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A Parent's Dilemma
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An Expurgating Essay 

A Parent’s Dilemma


My son moved out two days ago.   It wasn’t pretty.  I’m torn between pride that he’s showing independence… Fear for his safety and anger at the way it all went down.


What does it mean when a young person feels that irresistible urge to strike out on their own?  When are they old and mature enough to handle it?  How much different is it now than when I left home? 


I was just under 19 when I got my first apartment… All by myself… Lights…Gas… Rent…a car (such as it was)…insurance… The works.  I’d left home in July of my graduating year… which means I was 17.  I moved into my girlfriend’s parents basement for a year.  But I’d been working since I was in 8th grade… Dishwasher & Short Order Cook.


My future father in law got me a job building submarines… I guess he wanted to make sure that his daughter would eat.  So…There I was, making all of $3.30 an hour and looking for a place of my own… Got one too.  Nice little 3 room pad in an old stately white building on a grassy knoll…$150 a month.   My friends thought it looked like the governor’s mansion… So they took to calling me the Guv’ner.  I got a puppy who promptly proceeded to pee all over the brand new sky blue shag carpet.  My girl used to come over and practice cooking on me (Yeechh!).  We played house.  I was lord of my four walls. All was well… Been payin the cost to be the boss ever since.


Fast forward to 2007.   Average rent where I live is around $650 in a (very) marginal neighborhood…. He’s only ever worked one job… And then only for six months.  Crack…Meth… Gangs.  He doesn’t do any of those things… But they’re out there.  His pride and the fact that he’s definitely my son (with no small contribution from his somewhat formidable mother) caused him to chafe under my rule.  That…and the fact that he’s 18 and immortal (remember those days?) led him out the door confident that he’d show me and the world that he’s his own man.  There were harsh words and recriminations and dire threats and vows and accusations that built to a crescendo over a couple of months or so.  Me… being me… had no intention of backing down on issues that I felt irrefutably right on.   He…being him… stood on principle and an unerring sense of the justice of being allowed to run his own life. 


All of my protestations and attempts to inject experience into the mix met with steadfast resistance… Which of course, led me to become imperious and issue decrees… Unassailable decrees… Decrees that ultimately stated that my will be done unless you feel like you want to beat down the old lion and take over the Top Ranking in the Old Rat’s Nest.  Well… He may be immortal in his own mind… But he’s far from stupid!  I think that every father wants to know his progeny’s limits.  I think it’s a point of pride on some level.  My mistake… er… make that miscalculation… Was to forget a principle that I’ve had to deal with in my own life.  I think a lot of fathers somehow manage to forget this one important maxim at some point in their dealings with their children.. especially sons.  To Wit: “ The words of the father carry great weight and strike deeply and true.”   How many men can recall with great clarity some comment or another made by their father that sticks with them many, many years later… And indeed may have shaped their outlook on life to a very large extent?


Well… I’m dead guilty of forgetting that we will also repeat or utter some translation of the same words that cause issues within our own experiences.  I think that one of the most damaging things any father can do to a son is to express profound disappointment in the son’s efforts to become a man.  Tis the lucky few that get this part right on a consistent basis I think.  Now… In defense of all of us males whom are just managing to grapple our way through life without going postal while keeping spouse, mortgage, kids, bills, boss, parents, taxes and the remote from spinning off into oblivion… It just ain’t that damn easy to stop and psychoanalyze our own motives and motivations when dealing with what for all intents and purposes is one’s own replacement in the big scheme of things… And by God… That replacement appears to be a bit anxious to do some replacing!  What’s a fella to do?


On the one hand… We want Junior to take over the reins at some point… And do it capably and hopefully better than we have.  Therein lies the conundrum… It’s in our best interest to hope that our progeny are fully capable of guiding the ship of our genetic heritage down the stream of time… But they seem to come to the conclusion that they’re ready to do so long before we’re ready to take to the rocking chair!... At any rate… They seem to be ready at some point well before senility sets in and we don’t care any more.  This naturally raises the competitive instinct in any healthy male.  This is true in nature everywhere.  The male lion doesn’t kill his own male offspring as he does the cubs of another male… But he sure will try to  run them off when they get old and big enough to threaten the order of things… Or… There’s a big ol’ dust up and maybe the old lion is the one who gets run off.  It’s the natural order of things… apes, dolphins, elephants, buffalo… what makes anyone think we’re so different?  We just don’t see it for what it really is.  Every male you know has at some point decided that he knew how to manage life better than his old man.  I remember quite clearly the day I looked at my Step Dad and said to myself…”Self… The old man has had it… He’s lost his touch… He doesn’t deserve to run this family any more.”  Of course… Old Pop thought differently… And since I couldn’t take him in a fair fight… I had to go.  This took some time to come about though… There were many skirmishes and lots of maneuvering and pushing’s of envelopes and squabblings and stomping and trumpeting and pawing of the earth.  And in the end… I decided that since the old lion wasn’t going to die off or abdicate… I needed to go carve out my own niche in the world.  But remember… I was raised by a step dad… He had no other incentive than my mom to keep me around in the first place… My progeny would have nothing to do with his genetic heritage.  And in his own ..probably unconscious way… He let me know that I would not be taking over…period.  So I was kind of conscious at an early age that I would have to provide my own territory… Hence.. the long work history.


Now… In my present conundrum… I’m quite sure that the young fellow is the fruit of mine own loins… And I fully expect that he should take the helm someday… But not now… I can still bring down prey and provide for the pride for Pete’s Sake!  I may be done sowing my genes in a purely physical sense… But don’t I still have some sowing to do in the experience realm?  I still feel that I’ve got tons of wisdom to pass on… But He’s already determined for himself that the old lion’s day is over.  Now… of course …I know better… I can certainly look back and see with 20/20 hindsight how much more dangerous the world is now than when I struck out on my own.  But how to get across that I think he’s not ready?  Why… I belittle his efforts… Tell him that he’s not good enough and display impatience when he doesn’t vastly exceed my abilities and skills on the second or third try.   That’s How!   Well… What are my motivations?... Do I dislike the boy? No.  Am I trying to protect my territory? Partially.  Do I fear for him? Yes.  Am I reluctant to give up my baby boy even though he towers over me? Embarrassingly …Yes.


But…curiously… Knowing as I do that my overriding motivation is fear for him… I used the same old tired but time tested methods that my father, step father and their fathers and millions of other fathers use every day.  And of course… I remember swearing the oath of oaths that I would never say any such things to my son… That I would display infinite patience and wisdom.  Well… It was a great sentiment.  But… How could I…and plenty of other fathers forget the depth and breadth of the effects left by the father’s words?


Frank Herbert wrote that:


”There is no worse time in a boys life as when he realizes that his father is human.”


I remember (now) when my dad and step dad were immortal.  Right up there with Zeus and Odin and Hercules and all the pantheon of Heroes.  Their comments meant worlds to me… And I remember the shock leading to resentment I felt when I realized that …after all… they were just flesh and blood.  Upon reflection… I wonder if it’s not like childbirth?.. Lots of pain… but mostly forgotten years later… Ladies…feel free to comment.


At this point… I’m actually more concerned for my boy’s physical well being in a nasty, nasty world than I am about perpetuating a mistake that fathers make and sons survive daily.  But I am surely wondering if our environment is outpacing our evolution faster than we can manage?  I’m sure I could do a much better job at preparing him if I had a couple or three years longer that he was dependent on me. 


I know I’d feel a hell of a lot more at ease.





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