A Homecoming of a Different Sort

A Homecoming of a Different Sort

From Chicken Soup for the College Soul

A Homecoming of a Different Sort

Jeff and I had many conversations during the year, but I will always remember the time he told me about his family. His mother, a loving, caring woman, was the one who held the family together. She died shortly before Jeff graduated from high school. His father, a successful physician, cold and stern in Jeff’s words, had firm beliefs that a person would never make a valuable contribution to the world unless they attended and graduated from college by the age of twenty-three. His father had even paved the way for Jeff to attend the same college from which he graduated, and had offered to pay Jeff’s entire tuition and living expenses. As an active Alumni Association member, he was excited that his son would someday follow in his footsteps.

Jeff was twenty-seven and a successful business planner at a Fortune 500 company—without a degree. His passion was skiing. When he graduated from high school he decided to decline his father’s offer and instead move to Colorado to work with a ski patrol. With pain in his eyes Jeff told me that he still remembered the day he told his father he was going to forego college and take a job at a ski resort. He remembered every word of the short conversation. He told his father of his passion for skiing and for the mountains and then of his plans. His father looked off into the distance, his face became red, and his eyes squinted and bore into Jeff. Then came the words that still echoed in Jeff’s mind: “You lazy kid. No son of mine is going to work on a ski patrol and not attend college. I should have known you’d never amount to anything. Don’t come back in this house until you have enough self-respect to use the brains God gave you and go to school!” The two had not spoken since that conversation.

Jeff was not even sure that his father knew he was back in the area near where he grew up and he certainly did not want his father to know he was attending college. He was doing this for himself, he said over and over, not for his father.

Janice, Jeff’s sister, had always remained supportive of Jeff’s decisions. She stayed in contact with their father, but Jeff had made her promise that she would not share any information about his life with him.

Jeff’s graduation ceremony that year was on a hot, sunny day in June. As I walked around talking to people before the ceremony, I noticed a man with a confused expression on his face.

“Excuse me,” he said as he politely approached me. “What is happening here today?”

“It’s graduation day,” I replied, smiling.

“Well that’s odd,” he said. “My daughter asked me to meet her at this address.” His eyes sparkled and he smiled. “Maybe she completed her associate’s degree and wanted to surprise me!”

I helped him find a seat and as he left me he said, “Thank you for helping me. By the way, my name’s Dr. Holstrom.”

I froze for a second. Jeff Holstrom. Dr. Holstrom. Could this be the same person I had heard about over the last year? The cold, stern man who demanded his son attend college or never enter his home again?

Soon the familiar strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” could be heard. I turned around in my chair to get a glimpse of Dr. Holstrom. He seemed to be looking for his daughter amongst the graduates on stage. Speeches were given, the graduates were congratulated, and the dean began to read the names of the graduates.

Jeff was the last person to cross the stage. I heard his name being announced: “Jeff Holstrom, magna cum laude.” He crossed the stage, received his diploma from the college president, and, just as he started down the stairs from the stage, he turned toward the audience looking for his sister.

A lone figure stood up in the back of the audience—Dr. Holstrom. I’m not sure how Jeff even saw him in the crowd, but I could tell that their eyes met. Dr. Holstrom opened his arms, as if to embrace the air around him. He bowed his head, almost as if to apologize. For a moment it seemed as if time stood still, and as if they were the only two in the auditorium. Jeff came down the stairs with tears in his eyes.

“My father is here,” he whispered to me. I smiled.

“What are you going to do?” I asked him.

“Well,” he said. “I think I’m going home.”

Vicki Niebrugge

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