It is safe to assume that most students go to college in the pursuit of independence — freedom to be oneself. But what is freedom? According to Terry Castle, professor of English at Stanford University, freedom is the “self-conscious abrogation of one’s inheritance, the ‘making strange’ of received ideas, the cultivation of a willingness to defy, debunk, or just plain old disappoint one’s parents ….”
So I ask again, what is freedom, your freedom? How free are you from your parents? How much do you share with them? How much is too much, and how little is too little?
It’s Monday, 8 a.m., and I am running late for a work shift at the hospital. My phone goes off: my dad is calling.
Well, that’s weird. He has never called me this early on a Monday morning. How did he even think I was awake? The calling itself is the emotional equivalent of being woken up with a bucket of cold water on your face. I sense something is amiss. Before I let my imagination go wild, I pick up and my father begins to rant.
He laments that I haven’t called in a long time. He goes on to claim that my silence is a result of some delusion about independence. I have nothing to say. I ask to call him later on in the day and as I head to work a barrage of thoughts flood my mind.
Isn’t this what every parent wants, or at least what every parent understands or should understand when they send their kid to college?
When I get to work, I casually ask one of the patients about how I can handle such a situation, after he tells me his son will be coming in later to check on him.
His response was, “Just call him and tell him you love him and ask him to understand why you are doing what you are doing.”
When I call my dad a few hours later, he said that he just wanted to check on me and make sure that I was okay. It does not end there. He asks me about the classes I am attending, whether or not I am done for the day and whether or not I have done my exams. This is what I feared and it is probably the main reason I rarely call home.
I conceived this approach when I decided that I was not a kid any more; the day I understood that school was a factory that took in young boys and girls and churned out men and women. I wanted to make something of myself and to do so, I would have to leave the nest and be alone with my thoughts.
History has taught humanity that solitude precedes any grand achievement. Isaac Newton, at 25, formulated the laws of gravity in solitude, after he had moved out of his parents’ house. Lewis Hamilton’s success in Formula 1 racing can be partly attributed to his firing his dad as his manager.
World-renowned thinkers, entertainers, sportsmen and ordinary people, including your own parents, have only been able to achieve high levels of excellence by deliberately distancing themselves, at least professionally, from their parents.
I believe that true excellence arises as a result of the efforts that one puts in without expecting any spectators. It is a result of lonely hours when all actions are directed at self-transcendence. I feel that letting your parents in on your grades or even your actions is self-defeating. If any actions are directed towards pleasing anybody other than yourself, then there is no true value in such an enterprise.
Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best that, “he who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from traveling with the souls of other men, from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions.” Can you imagine Hillary Clinton as a Republican? It would have happened if she had not plainly defied her very conservative father to pursue novel, liberal ideas in college. Cutting oneself off from one’s parents allows one to break free of the easy solutions and views that have been part of their upbringing, however enticing they may be. Apart from running the risk of telling your parents of a drinking spree, reporting all your activities to them every few hours limits your thoughts and approach to the various challenges that a day may set forth.
College is supposed to help us learn to become responsible adults and allowing our lives to be intertwined with our parents’ financially or even emotionally does not do justice to this endeavor.
My talk with the patient at the hospital that fateful Monday morning yielded a very interesting perspective.
Despite the suggestion to ignore that call from mom every four hours, it is important to give them a call once in while so they know that you are still alive and well. You may talk about the Jets game, The Donald and so forth, but conversations like your grades, your fight with your roommate or anything that is absolutely your business ought to be off limits.
They may vilify you, but with a little introspection they will see the different and by all means mature person you have become. Cut the cord or remain a child, forever.