“How was school?” I asked.

“Good,” Steven said, dropping his backpack to the kitchen floor and shuffling through the stack of mail on the counter. Today’s delivery brought another half dozen pieces of college recruitment material, and Steven seemed distracted.

“Dad,” he said, holding a glossy card showing smiling young people with arms full of books, walking across a leaf-filled quad. “Would it be alright if I DIDN’T go away to college? I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d like to stay and go to school around here … ”

We hadn’t talked much about college, but our discussion began with a “bare your soul” moment:

“I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone else,” I said from my seat on the couch. He must have sensed a lengthy story … it wouldn’t be my first … and he kicked off his shoes and sat next to me.

“When I was still pretty new to radio,” I began, “the thing to do was to stay at your job for a year, then send out resumes to stations in bigger cities and eventually try to work your way up to a major market. So I started recording some of my broadcasts and made a bunch of copies on cassette tapes …” -- he smiled at the ‘olden days’ reference to cassette tapes – “and I typed up a resume and ran it through the copier. I didn’t have much to put on a resume, so I included the fact that I was runner-up in my fourth-grade spelling bee.” He smiled at that part, too; I guess he thought I was kidding.

“I sent resumes to about two hundred radio stations around the country … I still have a list of them somewhere. But here’s the thing I never told anyone: after doing all that work, I’d go to the mailbox every day, hoping no one wrote back to offer me a job -- I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do, not what I wanted to do. And I came to two conclusions: first, I was single-handedly keeping the post office in business. And second, I liked it here and didn’t WANT to leave. That was 40 years ago.”

He looked at me with the kind of tenderness you save for someone who confesses that they still tear up at the sight of Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree.

“That’s a long way to lead up to an answer to your question,” I said. “Trust your heart. Don’t be afraid to go, but don’t be afraid to stay, either. And always trust your heart.”

“That’s a nice story,” he said softly. “Thanks, dad.”

In the end, he moved away to college. I stayed here.

We each made the right decision.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.