Dropping your kids off at school for the first time is often an emotional experience. You might feel everything from sadness and sorrow to pride, excitement, and hope. Chances are, you’ll feel a bunch of them at various stages. Why? Easy. Those school steps are a portal to another world; when your kid walks up them they’ll somehow seem older, more grown up the next time you see them.
Watching your kid walk through that door on the first day can be hard. You know that your kid will have to grow up, but your heart tries to persuade you that day will never come. When it does, being ready is impossible. No matter how many mirror pep talks you give yourself, no matter how many tissues you stash in the glove box, no matter how much you play the scene in your head, it’s probably going to knock the wind out of you in ways you never saw coming. But, that’s okay. Because it means your children are right where they need to be.
We spoke to a group of dads from all across the world, each of whom shared his unique, emotional ‘first day of school’ story. Some are comforting, while others may surprise you. In the end, though, they all remind us that the first day is the first step toward great things. Here’s how they felt.
1. I Was Relieved At How Happy He Was
“I was much more nervous than my son was. I think most parents anticipate the very first drop-off at school with a real mishmash of feelings — dread, trepidation, pride, loss, anxiety, relief. I actually felt far more nervous about my son’s first day at school than he appeared to be, and true to form, he disappeared through the school gates with a cheery wave and the briefest of backward glances. Which was a relief, I realized. The dread was of a difficult scene rather than any sense of loss on my part. And although I was a tad bereft that he seemed not to be reluctant to be apart for a whole day, I consoled myself that it was his excitement at something new that made it so easy for him, and congratulated myself that I had prepared him well for the step.” – Dave, 35, UK
2. It Was an Emotional Rollercoaster
“It was like being shown my son’s future in fast-forward. I quickly imagined my child’s graduation, having his own group of friends, driving his own car, and leaving home. I realized that my child is no longer a baby. He’ll grow up and be a person independent from me and my wife. He’ll develop his own personality and preferences. He’ll walk along his own journey towards his own career and passion. It was like a sudden separation; this little child is a person separate from me. What used to be a very clingy and dependent baby is not independent, ready to learn about the world. It made me want to spend all of my time on him. To cherish his littleness while I can. At the same time, it made me want to be the best father; that while I can’t protect him from the world, I can equip him so he can face it.” – Ian, 39, California
3. I Felt a Little Bit of Everything
“I waved him goodbye and watched as he walked up to the front door of the school. As the door closed behind him, I unexpectedly got very emotional. This wasn’t something I had prepared for, or something I’d seen coming. My two sons are the center of my world, and right at that point, I felt separation anxiety. Not because I was afraid he’d never come home again, but because this was the start of a new chapter in our lives together and, conversely, the end of another chapter that I had cherished deeply. I sat back in the car for a while, thinking about his life up until this point, smiling and tearing up, conflicted by the pride of his growing independence and the feeling that soon he won’t need his old dad anymore to handle life. To this day, I can still laugh about this moment. I was sincerely scared but had no reason to be.” – Paul, 42, California
4. I Cried, But They Were Tears of Joy
“I’m already well known to my family and friends as a rather emotional man. So it was inevitable that there would be tears when we first dropped my son at school. In fact, a teacher once told us that the dads are often much worse than the mums. When the day arrived, all I really wondered was when the tears would come, and whether my wife — who is decidedly more stoic — would be joining me in the sobbing. Remarkably, we both held things together rather well! My son was very chatty and excited as we approached the school, but there was a sudden change once it really sunk in that he would be going inside and we wouldn’t. His lip started wobbling a bit, but we were able to part with a big hug and no drama. The tears came, for both of us, the very moment we got back in the car. But they were happy tears.” – Ben, 44, London, UK
5. I Felt Reassured
“Dropping my kids off at school for the first time was harder on me than it was for them. They were so excited in the new environment. I was able to watch them play and interact with other kids before I made my departure. I was looking for my cue to leave, but I didn’t know what it was. When I finally tried to send a quick wave to my kids, they had already moved on, and I didn’t want to interrupt their excitement. They were doing fine. As a father of six, dropping the kids off for their first times got a little easier over the years. Their enthusiasm helped for sure.” – Omarr, 45, Michigan.
6. I Felt Excited For Her
“I’m an annoyingly eternal optimist. It takes a lot to make me sad or get me down. I looked at dropping our daughter off at school for the first time as a huge achievement, both for me and for her. I imagined her making tons of friends, loving her teacher, and bringing home drawings to hang on the fridge. Waving goodbye and sending her off was definitely more surreal than sad. I just couldn’t believe she’d grown into this tiny little person, who was now going to be experiencing all of these wonderful new things. I was definitely beaming when she gave me a kiss, because I knew she’d be in for the time of her life.” – Anton, 37, New York
7. I Felt Relief That Quickly Turned Into Sadness
“We enrolled our two kids — three and five years old — into a summer school program. After 15 months of being at home, having moved mid-COVID to a community where we didn’t know anyone, I mainly was anxious because a lot was riding on them staying and embracing it. They needed to make friends, and as two small business owners, we needed some time back. Within minutes of dropping them off, they both let me know it was going to be ok. My daughter didn’t even say, ‘Goodbye, Dad!’ She just ran past the teacher and into the classroom and started talking with the other kids. My son simply turned, gave me a hug and a kiss, and said, ‘I love you,’ then walked side by side with his teacher out of sight. The relief soon filled with sadness that they’re growing up and will be ok without me by their side every day.” – Anthony, 40, New Jersey
8. I Felt Guilty
“I was guilty at how relieved I felt to finally have some time to myself. We have twins, and they’re a handful. So dropping them off at school for the first time was a big, deep breath I felt like I was waiting five years to take. All things considered, it went well. No one cried. And they ended up having a blast. The guilt kind of set in after I came home, took that deep breath, and thought ‘I’m free!’ At that moment I felt like an asshole. I love my kids, though, and I had to remind myself that my relief had nothing to do with them as people. It was just a much needed rest that’s been beneficial for our whole family.” – Collin, 39, North Carolina
9. I Was a Bit of a Worried Mess
“I don’t think I had time enough to process one single emotion when I dropped my son off at school for the first time. I was all over the place, trying to remember if I’d done everything needed to get him ready. Did I give his medicine to the school nurse? Did I go over his allergies with the teacher that summer? Did I pack all of the supplies he would need? Was he wearing the right uniform? I wanted to make sure he had nothing to worry about on his first day, other than making friends and learning. He even told me to relax. I’ll never forget that. It made me laugh, and reminded me that he’s much cooler under pressure than I’ll ever be. He did fine and, eventually, so did I.” – Thomas, 41, Ohio
10. I Felt Really Proud
“I’m proud of my daughter every day. But there was something special about dropping her off for her first day of school that made me just swell up with pride and admiration. She was just so confident. She kept telling me how many new friends she was going to make, and how she was going to be nice to everyone. She told me how excited she was to learn, and draw, and play on the playground. Her confidence gave me confidence, and eased my fears about saying goodbye. Sure enough, she came home with story after story about how great the first day was. And hearing them made me so, so proud.” – Eric, 36, Toronto
11. I Felt Angry
“I just dropped my son off for his first year of primary school last week. I bottled it up and made sure to focus on my son, but I felt so much anger watching the other parents in the car line. There were no masks while they interacted with each other or the teachers. And there were a lot of bumper stickers that suggested there wouldn’t be masks — or vaccinations — in many of their families. It was just a very sharp reminder that my son’s safety at school is only so much in my control. His teacher and his principal have been wonderful at reinforcing the protocols necessary to protect everyone. But, really, who knows what goes on in those people’s houses? It made me nervous. And it kept me from savoring what should’ve been a really special moment in my son’s life.” – Alex, 37, Pennsylvania
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