Being the person I want my son to become

Posted on September 3, 2012


Where'd you learn your manners?

OK, son, as you know, much of this blog is about me trying to keep you from becoming me. One might try and accuse me of just trying to make my own life easier by keeping you from terrorizing me the way I terrorized my parents. That may be the case for other bloggers, but I was a total Dream Child.

No, really.

No? Really? OK, maybe I wasn’t perfect. I might have made some bad choices on occassion.

There was the time my mom got a call from the lady who didn’t like drunk kids sitting in their car in front of her house at 2 a.m. doing whatever it was she imagined drunk kids did in cars. (She imagined correctly, by the way).

There was also the time I discovered that model rocket engines strapped to toy boats burn as effectively at the bottom of the pool as they do while shooting across it.

Oh, and I might have lied occasionally, too. I never did tell my parents the truth about what happened to that bottle of expensive extra virgin olive oil when they were gone for a week during the peak of my pubescence. I still can’t have Italian food without getting aroused.*

I’m sure you’ll make some one-off bad decisions like that, but they aren’t my big concern; despite a fair bit of recent evidence to the contrary, I think you’ll show pretty good judgment when you get older.

The ongoing attitude-related stuff, on the other hand, scares the bejesus out of me, and I’m afraid you’ve inherited a couple doozies from me. A prime example is this: you are convinced that the key to a happy, successful life is in doing the exact opposite of what your parents recommend. Your primary criterion for deeming any idea or suggestion absolutely ludicrous is that it come from your parents. The same thing, when suggested by a friend, is an awesome idea.

Now, let’s be clear: we’re not talking about when your parents suggest you clean your room. You’re eleven years old; I totally expect you to think that’s just plain stupid. We’re talking about stuff like this:

Hey son, it stopped raining, why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air.

Hey son, here’s a summer camp that I think you’d really like.

Hey son, you know, if you actually said “please” once in a while you might have better luck getting what you want.

Hey son, if you like her, maybe you should stop kicking her in the shins every time you see her.

Hey son, bathing more often than once a month may improve your chances of ever actually speaking to a girl.

Those are all solid bits of advice, yet you refuse to accept them simply because they came from your parents.

There was a time when I was your go-to source for worldly knowledge and advice. You would proudly respond to other kids’ attempts at knowledge one-upmanship with things like, “Nuh-uh, that’s not how babies are made. My dad says babies come from drinking too much beer at your best friend’s stag party in Las Vegas.” Now I can’t get you to acknowledge that I’m even remotely as brilliant as you once thought.

I want you to think for yourself, to learn from mistakes, and to figure out how to figure things out on your own. But I always imagined one of the most rewarding aspects of parenthood being those great heart-to-heart talks where I’d impart all my fatherly wisdom to my grateful, receptive child. I’ve been looking forward to it for 11 years, and now, just when you’re finally old enough, my stock is at an all-time low.

As much as I hope I will, I may never have the opportunity to wax philosophically with you about all the life-lessons I’ve learned. Maybe that’s why this blogging stuff is such a good idea. I can say things when I’m ready, and you can read them when you’re ready. You should probably be learning the small stuff on your own anyway. If you kick Danielle in the shin enough times, you’ll eventually learn there are better ways of professing your love.

For the big stuff–the stuff that really matters–maybe I’ve had it wrong this whole time; maybe it’s not the talk that’s so important, but the walk. Maybe the important things are best learned by example. After all, like this blog, the memory of my actions and attitudes will be around whenever you’re ready to look at them, whether I’m there or not.

That’s a scary proposition; it requires me to look deeply into my own life. It means that I don’t get to just tell you all the things I think are important in life and hope you learn them. It means that what I do is vastly more important than what I say.

The idea that I’d convey all life’s lessons in some father/son uber-bonding quality time is wonderfully romantic. But, as we both get older, it’s becoming clearer that I need to spend less time trying to teach and more time trying to be the person I want you to grow up to become.

If I don’t want you to become your dad, then maybe the person I need to change is me, not you.
*It turns out, by the way, that “extra virgin” is not referring to the recommended user group–please use the cheap stuff.