Know When to Fold Them

Accepting the Award

“Know when to fold them…”

In his classic song, The Gambler, Kenny Rogers sang “You have to know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to walk away, and know when to run.” It is a great song and applicable to many situations… including the one I am writing about today.

As longtime readers of my blog will know, I never intended to be connected to the life of cadets of The Citadel after my son graduated in 2011. I passed along the leadership roles I held as the Georgia Citadel Parent Rep, and the Area Rep Coordinator for the Citadel Family Association before he graduated. What I did not anticipate were the many new parents who found my previous blog posts for the military blog site, Off the Base, who would then send emails and even call me to ask for advice. I certainly never expected to be connected to the school seven years after “my” graduation day.

I tell people I am basically lazy. After getting a few emails and calls post-graduation, I decided that since most of the early questions from parents are the same, it would be easier and less time consuming to just post the tips and information to my own blog. It then became apparent that a more interactive platform was needed for parents to ask questions and get answers, so I started that with the parents of the Class of 2016.

While my son was a cadet, I was a company rep volunteer and then area rep for the Citadel Family Association. During that time, Facebook groups were developed. In the early years those groups were helpful, but, unfortunately, also a source for rumors, bullying, and misinformation perpetrated by individuals who sadly harbored personal agendas.

Keeping in mind the harmful and insensitive interactions I saw happening in the groups that included parents of cadets of all classes, and knowing some basics in counseling and pastoral care, I developed the first parent group by class in 2012. The idea was simple, start a group for parents of students in the class of 2016 only and add a few of my trusted friends who were parents of recent graduates to offer guidance, support and advice.

The first year the group grew to over 350 members. It was a learning process. Not everyone was on board with the concept of straight information. Drama and/or rumors became a need for many. As the years progressed, rules and guidelines developed. Advice was tweaked and I built relationships with key staff on campus to ensure the information shared was accurate and current. Each year when the new packing list was published in the “Success Packet” I’d review it to make sure the new parents stayed with the school sanctioned list and not be conflicted by random advice given by parents of previous cadets. Today there are parent groups for the classes of 2016 to the current knob Class of 2022.

In 2014 my alma mater, Columbia Theological Seminary, gave me the “Pioneer in Ministry Award” for my ongoing work with cadet parents. I wrote about what I considered my unique call to serve in a blog post you can read HERE. From June 2014-2015 I was a chaplain resident at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. It was a rewarding and educational year. While I was extremely busy with my work there I was still maintaining the support groups for new parents. I also tried to let staff at The Citadel know there was a real need for the school to be more involved with proactive communication with parents. The Citadel Family Association is only for parents of current cadets and there was no place in the CFA for parents of graduates. I met with staff in The Citadel Foundation Office, then later met with the new provost at the time, Dr. Connie Book. A couple of years ago, Dr. Book brought Navy Capt. Taylor Skardon over to the Provost office where he became the parent liaison among other duties.

Each year in the parent groups leading up to matriculation day I offered a dinner invitation for first year parents who might want to get together in a casual environment after a stressful drop off matriculation morning.. We usually had a group of 40-50 meet at Tommy Condon’s restaurant. The summer the Class of 2020 was matriculating the numbers outgrew Condon’s. With the help of The Citadel Club of Charleston and The Citadel Foundation, we held a BBQ dinner at the Holliday Alumni Center. It was successful, over 230 people attended. After I planned this first dinner at the HAC, Capt. Skardon assumed the matriculation night dinner planning for the next two years.

I wrote Capt Skardon in the fall of 2016. I had authored a white paper on how and why the parent groups by class were formed. I explained why the groups have the rules they do and why only parents of graduates are in the group as advisors. Since Capt. Skardon was the new parent liaison, I offered to pass the groups along to him. He called a meeting with the staff liaison to the CFA and the CFA leadership. I attended the meeting fully expecting I would relinquish my leadership role of the groups. I was surprised when Capt. Skardon asked me to continue my volunteer work because the current staff did not have the required time. After that meeting, we developed a system of communication between the communication chair of the CFA, Capt. Skardon and me to disseminate accurate information to parents.

Here we are almost two years after that meeting. The groups have grown in size each year. There are over 980 members in the group for 2022 parents. There are more than 3,250 members in the four groups for current parents. The work is rewarding. Many wonderful connections and friendships have been made. The groups are so active that they caught the eye of the corporate office of Facebook in California. I was invited to attend the first ever 2017 Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago as one of 100 group admins who created successful Facebook groups and are building communities.

The goal of the groups has always been to provide a safe place for anxious parents to get accurate information. The groups are most active knob year. The activity picks up again second semester junior year leading up to senior year and ring weekend and graduation. To help with the volume of information that is shared, parents from within each group were added to help administer and moderate the groups. A private group was formed for the moderators. I continued to stay in close contact with Capt. Skardon to help provide accurate timely information to parents. I did tell Capt. Skardon that management of the groups had outdistanced my volunteer capacity and I’d either have to receive small monetary compensation or I’d have to move on.

Subsequently, a decision has been made for the school, through the Citadel Family Association volunteers, to begin moderating groups for the incoming parents of the class of 2023. I am the creator of the current groups and have promised that no staff would be added to them. I will continue to be a member in the groups I created, and the parent volunteers will take over the day-to-day administration of them. A staff person or two will be added to the private group for administrators so information can be shared from staff to the admin group then shared with parents in the 2019 – 2022 parent groups. Beginning with the class of 2023, the parent group will be maintained by the Citadel Family Association and their volunteers.

I like to think the groups have served the original purpose, to provide a safe space for new parents to find support and information. I look forward to following the cadet careers of the young men and women I’ve had the honor getting to know, some of whom have become my “adopted” sons and daughters. I’ll still be in the groups I started but as a silent member there to support the parent administrators and facilitate introductions between admins and staff.

So as the song goes, I’ll be walking away (but watching from a distance).

Go Bulldogs!

 

 

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Winter Furlough Notes for Citadel Parents

the-citadel-luminaries

Luminaries light a path toward 2nd Battalion December 2 after the Candlelight Service in Summerall Chapel

Winter furlough begins today for cadets at The Citadel. A time to celebrate to be sure.

Some will be thrilled with the grades their cadet achieved this semester. Others will not have fared that well and you’ll most likely have questions. The notes and links below should answer most of your questions. The links below will also bring you to the pages to find contact information for the appropriate person or department to address your questions. While this advice is manly for first year families, parents of cadets in all years may find the links helpful

If you’ve read this blog for a while you’ll already know this next bit of information. As I mentioned in this post from 2012, the beginning of second semester is tough for all cadets, knobs to seniors. They’ve just spent close to a month at home visiting with family and friends. Coming back to cadet life, getting up early, PT in the cold dark days of winter, is a tough reality.

For parents of knobs, if your son or daughter hasn’t questions their decision to attend The Citadel before, January and February are the months you may field that call. If you do get “the call” remind them that they are stronger than they think they are, encourage them to talk to their classmates. Once they talk to their classmates and other friends in the Corps they will realize they are not alone. It’s still tough but they will get through it. Remind them that Recognition Day is not too far off, March 17, this year.

This experience is so common the cadets have a name for it, the PG version is F’d up February. It is also tough when their friends decide for a variety of reasons not to return.

If you are a family with a student who has decided to leave The Citadel, I wish you and your student the best in their next endeavors.

My best wishes to all The Citadel cadets and families this holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah-Chanukah, Happy New Year!!

summerall-chapel-at-christmas

 

 

A Note to My Critics

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The blog entry I posted yesterday, The Odd Things Citadel Parents Learn is now the most viewed entry this year and the top post since starting this blog in 2011 after my son graduated. Apparently it struck a chord with parents and alumni, but for different reasons.

The current parents tell me they can relate to everything I’ve written. The few alumni I’ve heard from directly say they can relate as well. They understand, because they know me, that I was poking fun at the strange things parents of cadets learn.

I can understand why the alumni wonder why parents know about shoes, T-pins, sheets etc. Unless they have a cadet who has attended since the barracks have air conditioning and all cadets are required to have a computer and encouraged to have a cell phone, they just won’t understand what it is like for current families.

Prior to the early 2000’s electronic communications had not been a big part of our lives. Now to stay competitive in the job market a cadet must know how to use a computer and other devices. Prior to 2000 college life was different for everyone. Few people had laptops and we weren’t used to being electronically connected to the world.

Skype, Facetime and other means of communication weren’t around either. While an argument can be made that the knobs should have limited access to communication, the fact remains that post Virginia Tech tragedy campuses around the country had to institute communication plans with the students. The Citadel now encourages knobs to have cell phones. They can’t use them whenever they want but they do have them.

For readers new to my blog I encourage you to read through the blog posts linked below. You’ll find I repeat over and again that parents must learn to let go and allow their sons and daughters to take ownership of their successes and failures. Once Matriculation Day arrives and parents ask what they can do about this or that on campus, my usual response begins, “you don’t need to do anything, that is up to your son/daughter . . . ”

My son, a 2011 graduate, never told me anything at all about his experience. I have over the years heard stories from others. I did buy most of the items on the Success Packet List and the Nice to Have List. It was my high school graduation gift to him. I don’t know many cadets who have the money to spend, about $1,000 on shoes ($100+ a pair), boots (close to $150 a pair) athletic shoes (close to $100 a pair), and the other required items. I learned a lot about what they needed and how to save money, i.e. cheap sheets, good socks for instance. I pass that information on to others just as local parents shared with me their recommendations.

Stories of washing machines and dryers at home getting clogged by T-pins that were left in sheets at the end of the school year have led them to be referred to as “minions of satan” by a number of parents. (hat tip to my friend Mandy) Many would prefer their cadets use the straps to hold the sheets in place.

My son never told me about the sink or much else for that matter. He did, however, tell my younger son, who told me. When visiting for parents weekend my son’s knob year in 2007, my younger son said, “You didn’t touch the sink did you?!” When I said no and asked why would he ask, my younger son told what the knobs use it for. (he’s never been good at keeping a secret)

I am the chair of the Atlanta Citadel Club’s new Parent Committee. As such, I felt I needed to alert the club about what is being said by alumni about my recent blog post. I received this encouraging note in return:

At these times, I always lean towards my favorite quote about “critics” from Teddy Roosevelt:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man (or woman!) who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I’ve heard through the alumni grapevine that many of them don’t understand why parents know about any of the things I write about. If you are an alumnus who feels I am a “Helicopter Parent” I invite you to email me to discuss your concerns. I much prefer a civil dialogue than hearing second-hand about comments made about me and my experience with my family by people I’ve never met. I encourage you to read the blog post below to get a background on why I started this blog and the  parent Facebook groups **see below

Previous blog posts about letting go:

The Citadel: Year One a No Fly Zone for Hovering Parents

Learning Leadership and Ethics at The Citadel

A Letter to The Citadel Class of 2015

Matriculation Day: The Hardest Part for Parents is Letting Go

Transitions and Letting Go

Advantages of being the Parent of a Citadel Cadet

Preparing for Knob Year – Parents Edition

Uniformity, Lists, and Letting Go

**If you want to know why I started this blog, see this entry:

The Story of My Nontraditional Calling

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photo by Stanley Leary

Hotels That Offer Discounts to Citadel Families

The Boat Center at The Citadel.

The picnic tables by the boat house. My favorite place on campus.

Each year I am asked about the best hotels to stay in when parents visit the school. The city is a very popular tourist destination and there are a wide variety of properties to choose from that range from luxury hotels to discount properties. Some families prefer to rent a home or condo and stay at Folly Beach or Isle of Palms. Vacation Rental Buy Owner vrbo.com is one good resource or check out any number of realtors in the area.

The following are a list of properties that offer discounts to Citadel families.

The Citadel has a link on their website to a page with hotels that offer a discount use this link to access discounts to eight hotels.

I’ve called each of the following hotels. They all have a special rate, but you need to book early and call the hotel directly to get a hotel room in the discounted block. Discount sites like hotels.com and using your AAA card can help too.

Charleston Marriott Use the link for a discounted rate. (click on the highlighted hotel name) Their phone number, 843-723 3000

Hampton Inn Airport 843-554-7154 ask for “The Citadel Rate”

Hawthorn Suites call 843-225-4411 ask for “The Citadel Rate”

Home2Suites call 843-744-4202 ask for “The Citadel Rate”

LaQuinta Inn & Suites Charleston Riverview 843-556-5200 ask for “The Citadel Rate”

Red Roof Inn Plus 843-884-1411 select the Front Desk option ask for “The Citadel Rate”

Wingate by Wyndham 843-553-4444 ask for “The Citadel Rate”

If you have a favorite property you stay at during visits, leave a comment on this post.

Social Media, Parents, and Cadet Life

Padgett-Thomas Barracks at The Citadel photo by Stanley Leary

Padgett-Thomas Barracks at The Citadel
photo by Stanley Leary

2015 marks the 4th year that I have posted and will moderate a group for new parents of incoming knobs at The Citadel. The group for parents of the Class of 2019 has over 30 members already.

The original intent of these groups still stands, to offer parent to parent advice to incoming parents of knobs. Attending a senior military college is a strange process for parents with no military background like me. The Facebook groups are an easy way to get general information out to fellow parents.

The Facebook groups for the individual classes of parents were started by me, and are supported by a few select friends who each bring a unique perspective as a parent of a graduate. I started with the 2016 class. There are now groups for the classes of 2016, 2017, 2018 and now 2019. I am no longer the administrator for the 2016 and 2017 groups. members of the class are moderating those groups now. By this summer I’ll pass on the reigns to the 2018 group to a couple of parent members. I also administer the Military Parents of The Citadel group.

The Citadel is a military school and a leadership school. That means that the cadets are expected to learn to advocate for themselves. In this environment more so than nonmilitary schools, the students are expected to take ownership in their process. Social media can be a blessing and a curse for the parents and the cadets.

With the advent of social media like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and others, we’ve become accustomed to instant information. Skype, Facetime, and smart phones are wonderful tools to stay in touch. In years past when the knobs had a bad day, or hour, they had days before they could vent to family and friends. By the time they did get to phone the problem had worked itself out. The rules have changed over the years and knobs are expected to carry cell phones with them now. This change happened out of an interest in increasing security. All across the country after the Virginia Tech tragedy campuses changed how they handled security.

2007 was the last year knobs were not allowed to have cell phones first semester. That is the year my son was a knob. The knobs did have access to email and Skype. The difference I’ve seen in the knobs and parents now versus eight years ago is that with instant communications the parents worry more, not less. The knobs can now text their frustrations to parents in real-time. The big problem is they rarely let their parents know when a problem has been resolved leaving the parent to worry. With the increase in connectivity some parents get overly involved with their cadet’s experience at the school.

I am not advocating no communication. I am telling new parents that it is important for them to remember not to join the knobs on their emotional roller coaster. They will need a loving ear to vent to once in a while, but will also need their parents to serve as a rock to help them stay the course when it gets tough.

Each knob is different, and will process the experiences differently. Each year during the first “challenge week” formally known as “hell week” knobs leave, but far more stay than go. It is a tough time for the knobs and their parents. I do remind parents that knobs are at a college, not going to war. It is a very tough system. The knobs are yelled at throughout the year. They are not given encouragement and must find the strength internally to deal with the 4th class system. There is no universal experience there, but everyone who has gone through four years at The Citadel will tell you it was tough.

The school offers several resources for cadets and parents if they have questions or encounter problems on campus. While I encourage parents to let their knob or cadet handle their problems with minimal intervention, I also tell them that they know their child and if they have a concern to address it with the appropriate person on campus. The Ombudsperson’s office is a good place to start if you are not sure to which person or office to direct your question.

A big mistake parents of all classes of cadets make each year is posting too much information to the parent Facebook groups. While each group encourages members to keep the information shared to the group private, the fact is, some groups have hundreds of members. There is no way to keep members from sharing information with their cadet, a spouse, and others.

The best rule of thumb is not to share specific information about your cadet to any group. It is also not a good idea to air grievances to any group. You never know who will see your post. There is the very real potential that what you post to a group will reflect poorly on your cadet on campus. It should not happen, but every year it does. I post a warning to the groups I administer each year not to post specific information about your cadet, even a prayer request about your cadet because they are sick. Each year someone over shares and there is negative repercussions for the parent and/or their cadet.

If you have a grievance with the school send a note to the appropriate department on campus. If you need to vent about a situation send a private message to a friend or a group of trusted friends.

To find help on campus, you can see this link.

Reflections

I listened the other day as a young mom called after her son to, “WALK PLEASE!”

Christmas 1993

In that instant I was brought back to a time when my boys were 4 and 6 years old. I was convinced I’d go to my grave yelling Walk! If there was a puddle in an acre of land, my two sons were in the middle of it.

Nelson in the rain.

Years later, when my oldest son decided to apply for an Army ROTC scholarship, and to attend The Citadel, I reminded myself of these two mud covered boys and the times when they would play soldier.

Taylor loved to run.

It really is in their DNA.

Not much has changed.

Muddy 2011 BVA's

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