It’s not just moms whose feathers droop when their offspring fly the nest. It’s dads, too. In fact, with more and more dads playing an important role in their children’s upbringing, many modern fathers take it hard when their children leave home. Some suffer even more than their wives do.
Serge Bouharevich is still adjusting to the fact that his children, Ali, 25, and Yuri, 21, have left the family home in Montreal. “It’s been easier for Annie,” Bouharevich said of his wife Anne Soden, a lawyer. “Her work is much more structured than mine. I was a quasi-house husband,” said Bouharevich, 56, a video producer who works mostly out of a home office.
It wasn’t so bad, Bouharevich says, when Ali left for the University of British Columbia in 2003. “She went with her boyfriend, so I felt she was not alone. There was also the fact that Yuri was still at home.” But when, two years later, Yuri left for prep school—and a hockey scholarship—in New Hampshire, Bouharevich had a hard time. “I cried—not him, not Annie—when we dropped him off,” said Bouharevich. “When Yuri left, there was a sense of emptiness because we did so many things together. Since Grade 3, he was so involved in so many sports: hockey, football and soccer. I’m a sports kind of guy, so it was never a chore. When he left, all that was gone. It was like losing a job,” said Bouharevich.
Guy Corneau, a Montreal-based Jungian analyst and author of five books including the bestselling Absent Fathers, Lost Sons, is an expert on the male psyche. Corneau believes men are becoming more comfortable expressing their emotions and that they are growing closer to their children. “Thanks to feminism, men have invested more in their relationships with their children. And the stronger the attachment, the harder the separation will be,” said Corneau.
Anne Soden was not surprised when her husband broke down after each of their children moved away. “It was consistent with who Serge was. He always wanted his children close by,” she said. Bouharevich’s nurturing nature is one of the qualities that attracted Soden to him when they met nearly 30 years ago. “He used to tell me he wanted a child in every window. Serge is a really doting father. I’m more like the husband of olden days. I go downtown to the office and sometimes I have to work late,” Soden said.
Soden felt proud that her children were striking out on their own. “I thought this was absolutely wonderful. My emotions were, ‘Way to go! This is just great! You’re going to see the world!’ Even when they were little, I always perceived the children were on loan to us for a period of time,” she said.
Montreal businessman Borys Friedman, 53, says he must have inherited his eastern European mother’s crying gene. When his daughter Candice Maddy, now 22, first left home at 17 to study in Vancouver, Friedman broke down. “We had to pack up her boxes. Her boyfriend started crying. I told him, ‘You idiot!’ and then I started crying, too. I was more emotional than my wife. It was like I couldn’t get it out of me,” he recalled.
Candice lasted only a year in Vancouver. But three months after moving back home, she announced she wanted to study fashion at Toronto’s Ryerson University. “It threw me over the top,” Friedman said. Again, Friedman found the packing up tough. “But the saddest part was when we actually moved her. My wife stayed in Toronto for a few days. I flew back and that was it. I cried the whole way back. The other passengers must’ve thought I’d buried someone,” Friedman recalled.
Friedman thought that after that weepy flight, he’d be done grieving. “For the first week or two, everything was fine, but then I had to go into her room for something, and I lost it,” he said.
Christmases are hardest for Chris, 51, a Toronto mortgage broker who asked that his last name not be used in this story because of a difficult breakup with his ex-wife. Chris’s daughter Tashia, now 21, left Toronto in the fall of 2008 to take some time off school. “I miss her 24-7. But Christmas is really tough,” he said.
Tashia was three when Chris and his wife split up, but she moved in with her dad when she was 13 and the two became inseparable. “We went to museums, concerts, movies. We travelled across most of Canada. I’m still Dear Abby for her whole crowd of friends,” he said.Those friends have become a kind of support group for Chris. “They come to check on me, to see if I’m okay and that there’s food in the fridge,” he said.
Borys and Carole Friedman separated last year, and Borys believes the separation was triggered by the kids’ departure. But Friedman is filling his nest with his passions. He’s begun skiing again, and when Candice, who has returned from Toronto to live in her own apartment in Montreal, learned her dad was skiing, she wanted in. “Every Sunday morning this winter, we went skiing together. It gave us face time. I’ve had to grow up. I’ve had to learn how to treat both my kids as adults,” Friedman said.
Bouharevich and Soden have each other, their work and a houseful of pets—an aging dog and three cats—to keep them busy. “They’re our surrogate kids,” said Bouharevich.