I just did what many parents have done before me; I took my son off to college. Eventually the last hug comes and with tears welling in my eyes I looked back one more time at the young man whose own eyes were filled with optimism mixed with a dash of fear. I saw a tall, young man who is sensitive and considerate to others; I saw the man I always hoped he would become.

I also saw the baby whose diapers I changed, and I saw the little boy who fell and chipped his first tooth at day care. His mother and I were heartbroken our beautiful boy felt an ounce of pain.

The past, present and future were captured in one glance. And man, oh, man I was not ready for that.

This is the cycle of life, and this is what all of those hours, days and years of raising, nurturing and disciplining have been for; to do the best we can to prepare a young person for their own future.

A lot of people are worried about the future right now. Nuclear threat is on our radar, the economy and jobs ebb and flow, ideological divides seem more vitriolic than ever, even weather is bigger and more threatening. But, like my son, I remain optimistic.

I am optimistic because of young people like my son. His generation is uniquely connected, in spite of Xboxes and PlayStations that appear to distract them. They are asking why adults are still debating equal rights and our responsibility for the planet we share, and why adults can’t see that we all belong here, together.

They have answered questions that have eluded previous generations, and they don’t see their friends as gay or a different color, they just see friends.

Of course, I am being idealistic, and that is not reality in its totality, but the winds are shifting toward an inclusive generation. I have more kids in the hopper to send out into the world, and each one gives me the same confidence their minds are open and their hearts are generous. Of course I, alone, did not raise them with those values; their mother, step-parents, teachers, friends, relatives and their generational sense of fairness instilled such ethics.

It was a team effort.

I told my son in an email (to read after I’d left) that success will come “from being a good person who is gracious and kind. … Success is determined by your heart, not a preconceived notion of what it looks like. Happiness is your state of mind, and you always hold the key.”

It was a modicum of wisdom I procured from my own 60-year adventure. It won’t protect him from life’s disappointments, pitfalls or a chipped tooth, but it’s a missive to give his soul some respite in such times.

He wrote back, but I’m not going to embarrass him here. Suffice to say, this old man is crying tears of joy.

Gary Kroeger is an advertising executive in Cedar Falls and a former Iowa legislative candidate.

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