Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

That empty (nest) feeling

Doug's daughter prepares to leave home -- what are the dogs (and dad) going to do?

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Our neighbour Yvonne dropped by the other night for a glass of wine and asked what we are going to do when our daughter leaves home.

It might have been a trick of the light, but my wife seemed a little misty-eyed as she pondered the question.

Finally, after a few sips of wine, she looked our neighbour in the eye and gave this thoughtful answer: "I guess we'll spend more time walking around the house naked."

I should probably tell you my wife, She Who Must Not Be Named, doesn't actually wander around our house in the buff. That's more in my ballpark in the sense, from time to time, I will dash down the hall from our bedroom to the main bathroom without the benefit of my ratty bathrobe.

The main reason we modern parents do not engage in more domestic activities au naturel is because we are deeply concerned the sight of our bloated, pasty parental bodies will inflict lasting emotional scars on our sensitive offspring.

I've been thinking about this lately because my wife and I are about to be left home alone. Our daughter -- for the purposes of this column, I'll refer to her as "Kayleigh," because that's her name -- is leaving for Lakehead University to get a master's degree in environmental archeology or archeological environmentalism or something like that.

I guess I have mixed feelings about this. From the moment they are born, our children start crawling, toddling, zooming away from us. Like miniature versions of Capt. Kirk, they slowly but steadily drift out of the parental orbit to explore strange new worlds where no man has gone before, pausing occasionally in their interstellar journeys to send cryptic messages -- "Beam me up, Scottie!" Or: "Mom, Dad: Send money!" -- back to the mothership.

That's our job as parents: we are supposed to equip these fragile explorers for lifelong Away Missions -- "OK, make sure your phaser is set on stun, and don't forget your umbrella!" -- and then watch stoically as they rocket off to unknown galaxies to seek out new life and new civilizations and post ironic comments on their Twitter accounts.

I personally do not understand how my daughter can be leaving home when she is only four years old. Technically speaking, she is closer to 25, but in the mind of a modern father, your daughter is ALWAYS closer to four years old.

In this universe, my daughter is a lot like famously tart-tongued actress Bette Davis looking around a house in an old black-and-white movie and contemptuously sneering: "What a dump!"

In my mind's eye, however, she will always be The Angry Little Rabbit, a cranky four-year-old stuffed into a homemade bunny costume on her first Halloween, stomping around in a blind rage and shrieking at a decibel level that would shatter apartment windows in downtown Grand Forks until she finally discovers that when you knock on strangers' doors and squeal "TWICK OR TWEAT!" someone will stuff candy into your pillowcase.

She will also always be the grumpy kid with the incredible night vision, the girl who, even in a pitch-black den, could sense when her dad's finger was straying too close to his nose. "MOM! DAD'S PICKING HIS NOSE AGAIN!" she'd shriek, even if it was the dramatic scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke learns Darth Vader is his real dad.

I am also sure I am not the only modern dad (outside Darth Vader) who, in the middle of his daughter's favourite episode of Gilmore Girls, has been angrily advised to "STOP BREATHING SO LOUDLY!!!"

The point is, my daughter will be leaving home soon to get her degree in something she knows her dad will never truly understand, because, to him, even if she becomes prime minister or Indiana Jones, she will always be the feisty kid who used to sleep in Little Mermaid pyjamas.

Back when she was the size of a canned ham, if you asked Kayleigh what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer -- if she was willing to give you one -- would most likely have been: "A bear!" Then she would have stormed off in her oversized pink gumboots to wreak havoc on her older brother or the family dogs.

Speaking of the dogs, they are going to be heartsick when they figure out "The Girl" is gone. Our miniature wiener dog, Zoe, and Mr. X, who is half throw pillow and half cotton swab, spend every afternoon with their moony faces pressed up against the living room window, waiting to hear the unmistakable screech of a Transit bus stopping across the street, the signal to bark like escaped lunatics because my daughter has once again arrived home safely.

If you wander by our house over the next several months, there's a good chance you'll see me pressed up against the picture window as well.

I promise to wear my bathrobe when I do this.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2014 A2

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