I remember the moment everything changed. I was eight, and my dad didn’t look back and wave at me as he walked across the lawn to get in his car and go to work. That had been our ritual ever since I started school two years before. We ate breakfast, my brothers and me, and then upstairs to get ready for school. I would listen for the tell-tale sounds that accompanied his daily departure and so would rush to my bedroom window, lean over the aquarium in which resided whatever reptile I was presently holding captive, and rap on the window. He would look back and smile and wave. Until he didn’t. I tried a few more mornings to no avail. Funny, my rappings became lighter, more faint, rather than more forceful and insistent.
Over the ensuing years, I grew increasingly distant from my father. I mostly feared him, although there were occasional good times. He used to offer me a draw on his fat cigar and then would laugh at my choking nausea. Or he would compel me to take a sip of his Scotch and then would laugh as I gagged. I strove to inhale the smoke and swallow the liquor with practiced stoicism hoping it would please him. Maybe it did. Once grown I swore I’d never be like him. I was going to be involved. I would never not look back, smile, and wave. I would never laugh at my child, only with him. My son would never doubt that I was there when he needed me, that I was his biggest fan, that I loved him.
Mission accomplished. To an absurd degree.
I hardly allowed my son to do anything without my direction, assistance, and encouragement. It was my misguided way of making sure he knew he was loved and that I was there when he needed me. The problem was my being in the way when he needed to face the consequences of his actions, to pay the price for making a mistake. I would mitigate, moderate, mediate, and ameliorate six ways to Sunday in order to minimize his suffering and shield him from the horrible events that can befall the righteous and innocent. You know: serving detention, getting a zero, working harder, running laps, learning all the invaluable life lessons that every young person has to experience in order to be prepared for the real challenges that face us out here in the wide, wild world. I never just allowed him to fail, to fall, to rise up, dust himself off, and soldier on. Maybe if I hadn’t held on so tightly, he would have been better equipped to cope with bad things when they happen.
Or was it the overindulgence? My heart ached when I couldn’t give him everything his heart desired. What was crippling debt compared to seeing him get the latest toy or game system? I wasn’t about to jeopardize his status among his peers just because I didn’t have the kind of work ethic one develops at an early age that affords them the opportunity to have a richly rewarding career such that one’s family never wants for creature comforts. That’s not my son’s fault.