Recently I heard from a friend who thought that one or two of my columns were are a bit long for online reading pleasure, or less hysterical than they would prefer. While I don’t necessarily agree, I aim to please. So let me see what I can do about that. Here goes.
… Oh hell, this could take a minute.
When I started doing this column all the way back in December of 2013, it was with the idea that I’d be writing weekly about fatherhood and raising two young teenage boys and having fun with that. Because there’s really nothing more fun than enjoying time with your kids. And, depending on what they say, it can be awfully funny too.
The problem is those fun-loving, well-behaved, well adjusted kids sometimes act like … 14 and 16 year old monsters boys. Which sometimes ain’t so funny, and can’t be handled with a one-liner.
But man … do I want to. The hardest moments for me are when I want the one-liner. I want to be the comedian and say the things the TV dad in a sitcom would say … to get the huge audience laugh. Alas, those are rarely the things I need to say to be an effective dad — no matter how big the laugh would be.
So I play it straight, usually. Like when I hear things like “There’s no homework this weekend,” or “But he had one more than I did.” If you didn’t know, teenage brothers feel the entire planet must be equally divided and shared. If one brother gets a chocolate chip cookie with one less chip in it than the other, it’s time for a tribunal hearing to right this horrible and unfair injustice. But instead of going for the laugh (That’s funny, there’s no electricity this weekend either!), I play it straight.
Though how I didn’t do a spit-take when I recently heard “I was holding that for a friend,” is still incomprehensible. I managed a look of disappointment … and only cracked up later when I re-told the story. “And then he says, ‘I was holding it for a friend!’ Bwa-ha-ha!”
He thinks he invented that line.
And why wouldn’t he? I thought I invented it too.
Lately, there’s been a lessening of the divide between Dad and sons. They are growing, and becoming more mature.
I am doing neither.
As is the case in any all-male environment, complaints and responses become taunts and good-natured insults and the barbs, and responses to barbs, can get a bit … cutting. While I don’t permit offensive, discriminatory or hateful-type language while the boys and I are riffing, we have reached that stage where they are talking to me in ways I would never have imagined talking to my father. At least not more than once.
For a while, when I would say “Make your bed” or ask “Why is there a plate in your room?” I would get standard teen-age come-backs like “make your FACE,” or “Why is there a plate in your HEAD?”
Which, by the way, there actually is – I’ll get to that some other time.
But lately the comebacks are a little more Dude-talk than Dad-talk; good-natured challenge of authority and yes, a little scatological. I tend to ignore them and don’t get into locker-room banter. Usually.
Up until this year, I tried to refrain from that kind of jock-ularity with them. Trying to keep that dad/child boundary, even though there were plenty of times I wanted to be a smart-ass and rip them a new one. But I didn’t want to cross that boundary and I didn’t think they were ready for that.
But now, my oldest son is bigger than me and my youngest son is catching up — and working out. They’re in high school. Their language has changed … as has their testosterone level. And it’s sometimes tough not to rise up and try and meet them head on. As a guy, I want to — we’re programmed that way. As a dad, I can’t. Just because you can out-curse your kid, or out-throw, or out-tackle them, doesn’t mean you have to.
And so far, I’ve avoided being “one of the guys.”
I‘m at the intersection of Friend and Father, and I’m playing both sides of the street.
A wise woman I’m lucky to know reminds me that kids need boundaries and so far I think I’m still giving them. They get the freedom they want, until they give me a reason to reel it back in. As my oldest son did recently.
When I give discipline, like a lot of parents I know, it involves taking something away — something electronic — or sometimes ALL things electronic. And while kids act as if that’s the equivalent of unplugging life support, the reality is I somehow made it all the way through high school without a cell phone, X-Box, laptop, tablet or Instagram account. They may not like it — and trust me, he didn’t — but I was pretty sure he could make it a week without any of them.
For a couple of days, there wasn’t a lot of goofing around — he was letting me know he was upset with me for being upset with him for lying about where he was going — and that was fine with me. I’m still the dad, they’re still the sons. After a couple more days, the appeal process was over and he served his time without incident. Might have even got a day off for good behavior.
By the weekend, we were back to locker room chatter, pillow fights, towel snaps and sock throws (a pair of socks balled up makes an excellent indoor weapon … until something gets broken).
And this weekend, while the young son went to a friend’s house to watch the big game, my oldest son came with me to a party with 40-50 adults and kids of all ages — and he sat next to me on the couch for the entire game.
I may be the only dad who bet on the Broncos, and won.
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 17 years, and has two teenage sons.