Kindred Spirits

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I once watched a television documentary that followed a Scandinavian family who was in the habit of sharing one bed: mom, dad, multiple towheaded offspring and, warming their feet, a large long-haired dog. It painted such a peaceful, cozy scene that you wanted to climb in with them, setting aside qualms about errant elbows and snoring spouses.

I can’t recall ever having shared a bed with my parents, and I suspect that’s true for most Americans my age. We considered occupied bathrooms and bedrooms off-limits: modest pajamas and bathrobes for everyone! I don’t remember my parents ever helping with homework. When I went off to college less than a hundred miles away in 1971, we wrote occasional letters back and forth—long distance calls cost money.

I don’t have children of my own, and I couldn’t say exactly when this all changed—but sometime between the day I started working at Vanderbilt 28 years ago and now, the parent/child relationship has grown into something infinitely more intertwined.

In the Vanderbilt Magazine office, we frequently receive phone calls from parents of recent graduates. Usually they’re moms calling because their child (most often a son) hasn’t gotten around to notifying us about a change of address, so the parents are still getting Vanderbilt Magazine at home. Of course we’ll update the address, we assure them. Often there’s a pause, and then, almost shyly, another request: Could Mom and Dad keep receiving a copy of the magazine, too? (Again, the answer is yes.)

Much as I’d like to think this speaks to the popularity of the magazine we produce, I know more likely it reflects the state of parent/child involvement today—daily phone calls and texts and Facebook photos and avowals of filial love that would have made my parents suspect we were up to no good.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been back on the dating scene. You’ve never seen such a gaggle of devoted dads, whose children are well past the teenaged years: Oops, there’s my daughter—gotta take this call and see how she did on her exam. Mind if I swing by the ATM? I’m helping my son out with his car payment—again.

Am I envious? Absolutely. Is this prolonged interdependency good for our species? That I don’t know. Everything that could be written on the topic of helicopter parents has already been said by somebody somewhere.

All I know is, when I step out of my office to go next door to the Vanderbilt Barnes & Noble bookstore and see visiting parents shopping arm in arm with their Vanderbilt progeny, or I sit down (with one of those devoted single dads, if I’m lucky) to a meal at Kobe Steak’s hibachi grill surrounded by a coed and her eight best Vanderbilt buddies, all being treated by Mom and Dad, all having a blast, I think, How nice. Maybe some things still do change for the better.


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