Empty Nest Alert

Empty Nest Alert

Here we go again…

“I’ve had acknowledgements from Exeter and Edinburgh, Dad.”

“That’s great, Ben,” I say, outwardly smiling.

But inside I’m a mix of emotions. Pleasure, panic, relief, sadness.

Twelve hours ago our youngest son pressed ‘send.’ And that was that. His university application was hurled into cyberspace.

Clearly it’s landed safely. At least in Exeter and Edinburgh. And I’m pleased for him. Ben’s ready to go. He’s ready for the next step, ready to leave home.

But does he need to be quite so far from home?

“What about York?”

“Much too close.”

So five choices, all suggesting that Mum and Dad are going to be spending some time in B&Bs. And behind a steering wheel.

Cue panic. I can hear the conversation now.

“So I need to be in Exeter for an interview on the 8th, Dad. Then Edinburgh on the 9th and Southampton on the 10th.”

“No problem, son. Donald Trump won’t be needing his helicopter after next month.”

Yes, another significant milestone has been ticked off in our family life. Ben’s UCAS application has gone, and it’s gone early. “For this relief much thanks,” as Shakespeare would have said.

In the overall scheme of things sending a university application off in good time isn’t a great achievement. It’s not up there with your children telling the truth, being kind to animals or spontaneously emptying the dishwasher. But I cannot recommend it highly enough. You have no idea how hard it is to get a teenager to write a 4,000 character personal statement until you suggest they do it.

Filling in a UCAS form is a long job and it may – said he, whistling optimistically – lead to a little friction.

“Well it’s not my fault you’ve lost my GCSE certificates is it? I did all the hard work. Suffered two years of being bored senseless in Chemistry and then I passed the stupid exam. All you had to do was keep the certificate safe.” Pointing out that you’ve moved or re-decorated or you’re watching Poldark doesn’t work. Find it now.

Pressing ‘send’ is a great moment. You can relax, your son or daughter can get excited and the first acknowledgement re-focuses them on ‘Hitler’s Rise to Power.’

But when it’s your youngest, there’s some sadness as well.

I’ve been a dad since October 1993. For 23 years there’s been someone to vomit down my back at 3am, leave a piece of Lego for me to stand on, drink my wine or come in from a night out after I’ve got up in the morning.

And soon there won’t be. When Ben pressed ‘send’ a small arrow pierced my heart.

I’ve held Tom’s hand and taken him to nursery and I’ve stood at his side as he opened an offer letter from Cambridge University. I’ve frozen on the touchline and yelled encouragement at Jessica. I’ve been so emotional when she got into Sheffield that I couldn’t speak. I’ve lain on the bed with Ben and rehearsed Scrooge and come close to dying of pride when he’s spoken in public.

I haven’t missed an important event in my children’s lives in 23 years.

But next September, it all ends. We’ll pack Ben and everything he needs for the first term into the car and come home to our empty nest.

There’s a beautiful, haunting line in the late Ruth Picardie’s book, Before I Say Goodbye. ‘The world will go on perfectly well without me. It’s just that I shall miss it so.’

Come September next year being a full-time, hands-on dad will go on perfectly well. But without me. The children are making their own lives.

And yes, I shall miss it so…

I’m now working on a 35,000 word e-book about the 5 day, father/son walk Ben and I did on the Pennine Way: if you’d like to read a few sample chapters before publication, just use the contact form to let me know. In the meantime if you’d like a copy of the ‘laugh out loud’ Best Dad featuring 27 of my favourite columns from all the years I’ve been writing, it’s available here for 99p on your Kindle


  1. ‘Such a sad but proud moment. However, I don’t envy you. I only have the only child, and while both son and husband are rubbing their hands with glee, I’m really sad. Our son is only 14, but he looks 17 and thinks like a 21 year old as he’s got quite a wise head on his shoulders. We’re re-decorating his bedroom at the moment, and I said something like, “I wonder what you’ll look like when you’re 18” and he said “Don’t worry. You’ll be there to see it!”

    See what I mean!

    • I was looking back at some photos of Be when he was 12 and 15 the other day: huge change from 12 to 15, but hardly any from 15 to 18 – so what you see is probably what you’ll get, Victoria! Just wrestling with Ben’s university paperwork this morning, so that’s another thing you have to look forward to…

  2. champers66 says:

    Oh my goodness again – nail head hit ! I am living this too ! Getting Thom to decide where he wants to go & get that personal statement written (‘playing my games console’ doesnt make 4000 words) & yeas, being asked ‘WHERE are my GCSE Certificates?’ (I dont actually know) isn’t fun.
    It doesnt seem real at all to me – he’s not even 18 til late June ! He’s still in Year 7 !

    • And then there are ‘hobbies & interests…’ Somehow I’m not sure that UCAS are looking for Xbox, going out with my mates, drinking Dad’s beer and Kirsty Simpson… Best of luck with it all, Sue – and try not to get nostalgic when Nativity Play season rolls around!

  3. Our two aren’t old enough for university yet, although I fear we’re fast approaching the “come in from a night out after I’ve got up in the morning” stage.

    I guess these are the joys of being a dad – every year which goes by, a new worry comes along! I thought the worries were bad enough when the nippers were, well, nippers. But at least we’d know where they were. Next year the oldest one will have a car. That will mean he’ll be driving; without me to help…

    • Best of luck with it all, John. I can still remember it – Saturday morning: sitting downstairs with a cup of tea and a slice of toast, enjoying the peace and quiet. Front door crashes open, son staggers in, wakes wife up… And the day went downhill from there.

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