Every spring, Dan Berman and his son Matan had a tradition: They would travel to the coast of Florida for the major league spring training games.
The training games were an especially fun trip, as fans could get up close and personal with their favorite players. Dan and Matan also love traveling together, and the games were a perfect excuse to drive along the coast.
One year, however, things didn’t exactly go as planned.
The Braves, Matan’s favorite team, had started requiring people to pay money to talk with the players.
“He was incensed by this,” says Dan. “He was into the spiritual side of baseball. [He believed] that everyone should have access.”
So, rather than give up on talking to his favorite player Eddie Pérez, Matan stubbornly sat in the bullpen for an hour, watching the pitchers and catchers warming up. And when Pérez came out, Matan started yelling, trying to get his attention, and asking him to throw a ball his way. To Dan and Matan’s surprise, it worked: Pérez signed one and threw it right to a beaming Matan.
In that moment, Dan could not have been prouder. Seeing his son’s fearless determination, even at just 12 years old, offered him a glimpse into the adult Matan would one day be. He was someone who believed that no one should be left out, rules be damned — not in baseball, and not in life. It was moments like these, thought Dan, that made being a parent so special.
But parenting isn’t just about these wonderful experiences. It’s hard work, especially when you’re a dad to three rambunctious boys.
They hadn’t even necessarily planned on having three kids, but after the second, Dan’s wife wanted a girl, so they decided to have one more. Of course, they wound up with another boy.
With three energetic boys now running around the house, it could get overwhelming, Dan says. “There is always so much to do around a house with three boys that those parts of our history are almost a blur.” The laundry, the cooking, the dishes, the late night homework assignments — it may come with the territory of being a parent, but that didn’t make it any easier.
Even getting the boys to help mow the lawn was a challenge in itself. “I [had to] pull the lawn mower out, fill it with gas and start it to get their attention,” Dan jokes.
But it was important to Dan that the boys help around the house, and that included helping him with the laundry when they were old enough.
"When we give our kids everything, teaching them the basics in life, like doing laundry, mowing the lawn, seem like such simple things," he says. "But these lessons may be more impactful than of the organized group activities they participated in as kids."
Parenting requires sacrifices, too — Dan loves to cook, but he didn’t have much time for it as a Dad. “I didn't do that much cooking when the kids were younger other than unhealthy kid fare.” The meals that are fun to cook for an aspiring home chef aren't necessarily what a kid wants to eat — especially compared to macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, and other kid classics.
That said, there was one thing he could make that they’d eat: eggs. “I am the egg specialist in the house [though],” he says. “I can make an egg any possible way a young boy could want it.”
Finding calm in the center of that chaos was one of the big challenges of parenting, and he didn’t always get it right. But no matter the challenge — whether it was a picky eater or an algebra assignment — Dan always found a way to make it work.
Image via Whirlpool
This May, Matan will finally don a cap and gown and walk across the stage to get his high school diploma. Dan, along with hundreds of other proud parents, reminded once more of the determination that brought them there, the sacrifices they made along the way, and the young adults their kids have grown into.
This will be a proud moment for Dan, but also bittersweet, as both begin a new chapter — Matan is headed for a gap year abroad in Israel, and Dan will be left with an empty nest.
Of course, this change comes with challenges, but Dan’s excited to focus on who he’d like to become.
“I’m ready. I do have mixed emotions,” Dan says. “I’ll be sad and I’ll have tears, but I’m ready for the next stage of life.”
While “empty nest syndrome” isn’t a clinical diagnosis, a last child leaving home can still have a mental health impact, like any major life event. An empty nest can sometimes leave parents feeling lonely or anxious. It can even feel like they’re grieving a loss.
But Dan knows the best way to prepare for a transition like this is to just dive right in.
His advice? “Start to prepare by changing routines [and] trying to find different ways to fulfill your life,” he explains. “I’ve always had other interests! I exercise a lot, I love to cook, I like to go mountain biking and things like that. I plan to just do more of it.” (And now, of course, Dan will get to be more than just an “egg specialist,” cooking the meals that he enjoys most.)
Therapist Jasmine Banks agrees, noting that empty nest transitions can be “really powerful moments of transformation.”
There are plenty of ways to encourage that kind of transformation, too. Whether it’s reconnecting with a spouse, or discovering a new passion, parents can turn their grief into motivation to lead more independent, fulfilling lives.
Many parents view caregiving as an important part of their identity — but an empty nest allows them to concentrate on who they are apart from what they do for their kids. “Use some of that freed space to reflect on [your own] needs and wellbeing,” Banks explains.
Transitions like high school graduation can also be the perfect time for kids to celebrate everything their parents do.
Even the little things — like getting dinner on the table, scrubbing stubborn grass stains out of that baseball jersey, or helping with algebra homework — all had an important part to play in getting grads in the cap and gown, though they can sometimes go unrecognized. While graduation is a rite of passage for teens, in many ways, it’s one for parents, too.
That’s why Whirlpool has created "Congrats, parents" as part of its Every day, care® campaign. By sharing meaningful, uplifting messages for parents of the class of ‘18, they’re celebrating the parents whose work often goes unappreciated:
“It’s one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. [And] it never, ever, ever goes according to plan,” Dan laughs. “[Matan is] a wonderful, wonderful kid with challenging 18-year-old tendencies. I don’t have any doubt that he’s going to be a success in life.”
While walking across that stage will be an unforgettable moment for the graduating class of 2018, it’s no less momentous for the parents who supported them along the way. And the chapter ahead can be filled with exciting new adventures for both of them.