An Empty Nest


Photos by Stephanie Zhang


The Past

At 10:50 a.m. on June 26, 1997, over 20 doctors, nurses and technicians flooded into a 15-by-15-foot delivery room at St. Vincent Hospital Indianapolis, pushing father and physics teacher Dale Herr up against the wall. Amid the frenzy of doctors, Mr. Herr waited for the delivery of his twin sons, seniors Jake and Josh Herr.

According to Mr. Herr, despite the chaos of his sons’ births, their situation only became more hectic as he began his early days of parenting.t 10:50 a.m. on June 26, 1997, over 20 doctors, nurses and technicians flooded into a 15-by-15-foot delivery room at St. Vincent Hospital Indianapolis, pushing father and physics teacher Dale Herr up against the wall. Amid the frenzy of doctors, Mr. Herr waited for the delivery of his twin sons, seniors Jake and Josh Herr.

“Everything was busy, and we were always just caught up in the moment,” Mr. Herr said. “You were always taking care of one of them when they were sick or changing their diapers or cleaning up after them, just so caught up in the moment.”

Mr. Herr said early parenthood was more fast-paced than he expected, especially because he was raising twins.

“Everything moves so fast,” he said. “Time moves so quickly in those years, especially when you have two (children) at once. It’s not like having one kid or a few (kids) separated by a few years. When you have two kids together like that, and you’re still learning to be a parent, it all just kind of becomes a blur in those years. The first year especially is just a blur. It was wild. Time really goes by fast.”



The Present

Today, Mr. Herr’s children are 17-year-old seniors and are a month away from “leaving the nest” to attend Purdue University. Life, according to Mr. Herr, is much calmer now, which he said has allowed him to reflect on himself as a father and take a step back to watch his children mature on their own.

“Over time, we’ve all changed, my kids and I,” Mr. Herr said. “I think and I hope I’ve become more patient. Yeah, I think that has been my biggest change as a dad. I am more patient now because things are a lot calmer, and I am more used to being a dad. Jake and Josh have changed even more. They’ve stayed on a steady course as they’ve grown up, but they’ve changed as they’ve gone along this course. I’ve watched them mature and develop as young men. I’ve watched them turn from kids to men over time and respond to challenges and grow from them.”

Josh also said he and his brother have matured over time as his dad has begun to give them more freedom.

“We’ve both become more mature,” Josh said. “We’ve become more independent, and we don’t argue as much. We’ve gotten a lot calmer, and (my dad) has, too. He’s kind of come off the gas pedal, and he gives us more freedom, which has helped with the whole maturing thing.”

Now that his children are becoming men, Mr. Herr said he has been able to shift from the role of a disciplinarian to that of a mentor for his children.

“My relationship with my children has changed from being more of a disciplinary role where you’re laying rules down and setting expectations. As you progress along over time, as your kids become more independent, I’ve found that you don’t have to be such a disciplinarian. I’ve been able to slowly change from disciplinarian to a mentor for my children. I tell them how I would handle situations, but I leave it up to them,” Mr. Herr said. “After all these years, I know they are independent and capable, so I can just be a mentor for them.”

Josh said he agrees that his dad has shifted from a disciplinarian to a mentor as they have gotten older.

“I’ve started to understand how smart (my dad) is and how much information he can share with me,” Josh said. “Now, all he really does is provide us with all the information we need. When we were young, he was basically like telling us what to do. Now, he kind of just guides us, and if we screw up, he tells us how we screwed up and how to keep from screwing up in the future.”

Now, as he spends his last few months with his children before they leave for college, Mr. Herr said he is holding on to memories and reflecting on moments that passed him by during the “craziness of early parenthood.”

“All of a sudden you step back and realize, ‘Wow, those moments really went by in a hurry,’” Mr. Herr said. “A lot of those memories get left behind in the blur, and you catch up with them through photographs. You look back and think, ‘Oh, they look so cute’ or ‘I can’t believe it used to be like that.’ When you reflect on the memories, it’s like going back in time.”



The Future

Next school year, after dropping his children off at Purdue over the summer, Mr. Herr will drive to school alone, without his children, for the first time in several years.

“Next fall, it’ll be weird driving to school without them on the first day,” Mr. Herr said. “You get pretty used to having them around, but of course that can’t last forever.”

Josh said because of the dramatic changes the future holds, he has some concerns about how his parents will deal with their children’s absence after they leave for college.

“I think it will be much quieter after we leave,” Josh said. “There’s probably going to be a lot of changes in my parents’ lives. There’ll probably be times when they won’t know what to do. I think there’ll probably be times for them, especially in the first month or so; that will be hard for them.”

However, Mr. Herr said, although he understands that it may take time to adjust to such a big change, he believes he will be okay after his children leave in the near future because he is satisfied by how time has passed.

“I think we’ll be okay (when our children leave for college),” Mr. Herr said. “Things will change. We won’t be able to see them as often, but I’m satisfied with how we’ve spent the time we’ve had together. We’ll do athletic-type things together. We’ll golf. My sons and I like to shoot skeet and fish. We do a lot together, and just times that we’re not even doing anything, but we’re just close by, and we enjoy each other’s company. It’s been good. I’m happy even if we may not get to do that all the time in the future.”

Mr. Herr also said he will be able to adjust after his children leave because he is excited for the future, instead of focusing on the past.

“I’m excited,” Mr. Herr said. “I’m looking to the future. I want to see the boys develop even more. I want them to be independent men. I want to become their mentor, and we can communicate, and they (will be) close by, so we can drive down (to see them). We really don’t need to stop time or go back in time. I’m just excited to see where they’ll go in the future.”


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Christine Fernando