My dad and I are unusually close. When I was nine, my mother died following a six-year battle with breast cancer. In many ways, experiencing something like that at such a young age was a curse, but it also bonded me to my father.
Starting college inevitably changes the relationships we have with our parents. Life at Penn is a trial run for adulthood. We decide what time we come home after a party, how much we drink, when we study, who we’re friends with, what we eat, who we’re romantically involved with, and how we care for ourselves.
Consequences that our parents previously might’ve thought through for us are now our responsibility. This looks different for everyone. Some students are more dependent on their parents than others. Still, for most, college is the first time we’re without them.
During the first semester of my freshman year, I struggled with my mental health. Although my dad tried to be supportive by offering me resources like therapy, it was something I mostly had to figure out on my own.
In high school, days are spent in class and with friends, and there’s usually some comfort in going home at its conclusion. I always looked forward to resting in my bed and watching television with my dad when I didn’t have too much homework. At Penn, however, I returned to an empty room. The only person I could really rely on was myself.
I often texted my dad, telling him I missed him and that I wanted to come home. Usually, he forced me to stay put so that I could adjust to college. While that was probably for the better, it was difficult for the most important person in my life to be leading a separate life in a different city. It still is. I went from seeing my father every day to scrolling through his Instagram posts with friends I’ve never met before.
No matter what your experience with your parents is, going to college changes how you interact with them. Now, when my dad visits me at school, we usually go out to dinner or a show and catch up like I do with my friends. It can be upsetting to realize that I’m now in charge of looking out for myself, but it’s also refreshing to avoid the constant fights we’d get in when I lived at home.
Penn can be hectic and is plagued by many issues: sexual assault, binge drinking, wealth disparity, hyper competition — sometimes I wish I had a parent living with me to help me grapple with all of that. That’s normal. There will be times when we feel overwhelmed and alone, inundated in our worries, when we want a parent to help us out. But I’ve grown stronger for navigating Penn on my own.
Since starting Penn, I’ve cultivated a new appreciation for my dad. I’ve used the time we’ve spent apart to reflect on all he has given me and how lucky I am to go to Penn — something I’m sure I couldn’t have done without him. Although we spend more time apart than we do together, our relationship is just as important as it was before I moved away from home.
ISABELLA SIMONETTI is a College sophomore from New York studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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