I was reading through final papers from a freshman non-fiction creative writing class I was teaching. The students were asked to argue whether or not they had come of age, and one young man told a short story about his father.
He described viewing his father as an all-knowing titan until he turned ten and asked him for a ride to a friends house. The father told him he was too tired, but turns out he was too drunk. This began a heartbreaking string of events that led to the young mans discovery that his father was an alcoholic.
This story really rang true to me because I went through something similar with my father. I was nine years old when it happened. My dad sat on the living room floor, shoeless, his back against the base of the sofa, legs crossed Indian style.
I sat next to him. We were alone.
The room was reflected in our weighty wooden RCA home theater. This must have been 89 or 90. Face closer than necessary, he whispered a secret. I feel real good, he said. Pretty damn okay. He slouched, mouth twisted, head to the side, lips smacking with each suck of air.
His eyes drifted shut, but his lazy smirk kept resurfacing, sloppy and leaning to one side. This was the first time I can remember seeing him high on painkillers. It was the moment I realized that my father was not flawless.
In fact, he had a very deep flaw that 10 years after that moment would take his life.
Realizing Parents Are Human
I think most people realize their parents are human at one point, however, I dont think it is always this dramatic. At some point you look at your father and realize that he cant seem to keep his shirt tucked, or cant manage a budget, or doesnt understand how to use a computer. At some point you start to see the cracks in the pavement.
And while I know I saw this moment very clearly in my life, with my father, I am starting to wonder when my son will see it in me. Hes eight years old and while I know that he will never discover that Im really an alcoholic or addicted to painkillers like I did with my father, he will one day realize that I cant spell or do much more than simple math problems.
He will one day understand that I have an unhealthy addiction to diet soda, and that I cant fix a car. He might even notice that sometimes I piss off his mother because I load the dishwasher like a jerk, and although I have a graduate degree, I work in education, which means I have a white collar education but earn a blue collar wage.
Someday he is going to look at me, and realize that Im not all that good at sports and that without Google Im kind of clueless.
And I suppose the really scary part about all this is that I know Im human. I know a lot about my flaws, and I have to assume that there are flaws I cant even see, hiding under the surface of my skin, waiting for my teenage son to point out. But what I dont know is when this transition will happen for him.
I dont know when he will finally realize that Im just some dude who loves the hell out of him, and tries to give him good advice, but may, in fact, be a complete dumb ass.
Perhaps it won’t be a dramatic turn like it was with my father. Perhaps it will be a slow process of me tripping and falling through one life challenge after another until Tristan says to himself, You know what. Im better at using technology than Dad. I wonder what else Im better at.
The scariest part about all of this is that I dont know what it will mean for our relationship. I will admit, I like my son looking up to me. Last year we bought a basketball hoop. I dont know much about playing basketball. I know how to dribble, and I can take a shot, but thats about it.
I think Ive played in a handful of church ball games, and that must have been ten years ago. But when Tristan and I were in the driveway, and I showed him how to dribble and hold the ball, he looked up at me with bright blue eyes that seemed to say, You are a god.
I used to get that look a lot. But recently, in the past few months, he doesnt do that anymore. Mostly he rolls his eyes, his face saying, You have no idea what youre doing, Dad.
And perhaps thats the real problem. The problem that Ive known for some time, but he is only just now figuring out. I do, in fact, have no idea what Im doing.
As a father, I feel like a perpetually lost soldier, wandering through the woods, looking for my commander. Looking for someone that might have all the answers.
And for a long time that made me feel bitter because I assumed my commander should have been my own father, but seeing as how he wasnt around, I had to figure out things as I went. But now I realize that most parents feel just as lost as I do, without a strong father figure to lean on.
Now, eight years into parenting, I feel like my son is starting to realize just how lost I really am, and maybe, just maybe, slowly decide to stop following me. To lose faith in me, and my advice, and start to strike out on his own.
They say this is all natural.
They say a child is supposed to do as the Three Little Pigs did, go their own way and build their own houses.
But I dont know if I want that just yet. Because honestly, what I am starting to understand is that Tristans eventual realization that I am actually a flawed person is the start of him stepping away, becoming an adult, and eventually leaving me.
Obviously, this is about me more than him. Its about me struggling with the progression of my sweet little boy into a man, and learning to, as all parents must, let go.
When hes not saying insane things to his kid, Clint Edwardsswork has been featured on Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington PostandThe Huffington Post. Hes the author of the new bookThis Is Why We Cant Have Nice Things.
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