In 1971, our older son, David, went off to college. Although we had a perfectly good university in our own city, we wanted him to be away from home, living on a campus, during the life-changing transition from teenager to young adult. We wanted him to enjoy the wonderful experience of living with his peers. We, his parents, had been commuter students, living at home and holding full-time jobs, when we had earned our bachelor’s degrees. So, he was to be the first family member to live the authentic life of a college boy, just as the catalogs depicted it.
His father took him to the University of Michigan, while I stayed at home, too devastated at losing my chick to participate appropriately in the farewell rituals. His father returned home that day, somewhat depressed as well, from mulling over a different sort of loss. You see, 1971 was the first year that Michigan undergraduate boys and girls (excuse me, men and women) were to live in the same dormitories. His father wouldn’t tell me why he was so preoccupied, but he did much muttering about being “born too soon.” In fact, after he saw parents leaving their daughters at his son’s dorm, his parting words to the lad had been: “No matter what you tell me about college life, I won’t feel sorry for you.”
In a few days, David called home to tell us that he was rooming with a friend from home. He sounded fine even though he said it was a bit crowded because the room intended for two had been converted to a room for three, by the substitution of a bunk bed for one of the twin beds.
We looked forward to our first visit, the October “homecoming,” when parents were welcome for a special weekend of festivities. When the time came, laden with homemade goodies and sundry things our darling needed, we drove to Ann Arbor and had our first sight of our son’s living arrangements.
As we walked in the building, he assured us – to my relief – that the dorm occupants had made their own arrangements for integrated living. For example, they had designated separate bathrooms for males and females. However, when we visited his room, we were somewhat taken aback to find that he had vastly underreported the population explosion in his living quarters.
His first roommate, the friend from home, had developed a back problem, and was stretched out on the floor between the bunk bed and the single bed. Because he was 6-foot-4, he occupied a lot of floor space. The second roommate, whom I will call “Filbert,” had taken over the rest of the space. Filbert had arrived accompanied by a water bed, a huge beanbag chair, his bulky stereo equipment and two girls – all cozily shoehorned into a room that would have been small for two people.
Our son took us aside and asked whether we could do anything about the situation. We replied with the comforting statement that really it was his problem to deal with. And somehow he and the weak-backed roommate did so, or perhaps Filbert solved the problem unprompted. A few days after our visit, David called home to tell us that Filbert had moved out, taking the water bed, the stereo equipment and the two girls, leaving only the beanbag chair behind.
Filbert’s last statement had been: “I’m leaving. It’s just too crowded in this room.