Buckeye alum, and his new home is The Pennsylvania State University in what’s fondly called “Happy Valley.”
Both Ohio State’s and Penn State’s campuses are huge, with acres and acres of green space and bicycle paths. This lends itself to plenty of walking, running and bicycling by students and faculty, and this is a very good thing. (And easier to do on the much flatter Ohio State campus.)
Stately and dignified buildings are crucial, like “Old Main” on Penn State’s campus and Orton Hall at Ohio State. Brick sidewalks are a must, as are succinct informational plaques.
My walking tour of campus included Beaver Stadium, home of Penn State football. I used to live and die by my Ohio State Buckeyes football team, but my perspective on this particular religion has changed (more on that below).
Technology, for better and worse
I was struck by the role technology played throughout the weekend.
I used googlemaps to get to State College, Pa.; my son looked up the addresses of two restaurants we went to (at one of them, a young couple sat “together” at the bar, laptops running, earbuds in); we watched “Animal House” on his laptop when we got home, and listened to a Red Sox game on it the next day before we worked on his bike; when our conversation turned to one random topic or another (remember Barry Bremen, the Great Imposter?), one or both of us jumped on the Internet for details.
Footnote: On my way home to Central New York, I missed an exit. Realizing my mistake 15 miles later, I pulled over to consult mapquest. Yes, I had indeed “gone too far,” which is something I wonder about as far as our technology is concerned — when I’m not dependent on it, that is.
Perception, perspective and parenting
As my son and I walked through campus, went for a run and drove around the quiet town of State College, I was consciously and unconsciously getting a feel for the place. I did this by comparing what I was seeing and feeling to other, familiar places.
It was a combination of new and old architecture, the topography, the brick buildings and homes, and the layout of the streets that reminded me of several places — Cornell University, the village of Cooperstown, NY (home of baseball’s Hall of Fame) and the Ohio State campus in Columbus.
The most glaring similarity to the OSU campus was Beaver Stadium, Penn State’s massive shrine to big-time college football. I still follow my Buckeyes, but I don’t get nearly as emotionally wrapped up in wins and losses. Too much bad news in college sports and the cynicism that accompanies aging have changed my perspective.
That may be hypocritical, since I “corrupted” all three of my sons into becoming sports fans. But perhaps their interests will change later in life as well.
There are just too many other — and I dare say more important — things to put my energy into as I head toward my 57th birthday. Chief among them, I think, is doing what I can to help each of my sons find his own Happy Valley, wherever that may be.