How I Spent My Kids' Adolescence and Survived To Tell the Terrible Tale

Mark Twain - Famous Wise Person
Mark Twain - Famous Wise Person

How I Lived While I Was Stupid

I think Mark Twain, well-known wise person, once said something to the effect that, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

And there you have it. If you keep up with the Internet, you will know that Mark Twain is a reliable name to attach to any quotation (even if you made it up yourself) so it must be true. Oddly enough, Mr. Twain has hit the nail on the head this time - probably because he actually was the one who said this.

It's sad when we fathers lose our parental mojo, especially with our sons. Where once we were mechanical geniuses, able to fix any broken toy, heal grievous battle wounds and leap tall buildings in a single bound, for some reason when the kids' hormones kick in, it has a deleterious effect upon our brains and we become instantly stupid.

We never quite lose all our mojo as fathers with our daughters. Oh, they think we go silly in the head when they turn 13, but they still believe we can magically fix stuff. If we go along with that and develop our repair skills throughout out daughters' adolescence, we can retain a modicum of intelligence.

The boys know better and hold us to a much higher performance standard. I think it's because of their mothers. Mama knows our flaws intimately and for some reason doesn't mind revealing them in front of our sons when she's ticked off at us with regard to one of our shortcomings. Our daughters, on the other hand, stopped listening to their mothers back at 13, so they don't even hear the litany of human frailties that our beloved wives heap upon our heads. To be fair, such verbal abuse is largely a safety valve mechanism to valve off Mom's accumulation of steam from coping with the stresses of having teenagers gone wild in the house. You learn to just stand there and let her steam. It would be far worse to try to stop it - trust me on this.

One can sympathize. Mothers are hard-wired by biology to keep everyone safely in the nest and happy. Teenagers are hard-wired by biology to suddenly experience an over-whelming need to get out of the nest and fly and when the hormones kick in, they develop a congenital inability to be happy. This urge to fly, but be unhappy about it, makes Mama question herself as a mother and a woman. At this stage, fathers, wanting to reacquire their wives' attention (which was largely lost the day the first child was born), are invested in seeing that the little birds fly free; and soon, lest they become content living in the nest and when the biological urge passes, start filling up the basement with loose laundry, empty Power-Aid bottles, bits of fluff and electronic equipment. This is at cross-purposes with our spouses, but we don't care.

Mothers hate you when you're nudging little Festus toward the edge of the nest. She envisions their broken bodies wrapped around light poles. She dreams they are living in a box under a bridge without her. As fathers, however, we are obligated to apply that little nudge to Festus's rump. It's good for them, for once they take that leap and whack into the ground or clip the odd tree branch as they are flying toward freedom, they do begin to appreciate you (and their mama) a whole lot more.

My son married an older woman with 2 prepubescent daughters. He announced his engagement by telling us he was going to marry her and didn't care what we thought. It was all in the preamble to the happy announcement. When the girls hit 13, his life became, shall we say, "interesting". He called me at 2 am one Sunday morning to apologize for his adolescence. "You remember all that stuff I used to do to you guys when I was a teenager?" He couldn't hear me nodding sagely.

"WELL, THEY'RE DOING IT TO ME!" he moaned.

I felt bad for him. I really did. I expressed my sympathy in my best fatherly fashion. It's fortunate this all happened before Skype became widely available. Had he been able to see the big lopsided grin that spread across my face, it might have dampened the empathetic dad effect I was going for.

© 2014 by Tom King


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