I pedales home from the post office, noting my shortness of breath. Getting old, I thought.

I opened the door to my house, sat down to open the mail and felt the strangeness. It was silent. Monastic silence everywhere.

No kids. My kids were in school. Both of my sons were gone for the day. The day before I had walked my Rory to the first grade. He is to be gone all day. All day forevermore.

For the past eight years I had spent at least half of every day with my sons. And now they both were gone. The hours remaining 'til 3:15 stretched empty, noiseless and needless. I missed my little boy. The jump between kindergarten and first grade new in my mind. I missed them both.

I missed the little one's immediate presence, his constant chatter. Mostly I missed his diminishing dependence on me. He changed so slowly, so imperceptively; yet so irrevocably. Turn around and he's 4. Turn around and the signs are gone. The bottles, nipples, shirts as small as your hand, plastic keys, Pampers, blocks, and big wheels are memories. All gone. Forever. With the finality of death.

I see the Star Wars figure on the carpet and feel a rush to keep them there forever. Greedo, Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Bossk -- don't leave me. I decide to leave them there, underfoot, a sign of something to be tended.

It is only 10 a.m. The dishes are done. The laundry is dying. There is no one here that needs me. I can have lunch alone. Or go out. Freedom. It is what we all long after. Why, then, does the time feel heavy?

I will get over this feeling. It is the empty-nest syndrome. If you are not needed, of what value are you? A number of women come to my mind, neighbors and friends, some of whom have raised one child and been at home for 5, 10 or even 15 years since that child started school.

What do they do all day?

I tried to think of men who had experienced the empty-nest syndrome. And could not. Not one.

I looked to my old standby feeling of righteous heroism at being a full-time father as compared to the average man who spends less than 100 hours per week with his children. Self-congratulations felt flat and empty. I always knew that it was the contact, the personal contact, with my sons that buoyed me up and gave a sense of value in fathering.

With what would I replace the good feelings about myself that listening to, playing with and nurturing my sons have given me? For men, especially, it is what we do that gives us value. Is it not?

The blues that haunt burned out men in the market place can also show up in those of us who rock the cradle.