There were several instances over the past 18 or so years as I raised my 5 children as a single parent, where the reality of my kids moving on to their next necessary chapters of life, has suddenly hit me. I had such a moment last week, as I watched my middle daughter Rebecca get fingerprinted at a courthouse in New Jersey. She was being cleared for her first full-time job out of college. It was required as part of obtaining a security clearance to work for a defense contractor in Virginia – a four hour Amtrak ride away.

Now it’s not like I didn’t anticipate her getting a job and moving away for good. Obviously, I knew this was going to happen the day she was born. It became a well-executed plan 5 years ago when we were considering college choices. We chose George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. With pride I can say Rebecca made her employment a sure thing when she graduated in only 3 years, magna cum laude, and she acquired proficiency in Mandarin. But as anyone over the age of 20 comes to discover – anticipation of and the actual event when it happens are usually two different experiences.

Maybe it was the stark contrast of my sweet and small-size daughter standing next to the large-sized policeman that propelled me into reality. Wasn’t I just yesterday holding her tiny fingers in my hand to help her to learn to swim or to walk together across the street? Maybe it was symbolic in that fingerprinting is something we typically think of negatively, as in somebody’s in trouble. And yet wasn’t this a beautiful moment? The culmination of 22 years of parenting and her hard work, all being stamped for approval with her very lovely, never again to be replicated fingerprint?

When Rebecca asked me to go with her, I agreed because I wanted to be by her side to comfort her, show her the way to deal with police, and to protect her. As her father, I want to stand by her side whenever she needs me. Maybe I especially needed to be needed in that moment? Showing up for her forced me to slow down, break from my work schedule, cancel my morning meetings as we had to first go to the police department and then to the courthouse and then wait for an hour before the process began. And in the waiting, new thoughts and feelings did not wait to come over me.

At the very moment she was being fingerprinted, I had the realization that as my little girl was moving on to her next chapter away from New Jersey for good; my ability to teach her, guide her and protect her was also going away. This chapter of my life had ended in an instant.

And as my next chapter in manning up begins, I am okay to say my fingers wiped away a tear or two from my eyes – one of sadness to see her go and one of prideful joy for what lies ahead for her.

What lies ahead for me? Thankfully, much already well laid track. The good news is Virginia is only a 4 hour Amtrak ride away…


Author's Bio: 

Over the past two decades, Matt Sweetwood has become the nation’s leading advocate for single dads everywhere. In 1996, after his wife’s personality disorder turned violent, Matt was awarded full custody of their five children ages 18 months to 8 years old. Since then, he raised his children on his own, gaining expertise in a range of single parenting and custody issues, including dating while caring for children and the legal, social, academic, and institutional prejudices against men who are single parents. Today Matt’s children are grown, and he is currently writing his first book, a free-ranging and heartfelt memoir of his experiences.

In his professional life, Matt serves as President of Unique Photo®, NJ’s premiere Camera Store. Nationally known in the photography industry as an innovator, he has helped acquire over fifty US and International Trademarks for both language and design at Unique Photo, and he founded and ran the Ozzie Award winning publication Photo Insider®. Most recently, Matt has been credited with the reinvention of the modern camera store, as well as the country’s largest in-store education program, the Unique University®. Unique Photo was named “2013 Dealer of the Year” by Digital Imaging Reporter magazine.