The parent-child relationship is fraught with misguided and unattainable expectations.
To the parent of a child, pre-adolescent, there is simply nothing that can sway them off the opinion that their child, amongst all the others, is MOST special, MOST handsome and MOST capable of curing cancer, ending war and solving global warming. No one goes so far as to say their child WILL do these things, but most of us wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.
Concurrently the pre-adolescent child can see no more great or benevolent figure than Mommy and Daddy. They may pout and scream and defy, but they are doing so not to the person that stands before them, but rather to the great and powerful Oz… who stands before them. To this child daddy can move mountains and mommy hauls up the sun every morning and puts it to bed at night so the moon can have its turn. To the child there is virtually no booboo that can’t be greatly improved if not cured entirely by the simple act of a kiss from one of these mythic gods known as their parents.
This is as it must be. Fostering a life from birth to independence is an overwhelming feat. Every parent needs to feel that given enough time and patience they can cure all. It is even more necessary for the child who needs to know that the ‘Gods’ know them and will protect them. That they can go out confidently into the scary world, knowing they are being watched and loved and protected by the most powerful beings on earth, their Mommy and Daddy.
With such an inaccurate point of view being reinforced perpetually in both directions it is inevitable that the crumbling of the facade is indelicate. When the child reaches their teens they are likely to have their coming of age prompted by the encroaching suspicion that mom and dad are in fact NOTHING like all powerful and benevolent gods, but are rather flawed and human. The momentum generated by this epiphany pushes that teenager’s opinion right past reality, swinging all the way to the other end of the spectrum, resulting in the firm knowledge that my parents alone are THE most embarrassing and THE most unfit for responsibility and THE pettiest dictators the world has ever seen.  Teenagehood is a very dramatic hood. It’s the daytime soap opera portion of your life. There’s no understanding or perspective there. People are caricatures, and your parents are the worst of all. When you can get a break from there arbitrary rule setting that doesn’t consider how capable you are of navigating on your own, you actually feel sorry for them. The way you do for those tiny single-celled organisms that don’t have a brain or free will or the ability to see all the amazing wonder that life has to offer. They’re actually kind of sad with their early bedtimes and late night ice creams on the couch. It’s unfair that you could have been so fabulous without this albatross of a family around your neck, and this angers you, generally. But still, they are to be pitied in some way as they’ll never know how deep and meaningful life could be since they’re just not capable of it. But these moments of empathy pass. They are now the enemy, to be tricked and defeated and never to be heeded. What once were gods are now feeble minded and feckless tyrants and it is your job to keep reminding them of their loathsomeness.
In a coincidence that is surely one that evolution has deemed necessary, parents discover this idiot kid, this now smelly and gross animal that seems to know less than nothing at almost exactly the same time that it is realized by the child that their parents are not divine entities. This child, once capable of anything, is now capable of only thoughtless and careless behavior that will inevitably leave them penniless and angry. They are certain to make EVERY wrong decision possible. Now, when it is most important that they heed your warnings they in fact are incapable of even hearing you. In fact they have taken on a new language, one you’re not meant to understand, but to your untrained ear it seems to speak only the most vile of ugliness’s and is one that was designed and is now employed to in fact make you understand that this child hates you. You who have done nothing short of committing your best years to this kid! This knucklehead! This jerk!
So what was once a beautiful and utopian relationship based on unquestioning devotion and love born of mutual awe is now a war torn landscape covered in mines that while not intended to kill, still sting, often injure and have the potential to maim. This is nothing short of an emotional civil war. The youth is duty bound to secede. If you’ve raised them right and given them what they need, they have no choice. And you, the parent, likewise conscripted to this fate have to provide resistance. It is both your inclination as well as your responsibility to resist with all out total war tactics being implemented. The enemy is at war for something they don’t understand and it is your duty to fight, to fight dirty if needed. You must win the early battles since you know, in your heart of hearts, that you will lose in the end. When all is just about to be lost it is your job as the adult to wave the white flag and retreat.
You will offer council and do your best to respect that the victory was theirs, but you know it was only so because you allowed it. At least by being the one to accept defeat you have now gained some control of the peace. It was not the control you wanted when the war began. But you have to allow that victory has its spoils and the period of detente must also play out through periods of latency, threats of renewed conflict and negotiation to maintain some sway in this new nation’s future as its ability to be self-sufficient and thrive is all you can now hope for.
You start with talks, promising to remove sanctions and provide humanitarian aid, but you know your constituents will resist and you make small, easily fulfilled promises at first. You operate through back channels to ensure that this new nation, while still feeling great pride in establishing its independence from you, is provided with what it needs to thrive without it knowing that you are a true safety net that won’t let it fail. You realize soon that your former adversary is in fact making the same mistakes that history shows all new nations make. You learn that this is okay. You learn that mistakes are part of the process and you try to help your former enemy through this challenging time. This relationship, thus established forms what looks like routine. You fund, they spend, you fund, they spend. You come to accept and then rely on its regularity. But change is afoot.
Recently freed from the colonial ranks they are now a free and independent state alight in the world. They are eager to partake in all that has been restricted from them as a dependent state and in doing so they delight in freedoms bounty. New to the world, the lack of security that accompanies the lack of history is not a problem. They have a lifetime of potential to tap and these years are filled with small bets on future greatness. Each gamble easily digestible on its own, but forming an ever more staunch and stark reality that is facing them when story turns to history and security becomes imperative. This adult person, who is free by nature, is now faced with the harsh realities of the ill-advised choices they made when they had no information. More to the point, they face the realities of choices they made before they paid any mind to the now glaringly obvious warnings that their former caretakers warned them of. Realities that they now know were realities forever, and that their parents were struggling with even when this new nation was just a child. Struggles that the parents were generous and strong enough to hide from the child so they could live in glorious ignorance and believe simply that the world was their oyster. Now old, aware and vulnerable, it dawns on them that this rock has been ever present in their life. Their parents. These seemingly odd and eccentric benefactors were in fact the greatest blessing that one could ever be afforded. I was that one. I was the one afforded the most wonderful parents in the world. Parents that laughed at convention because they knew laughter was the only way to overcome. These individuals that chose ALWAYS to make room for more even at the expense of their own wellbeing. These people that put up with endless amounts of your shit, not to mention the shit of your brothers and sisters for a period of time that amounts to the entirety of the life you’ve led to this point. It’s superhuman, really. They are not in fact gods only because we have defined gods to be something else. In all other ways they are in fact much much more than merely powerful. They are the personification of love and dedication and trust in your entire life.
Now the pendulum swings back and those giants who controlled all, then fell so far as to be not even deserving of anything but your scorn have revealed themselves, once again defying all reason and equanimity, to be the greatest parents and people that the world has yet seen. Once accepted the evidence is everywhere that the world agrees with you. At least if you’re as lucky as I am, you see this newfound respect and admiration and love of your parents reflected by everyone that has EVER come in contact with them. This is so universally true that if anyone were to disagree there argument would be drowned out by the chorus of good feeling that accompanies the mere mention of the topic.
Likewise, having lived through the battles and learned over a lifetime, the parent can now see that the child is now a man. That he is good and always was. That the acts that felt so much like disrespect and unfixable mistakes were merely needed steps in this beautiful creature of gods journey to become this amazingly talented and loving person you see before you. You are proud and hope that they know that you love them to no end and you believe that ending all war aside, the world would be a sincerely darker and less joyful place without them. They are evidence of your love for them, your love for one another and your life well lead.
At no point on this journey, taken together, is there ever anything approaching balance, rational assessment or unbiased understanding. Nope. The child to parent relationship is lacking any reality while simultaneously being the ‘realest’ relationship a person can have. It’s confounding and beautiful and is so entirely out of whack that it is uniformly nonconforming.
Both as a parent and as a son I am so grateful that it’s never normal.
 I am compelled at this point to let you know that I’m coming at this solely from my perspective and with little formal education. My observations of the cruelty of teens in the assessment of their parents is a memory of a terribly mistaken young man that wishes he could have gotten to where he was going without ever stopping at this mile marker, but fears he needed to. Sorry Mom and Dad.
 Again, I LOVE YOU TWO MORE THAN ANYTHING IN THE WORLD
 So sorry. Again, channeling a jerky, know-it-all teenager I knew once. I’m starting to understand his penchant for self-loathing. Ick.
 Now I’m just projecting. You guys have always been night owls.
 That’s right. You all knew it wasn’t just gonna be mom and pops, right?
 I swear, by the end of this I have restored you to your proper and rightful status as the most amazing people in the world. A sincere belief of mine.
 I’m soft-selling it here. Really, I’m amazed I made it out of my teen years, which in my case lasted until my 30’s, alive.
 This man, however, adores you. Have I said sorry for my previous behavior?
 These are my words. My parents are far better than that and if they ever so much as thought it, they NEVER spoke it.
 The need for the aid is real, but you suspect that as many times as not more thoughtful fiscal policy at an earlier time would have obviated the need for support. And in my case, you were right. I owe you like, A LOT of money.
 In my case I suspect that my mistakes were not replications of my parents. They’re awesome. Seriously. And funny. Have I mentioned they’re funny?
 They drink beer. A lot of beer.
 Because of the endless and unappreciated generosity of their parents. Thank you.
 Which, even if it does arrive, comes with no promise of wealth. No Promise at all. Like, none.
 Pfft! As if I was taking any of the advice given.
 Yep. Slow learner here.
 Me and like an ARMY of siblings and friends and coworkers lucky enough to be in their presence.
 Including your adolescent insistence on vulgarity, despite your obvious vocabulary and facility with language.
 Blasphemy to make a point.
 Their sentiments, not mine. Like many others I struggle to accept this, but its so much easier when you can see it through your parents eyes! Thanks.
 There’s still time.
12 thoughts on “A Son’s Notes from Parenthood”
I love the foot notes! I feel like we have all been there and need to apologize for our teen years.
You’re awesome, thank you for sharing!
Thank you so much for taking the time!
Oh Joe what an exceptionally well written story of your life. I too wish I could turn back the hands of time and apologize to my parents for all the sleepless nights of my toddlerhood, back talk and “know-it-all-ism” of my teenage years, and anytime I ever uttered the word “you suck.”My parents fly with the angels now and what I wouldn’t do to give one moment to say thank you, I love you, and I’m sorry. ❤️
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Thank you so much, Jeanine… Thankfully, knowing what i know from your writing, I’m 100% certain they know!!
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You’re welcome Joe, and thank you as well for the beautiful compliment. It makes my heart feeling lighter and brighter. 😊