Parenting is a tale of loss and gain, of pride and pain.

Your children occupy a place in your heart that you cannot still and numb no matter how you try. There is no Novocain to take away the ever-present fear that, no matter how strong they are, no matter how old they are, no matter how smart or how well you raised them – they might get hurt and you are not there to help them through it.

In my life I have endured some things which have taught me how to turn off my emotions when necessary. Like a light switch I can reach out and simply flip them off and exist as an observer of my own life and those around me.

It is a horrible thing. I admit I have used it too often to my own detriment but there are times when not feeling is too great a temptation not to dive into. The problem is that while I can turn them off I cannot seem to consciously turn them back on. They turn on in their time.

Thankfully with my children I cannot do this. I cannot switch off my emotions with them. Like a normal human being I must walk through life feeling every fear and pain related to them I am, as a father, required to.

My middle child, my second son, my first Caleb Michael, has started his military career.

I was asked recently how long he will be gone and this gave me pause. I had not thought about it. I had tricked myself into believing I was sending him to summer camp.

But the reality is he has started his chosen life.

“I guess forever…” was what I said.

Of course this is a tad dramatic but I have always had a flair for hyperbole.

But then again this is his new life. This is his job now. He will spend three months in Basic Training at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. Following this he will be assigned to an infantry regiment where he will go through eight more months of infantry training.

“Infantry?!?” I said. “Why infantry?” Having served in the 11th Field Regiment, Artillery, I was puzzled.

“I wanted the hardest combat option.”

Of course he did.

For almost a year he has been working out in preparation for the challenge. I am not concerned about his physical abilities, this is not the hardest part of military training…the mental test is by a huge margin, the most difficult.

I sent him to every sub-reddit, video, and harrowing personal tale I could find on the internet. If he was going in for something like this he would be damn well informed about at least.

Nothing swayed him.

So now my boy, just 17 years old, is living on a base bunking with five other young men, training to serve his country.

When he comes home it will be for holidays or because the military didn’t work out for him. If it doesn’t work out that’s fine too. I told him as much. Whether he’s in five minutes, five days, five years or until he retires it makes no difference to me and how proud I am of him.

Still he has moved on and into his own life now. My second son to do so.

Matthew, my eldest, moved out more than two years ago. At first it seemed like an experiment. Just like when I told myself Caleb was going to camp I convinced myself that Matt was taking a little time to experience the world and he would be back.

He applied for university and was accepted everywhere but was not convinced the programs were what he wanted long term.

“Dad I don’t want to go into $40,000 or more of debt and come out trained for a career I might not even want.”

It was difficult to argue with this.

Instead he got a job at a local company to save money and decide what he wanted. Now after almost three years he has been promoted into the company’s computer technician company and feeling like he has a career and loyalty to a good employer.

He is happy, living on his own, saving his money, investing in RRSPs and what more could a father ask of a son.

And so he is on his own. Out of the house.

It is weird.

As with Matt’s moving out Caleb’s departure has been felt slowly. There are small absences. It is not unlike grieving really. When I am shopping I will stop at the tortilla chip section prepared to buy Caleb his customary weekly family pack only to realize there is no need to.

I think September and the school year will be most challenging. Caleb and I would walk/ride to school together since my work is just a block away. At lunch we would go home together as well. I would make him lunch and we would spend the time chatting about one thing or another – mostly video games or movies.

It is these small absences that pile up.

I know he is there, in the world, being Caleb just as Matt is literally down the street in his own apartment, and the world is better for it, it has gained – but it is difficult sometimes and unlike other pains I cannot shut this one off no matter how much I try.