Writings by Cole Huffman

For Those About to Rock College

Want to feel old? Incoming freshmen high schoolers were born this century. You should pop open one of those cans of Pork and Beans you stashed for Y2K to commemorate it. On January 1, 2000, the day the world did not end, our oldest child was three years old. He’s a college freshman this fall, leaving home this month, guitar strapped to his back.

My mother, an editor by profession, wrote a poem to mark the moment I left for college 28 years ago. A poem, you have to agree, is a classier move than, say, hash-tagging #goingtomissyoulikecrazy on an Instagram feed. Mom published her poem as Flight Clearance, a poem that managed to wave from the tarmac without running behind the plane, because no guy wants his mom running behind his plane when he’s trying to take off.

I landed in Florence, Alabama, an hour north of home, and settled into my freshman year at the University of North Alabama (UNA). Five years later UNA made national news—Jay Leno at the time included it in his Tonight Show monologue—by conferring honorary doctorates on Roy Clark from Hee Haw and George “Goober” Lindsay, another Hee Haw actor best known for his rube role on The Andy Griffith Show. No, UNA is not Yale, but I’m glad. Yale biennially degrades itself by bringing porn stars on campus to “lecture” the supposed cream of America’s matriculating crop (see Nathan Harden’s Sex and God at Yale). Heehaw indeed. At least Roy Clark and George Lindsay were legitimate masters of craft. Give me the Kudzu Leaguers over the Ivies any day.

My college-bound son said UNA “felt like home” and chose to go there, where his parents met, where an aunt and uncle met, where his grandfather’s music professorial career spanned 34 years on a dogwood-flowered campus nestled in the historic homes district of Florence. Marshall’s got his flight clearance now and we won’t run behind the plane as he takes off, though we did park his motorcycle dreams until he’s at least a junior.

In The Dadly Virtues, a collection of witty essays on fatherhood, Jonathan V. Last says the primary effect of children—and he designates this an observation, not a complaint—is that they take things from you. “It begins with sleep, time, and dignity and then expands over the years to include sanity, serenity, and a great deal of money.” This is largely why fathers tend to be less sentimental about the great passages of life, more calculating: How much is this going to cost me? Tuition, weddings, first cars…maybe I’ve got some Ramen Noodles left in the old Y2K cupboard to sustain myself.

At orientation with our son, the counseling center described its services. Their appointment books begin filling up about 6-to-8 weeks into the semester. By then, reality is blowing in on kids like dark cumulus towers for classes they’ve blown off and other misadventures in failure to launch. Students’ unpreparedness for life on their own is exposed. You shudder a little. What if that’s him?

A friend of mine recently told Marshall that if he could look out through time and see himself at 40 he’d take what he sees himself being and doing then. (Marshall hopes it’s on a stadium stage with a band.) It was a statement of confidence in him that he’ll make the right choices and learn well from the wrong ones, an encouragment which young men need from older men. It was also an affirmation of the coordinates programming his trajectory, that like the New Horizons spacecraft now sending us pics from Pluto, we’ve given this child in 18 years with us what he needs to make life’s journey true to mission, through college and beyond it. As the late Howard Hendricks used to tell classes at Dallas Seminary, “You’re not raising him to be a good boy, but a good man.”

"The righteous are bold as a lion," the Proverbs say (28:1), even when sending our kids to American colleges, which if I may be just a bit preachy really are dens of iniquity conferring degrees. But dens also shelter lions. UNA’s mascot is a lion, and on campus live two African lions, male and female, Leo III and Una. I attended there at the end of Leo I’s life, and then came Leo II. (By the way, if I had a lion I think it’d be fun to name him Liam Neeson.) Leo’s roaring is heard all the way across campus. My spine still tingles remembering the sound.

I permit myself one sentimentality sending my oldest son to college. I tell him that whenever he hears Leo roar, usually in the night, I want him to think about his parents’ and others’ prayers for him, and our confidence in God for him. A lion’s roaring is a declaration that he has nothing to fear. I learned that in college.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 1:59 PM
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