Tragic growing pains

Dealing with a soon-to-be 18 year old is difficult. They desperately want their independence, they desperately want to be adults, they desperately want to do whatever they wish. It’s too bad they never get there. They have bouts of independence and have a feeling of doing whatever they feel, but in the end, they’re dealing with different restrictions and obligations. Especially, if they are in college. Just not being under Mom & Dad’s roof is enough to help perpetuate the myth of independence. It’s tragic – would they try as hard knowing it doesn’t really change that much for them? Or, would they sink into depression know it’s no use – kind of like how their parents do almost on a nightly basis.

Adam and I had a blow up and I am taking most of the blame for it – I overacted to something and added gasoline to the fire by texting him hurtful messages like, “I don’t want to see you for weeks” or “I can’t f*)&ing wait until you are out of my house”. It was a low point for me and I FEEL AWFUL. It will take days or even weeks for us to get back to a trusting relationship and I’m willing to put in the effort. My eyes are wide open to my son’s struggle because I deal with it between my father too.

I drove to my project location the day after the incident with my son – I had seven hours on the road to think about what went down. I also thought about an issue that was bugging me with my father.

Part of the problem with my son was his attitude Saturday evening while celebrating my wife’s birthday. We were at a fancy steak house with my in-laws’ and my son was giving off major attitude. He was tired because our reservations weren’t until 8 pm and he had to be up early that day for a track meet – a track meet which he took FIRST place in discus. So, I anticipated a more delightful individual – or at least, a less gloomy one. Boy, was I wrong.

As I said, it was my wife’s birthday – and as usual, my father doesn’t reach out to wish her a happy birthday. He also forgot my younger son’s 16th birthday five days before that. Even after I sent him a text reminding him that his grandson celebrated a 16th birthday – my father responds with ‘Ooops, thanks’ and proceeds to text a birthday wish to the wrong son!

That was a big joke to the family because that’s how my father is – my youngest laughs that ‘Papa doesn’t even remember my name!’ I am the one failing to see the humor. I am the oldest son and there’s only 19 years difference between my father and me. I have much younger brothers and a sister, so he’s got another family. But I expect him to still acknowledge and respect the originals.

So, I had seven hours in the car to think about ALL these things and I made the decision that I would discuss my feelings with my father. I would not call him though, I didn’t want the conversation to start off with ‘I called you because’. No, he calls me enough, so I knew I could wait and work on the messaging in the meantime. I didn’t have to wait long. Shortly after checking into my hotel, my dad calls – we go through some pleasantries as he is returning from a group session of heart attack survivors and giving me an update on his latest health improvements.

I need to back fill this item – Dad had a MILD heart attack around Christmas which required some stents to be put in arthroscopically. Dad is  health nut and gym freak, so the heart attack was surprising to many. But, we have some minor heart conditions to monitor in my family, so you can’t ‘out run’ genetics. He’s doing great – it was a minor scare and set him on a path of better eating and changed his direction of physical fitness; but, he’s not in any danger nor prone to a ‘big scare’. However, I hoped this event would be an eye-opener for him to improve on areas in life – like strengthening the relationships of his immediate family (my children included).

OK, back to the call with Dad.

After the pleasantries, I said, “I’m glad you called, because there’s something I want to speak with you about.”

I didn’t want to bombard him with the birthday forgetfulness right away, so I started to explain the issue going on between my son and me; I explained that when this happens, some resentments which I haven’t fully exercised come to light which relate to the relationship with my father. [Resentment – a term used in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous; AA is a group which had its hooks in me and my family for decades – I was in and out of the rooms for almost 20 years, my dad has been in the rooms for over 40 years, and his parents were in the rooms for decades up until their passing. Talking about resentments can be a trigger for AA’ers and I used that term specifically so he’d understand the magnitude of what I was about to say.]

I spent about 90-120 seconds getting the issue out of mouth and he tried to take over the conversation. It never got to yelling, but I could tell he was on the defense and I was talking louder trying to get my say. My dad’s biggest excuse is, “That’s just not what I’m good at. I’m good at a lot of things, but that ain’t one of them.”

Let’s take a minute to absorb that: my father who has taught PhysEd at a large public school for over 30 years claims remembering the birthdays of his grandchildren is not something he is good at – nor is it something I SHOULD EXPECT HIM TO BE GOOD AT.

Let that soak in…..

I’m starting to question my logic at this point – I knew better than to bring this up, but with everything going on between my son and me, this was a demon I needed to slay for the sake of that relationship.

I calmly stated that I feel this is an area of his life which HE SHOULD wish to improve and I would be willing to help him. [I deliver presentations on Time Management and other ‘soft skills’ to IT Professionals and colleagues – I am considered an expert in this area.] He pushes back and starts to accuse me of ambushing him with this and why did I call to bring this up.

“You called me though,” I retorted.

“Yeah, to talk about how things are going,” he replied.

“But, this is apparently an issue for me and I would like to discuss it.” I stated.

“Hey, I’m not in the mood to hear my 47 year old son cry about me missing his kids’ and wife’s birthdays.”

“See, this is what I’m talking about – I’m 45 and will be 46 next month. And I’ve had this conversation with you 10 years ago.”

“So there you go, I’ve got a history and you shouldn’t expect much.”

“Dad, that’s not right and I want…”

“Mike, Mike,” he interrupts, “You NEED to ask yourself – WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT TO YOU?”

I stopped processing anything else.

Let’s go over this: I’m upset because my father can’t be bothered to reach out to my sons or wife on their birthdays; it’s clearly something we’ve dealt with previously and the current issue of dealing with my soon-to-be adult son sets me on a path to work this out with my father; my father rejects this and wants me to ask myself – why are my sons’ birthdays so important to me. Yeah, game over.

I knew it was a noticeable amount of time before I said anything, I knew this issue was over and the feelings I had swirling around at that moment resembled something of sledgehammer pounding my chest and a vice squeezing my soul. In that very moment, I reversed those feelings by recognizing that I no longer respected this person with whom  I share DNA  and immediately wondered if I could ‘love’ him any longer. I knew there was no turning back on this and I gasped one last volley, “You’re basically showing me that my family is disposable to you.”

He responds, “No, that’s how you feel about it.”

And there it is – the crux of the problem between my son and me: a father continuously trying to tell a son HOW HE SHOUD FEEL and not listen to HOW THEY FEEL.

This was the only positive revelation of this conversation – in one second the relationship I would have with my father dissolved into oblivion; but in the next moment, the key to repairing the relationship with my son. I finally realized that I need to stop telling my son how I feel or how I felt when I was his age. I need to just hear him tell me how he feels and work it out from there.

I got control over myself and changed the topic, we spent a few more minutes discussing some other items and current events. He eventually got around to ask me what’s going on between my son and me. I told him and listened a bit, but he got around to tell me how I should feel. I just didn’t care anymore. I hung on the phone until he ended the call as he pulled into the driveway.

We ended the call pleasantly, but I began to wonder – is this the last time I am willing to speak with my father? The thoughts I had were devastating and none I would ever want MY SON to have about me. After we hung up, I immediately called my wife to relay everything to her. She, was not surprised by any of it but was upset for how it affected me. I explained my revelation and asked her to pass on to our son that I get it – I know what it’s like to be marginalized by your father and I’m sorry that I’ve done it to you.


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