Threatening to call Campus Security to get a call back from my daughter is not something I’m tremendously proud of, but it works like a charm. And, there are moments when the end justifies the means as any leader knows. This likely will not happen now as kids are quarantined and siloed on college campuses around the world.
I recently dropped my college Sophomore off at her sorority house in Corvallis. It was especially bittersweet this time. Due to COVID-19 I could only leave her at the back door to move in by herself. I didn’t get to help her hang her clothes, or make her bed, or put up her posters and twinkling lights.
Making this year even more memorable we drove through fires to get her there. In the days preceding the move I had refused to go. Portland was under a state of emergency with wildfires North and South. Air quality in some places was in the 600’s. And, most importantly the I-5 was closed.
My daughter continued to pack and boxes and duffle bags filled the hallways. The sorority gave her a 45 minute window to move in at precisely 3:00 p.m. no sooner, and no later. From our home in Northern California we had an eight hour and twenty minute drive.
On the day we were due to travel my daughter woke me up at 5:00 a.m. asking if we could please go. It was a defining moment for me. I was caught between several states of cognitive dissonance as many parental decisions create. Did I want to live in fear, or be hopeful? Was I going to let my tires melt on the freeway, so my daughter would not have to continue to be bored at home?
I had a coffee and checked the road conditions. The freeway was open, but fires burned on both sides. Air quality was equally bad here as it was there. The Bay Area had not seen the sun for three weeks. I honestly felt like I was an actor in a horror movie, or I was caught in The Hunger Games. I did not know what to do.
One of the things my friend Craig Nomura told my leadership class last summer was to make decisions based on guiding principles that do not change regardless of the situation. For myself, as a leader, I do not make decisions based on fear. I ask myself “what is the optimal outcome?” and then I track to that to make it happen.
The girls packed the car, I threw a few things in a suitcase and we left by 6 a.m. Miraculously, we arrived minutes prior to 3:00 p.m.
The drive was surprisingly cheerful as we drove through the valleys full of smoke. We listened to music and were happy to see even a tiny patch of blue sky. As we drove through Southern Oregon the mood dampened as we passed the blackened landscapes and the reality of the devastation took hold.
After dropping off the Sophomore, I took the college Senior to Portland to see my college sorority big sis for a quick stay. It made me think that this must be what a war zone feels like. Outside the world is threatening, but inside we are safe together. I’ve been very social distanced since Covid-19 started, so seeing her was like fresh clear water on a parched landscape. We had dinner, laughed, told stories and caught up. On Sunday we headed home and on our way we picked up grass seed (this is a story for another post) and then stopped in Corvallis for a final goodbye.
The things I worried about last September feel superficial in today’s reality. Now, I wish my daughter could go to a frat party and forget to call home. I wish she could stand on the front steps of the Alpha Phi House and sing during rush week. I wish a million things for her that will not happen. Mostly, I wish she were not sitting on a college campus staring at a tiny screen all day.
When I made the decision to drive that dark smokey morning it was because I do not live my life in fear. I also believe through everything we must make the best of what we do have. For her, it is the opportunity to make her own decisions and learn to be independent. I’m thankful for that at least, and missing a few frat parties might not be the worst thing.
Love and blessings to all.