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A father's letter of recommendation

A father who is a college counselor writes a letter of recommendation for his son.

Father and son on beach.

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I take my students home with me every summer. Each of my high school jun-iors meets with me in May and tells me about their lives, their wonders, their doubts (if I'm lucky), and what they would like to do next.

After school is out in June, they go off to the camps and community service projects that transform them into seniors, while their stories come home with me and transform into the letters of recommendation I'll prepare for each of them when they apply for college in the fall.

When it comes to letters of recommendation, the process has its own timetable. Backing out of the driveway to get to summer school, I remember a comment a student made about what he liked about high school, and I now know exactly what to say to Warren Wilson College. I'm rinsing the dishes after dinner, and a student's interest in Vanderbilt finally becomes clear; I haven't touched a computer, but her letter is now finished.

It came as no surprise when another round of evening dishes gave me the phrase I would use to build my son's college letter. I am the only counselor in our small school, so I couldn't implement the advice of my colleagues who faced the same challenge of counseling their own child – "Don't."

Years of letter writing had given me a structure I knew well, and if paternal pride broke through the rails, admissions officers would be aided by my answer to the question, "How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?" since my response was "Two years as his college counselor, and all of his life as his father."

Using the same approach and well-worn ground rules, I produced about two dozen letters in September before I broached the letter for my son. Just like the 24 before it, the sailing was smooth: "He began his career as a science educator at age 5," and off it went from there.

As was the case with every letter before it, I printed it out, signed it, and checked for flow and for grammatical errors the computer wouldn't recognize… and then I immediately burst into tears.

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