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Commentary: Breaking home ties

For the past month many families have been going through the awkward, painful process of sending a child off to college for the first time. Whether that child is a boy or a girl can make a big difference.

Norman Rockwell seemed to understand. Rockwell (1894-1978) was an American artist who became famous painting covers for the Saturday Evening Post magazine ─ 323 covers to be exact ─ and painting covers for Boy's Life Magazine, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. Rockwell was never considered a "serious painter" but an illustrator whose work was considered excessively sentimental. His covers were of the warm, fuzzy type, like a mother tucking her children into bed, Rosie the Riveter, Spirit of '76, a grandmother saying grace with her grandson in a truck stop with the truckers looking on in wonder, family Thanksgiving dinner, young man and woman buying a marriage license, boy with pants down, studying the doctor's certificate while waiting for a shot in the bottom, boys sneaking into a "no swimming" hole to go swimming, etc.

The Rockwell painting that comes to mind this month was titled "Breaking Home Ties" and it was on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in September of 1954. It shows a boy, green as grass, sitting on the running board of an old car with his dad, railroad tracks in front of them, waiting for the train. It is clear that the boy is going off to college for the first time. The boy and his dad both have well tanned faces with white foreheads. Both worked hard that summer, probably on a farm. The boy is dressed in a coat and tie, possibly for the first time in his life, and the father is wearing work clothes and work boots. The boy's collie dog, also saying goodbye, has his head on the boy's leg. The boy is anxiously looking down the track, waiting for the arrival of the train, and the dad is just looking straight ahead at nothing in particular. It is obvious that neither one has any idea of what to say. Any father or son who has ever known that moment understands exactly what is going on.

Once, years ago, I was talking to my dad on the phone and he asked how my son, Buckwheat, was getting along in the early days of the cross country season. "I'm not sure," I

said, "he really doesn't tell me much." "Then he's exactly like you were at the same age," my dad replied.

My observation is that by the time a daughter leaves home, she and her mother have probably had 150 percent more words between them than any father and his son. Correct me if I'm wrong. Mothers and daughters talk. What I learned from my dad came mostly from riding in his gas truck with him (often without conversation), watching him work alone and with people, and working with him. If I had been waiting for the train with him, neither one of us would have known what to say. His last words before I got on the train would have been "Be sure to hustle."

That's all. When he said hustle he meant, "work hard, give it your best." There would have been as much love and advice in that farewell as could have been packed into a thousand words.

Yes, there comes a time to break home ties. For fathers and sons, it's probably a time of few words and deep emotions. The love may be unspoken, but it's there.