Dodged A Couple Of Bullets

Took my son D back to college On January 3. 182 miles each way. On the way there we decided that 2010 was going to be a great year. Here’s why.

As we were packing D’s friend’s stuff into our already overstuffed station wagon (I had no idea boys would bring home so much for break) I needed to py one of the back seats down to make more room. I then removed the bar holding the canvas that covers the back of the wagon.

As I started to place it on the roof luggage rack something in my brain screamed DON’T DO THAT!!! A small voice in my brain said, You can’t possibly forget that you put this on top of the car, no worries. That second voice apparently forgot how 20 years ago I lost a brand new pair of shoes because I placed the box on top of the car while trying to rearrange some other items. I then got into the car and drove away.

The small voice overcame the screaming voice. Too bad. We were 40 miles away, on the highway doing 70 mph when all of the sudden the screaming voice in my head said OH SHIT!!! I knew I had not put it back in the car. All I could think about was that by listening to the wrong voice in my head it will cost me $250 to replace that piece. CRAP!

As we continued on the sun hit the car at just the right angle at the very moment I was checking the side mirror. The shadow indicated that there was something sticking out on the roof of my car. OH SHIT!! Now I was worried that if the bar was still on the top of my car then a sudden change in direction would send it flying off the car onto the highway causing a 30 car pile up. I headed for the exit.

Sure enough the bar was lodged in the roof top luggage carrier. No $250. No highway collisions. Dodged bullet #1.

About an hour latter we were driving along. Though this journey was long at least the weather was good.

For those that do not know me, I am fairly conservative in my actions. Risk adverse. I set the cruise control to be 8-9 mph above the posted limit which will rarely draw the attention of the cops patrolling the highway. Well, I had at one point to tap the brakes. I then just stayed at the speed of the car in front of me until I could It made sense to re-engage the cruise control.

On a long drive I am not always in tune to all that is going around me. I focus on the traffic. That is why I it was too late by the time I noticed the police car on the median pointing in the direction of my lane of traffic. I checked the speedomoter as I passed him. 83 mph in a 65 zone, in Wisconsin. Another $250 potential event. Sure enough he pulled out onto the highway moments later.

I prepared my son for being pulled over and explained my error in judgement. What a waste. The police car did not have its lights flashing as it passed me. It did however pull in front of me turn its flashing lights on and pull over the car in front of me. Bullet #2 whizzed passed my head. 

My son and I had a good laugh. That is when we decided that 2010 was going to be a great year. Yeah that or I have used up all my luck on day #3.

Better Than Sex

Dinner and conversation with my son. Certainly less frequent than sex, not that sex is all that …never mind. I was born to be a dad. I have to work to be a good spouse.

My son arrived home from his first term of college two days before Thanksgiving. Due to my work and travel schedule and his social calendar it took until December 23 for us to spend time together…just the two of us. The plan was to have at least two just-the-two-of-us events. The one yet to come, if it happens in his last week at home, will involve something that we do together other than eat.  I have found that if we get out of the house then there is a better chance of having real and meaningful interaction.

He could not decide on a restaurant or even the type of food to consume so I picked Wholly Frijoles since I knew he liked Mexican food and he had not been there before. It was a small place with good food. I good place to talk.

D and I often have trouble discussing tough issues. There were some out there. Typically I am the tough parent or in his mind the bad parent. Therefore, the question in my head was do I tackle these on the first and possibly only night we had together? I want some of his memories to be of the few great times we shared as Father and Son. I want to set a good example for when he is in my role. I decided to play it by ear.

We talked about things big and small for a long time. I shared some stories from his Mom’s side of the family that I had heard earlier that night from his grandparents. We talked about school, girls, which actresses we found attractive, Elf (I had seen it the night before on a plane), other movies and just stuff.

The food came. It was plentiful and tasty. Just the way I like food.

I decided to go for the tough conversation. I let him know that I might have saved this for another time if I knew there would be one. I asked him to listen. In return I got defensive body language and at one time a statement that he would prefer to not talk about it. In the end he did listen. I think he even heard. He shared ideas and overall it was a positive and productive talk. One that did not take away from the overall good feelings of the evening. I even got a hug at the end of the night.

I wish I could have these moments consistently at least twice a month instead of once in a blue moon. Same way I fell about…oh never mind.

Date Night

If I want to spend time with my son, I have to make reservations. He is very social. This summer between baseball, his girlfriend, his friends and an 18 year old boy’s general aversion to spending time with his parents, I do not even see him much let alone have a conversation. And a meaningful conversation about something other than the Cubs…it had been awhile.

So, on a weekend my wife was out of town I made a date. For Friday night. At one time he was to be working so I assumed it would be late. Then he sends a text saying he is going to a friend’s house for a karaoke night. At that point I was steamed. It seemed as I was being blown off. I sent a harshly worded text (I don’t normally like to text. I prefer talk. But D would rather text so I was trying to meet him on his terms.) Part of my anger was that given how little time we have together and that in too short of a time he would be off to college if he was not working that we would spend more of the evening together. Not his idea.

D assured me that he was still up for a late dinner. Things changed again when he found out he had a baseball game. Dinner was on but not until at least 9.

I made the second half of his game. It ended poorly. Often not the best for mood setting. Yet I only get one shot and wanted to make the most of it.

We spoke a little during the long ride home. Most of the time he was texting. Not great for my mood. Still I have only one shot.

We finally got to a restaurant. My approach to getting my son to talk is to go slowly, to give him space.

OK. Enough about the process.

Did we talk. Yes. Even some personal and meaningful stuff. He learned some new, to him, things about me. He shared thoughts about his life and his feelings. I felt like a parent. This rarely happens these days. I enjoy feeling like a parent. It was one of the best dates ever.

Since that night we have gone back to our usual routine. Too bad. I am wise enough to not expect one shared meal to have led to a breakthrough in our relationship. We just need to find more moments. I need to find more moments. Lots more moments.

Window Washing: A Life Lesson?

I try to be a responsible parent and to pass on a sense of responsibility to my son. My son at age 17 tries to be independent and in control of his time and actions. Sometimes these “tries” intertwine.

Near the end of the last school year D got a ticket while driving. I was not mad. He rolled through a Stop sign, who among us have not. He got caught.

It did lead to a large fine for which I wrote a check ( the county does not take credit cards even in this Internet age). I told him he would have to work it off. At the moment he was sincerely apologetic and agreed.

We put in 32 new Pella windows last year. It was time for them to be cleaned. There was no pressure to begin until school ended. He had a heavy class load and baseball. June 13. School ends, the clock starts ticking and the games begin.

Better, and much longer, than the Olympics these were The Father/Son Games. Sometimes a battle royal, sometimes a game of strategy much more intricate than chess, sometimes like WWF Smackdown. Since I have a son who is a good kid this never became about whether or not the windows would get washed. It was all about when and who decided when.

I prefer a high degree of certainty. I plan. A schedule. I never expected that he would start Day 1 and work until they were done forsaking all else. He wanted complete flexibility. After all, he had the entire summer. What’s the rush?

Parental push here WHAM.  Son sidestep there. POW. Suggest that he put together a schedule. WHOMP. You didn’t say by when the schedule had to be done. BANG. On and on it went.

With a 17 year old boy there is an art to knowing when to push and knowing when you will get more by backing off. With only a year left until he goes off to collage, I ain’t no Rembrandt. More at a paint by numbers level.

All the windows got washed with more than a week before school started. In fairness to D once he got rolling he took the initiative and worked on a few almost every day. As I said, he is a good kid.

Who will I give life lessons to next year? Who will give them to me?

A Journey Of 1,200 Miles And 10,000 Yards

Last Thursday on 5 hours sleep we set off for parts unknown. This was to be our tour of 5 college campuses in 5 days. One Thursday, two Friday and the last two on Monday with a bit of rest in between.

D had only been to 2 other campuses and was a few weeks from starting his senior year. It was time. In fact this was the only time we could fit in between his baseball schedule and soccer tryouts. He had made the contacts and set up the meetings with admissions folk and baseball coaches. ( For those of you who do not know, D is looking to play ball in college.) My wife found places for us to stay. I just had to show up. And drive.

I did not drive the entire 1235 miles of our adventure. My wife took a two hour shift on the way out and my son took a similar one on the road back. I figure I only drove 955 of the miles. Did I mention that I HATE long trips in the car? Normally after 3 hours I am ready to put a gun to my head. The obligations of parenthood.

On top of that five days with just the three of us in such tight quarters was more togetherness than we had shared in almost a year. Overall, despite a spat or two I think we did pretty well. D was exposed to a variety of liberal arts colleges and college baseball coaches. At least he now has some things to think about. The process starts in earnest soon with him working on his applications and required essays while we work on the financial aid forms. Small colleges provide a great teacher-student ratio but at a premium cost.

For fun we managed two rounds of Frisbee golf. We discovered two great courses. Each was better than those we have played at home. Each was over 5,000 yards and challenging. The first was in Cleveland at a park that was part Lake Erie beach. Some long holes, lots of trees to circumvent and pretty scenery. 21 holes.

D is phenomenal with a Frisbee. He can throw 50% longer than I can. The good part of this game is that people of all skill levels can play together. I even beat him on one hole.

I also faced a few of those awkward moments that liberal suburbanites sometimes encounter when they find themselves in poor neighborhoods where the skin color of most of the people is several shades darker than mine. I try to not care and feel safe…and yet. Our experiences were all good and renewed my faith in people.

The first moment was on the way to the first course. Our hotel had steered us wrong. We stopped at a gas station for directions. (Yes, I try occasionally to break the male stereotype.) A man in line, missing a few teeth, driving a beat up old car and African American was the one who set us straight. He had a wide smile and was clearly happy to help. He stayed friendly through my requests to repeat the directions several times.

Another moment was on the way to and at the second Frisbee golf court. We were on the south-east side of Indianapolis. We had found the course on the internet but had no idea what the neighborhood was like. Run down homes that clearly a few decades ago had been quite nice. The course was in a large park. The people around us were mostly African American and Hispanic. I had that twinge of concern but we ventured on. What we saw were families having Bar-B-Qs and picnics, kids playing basketball and a heated game of volleyball.

What a find from a Frisbee golf perspective. The most fun course I have ever played. Long, challenging, and scenic. On Hole Three you started on one side of a valley and threw to the other. Hole Four took you back. One hole was over 500 yards and curved around a wooded area so you could not even see where the hole was from the starting point. We had a ball. This stop broke up six hours of driving. Unfortunately the sun was going down as we started the back nine and we had to hustle. We still had 90 minutes of driving.

Long story, long trip. Yet just the beginning of the journey to college for D and life without D for us.

Fathers Day 2009

(I am very behind in my writing so bear with some late news.)

Let’s start with the positives. I have a son who is basically a good kid, can be sweet and loving, and generally works hard. He stays out of major trouble—no drinking, drugs, arrests, etc. He is fun, funny and very well liked by kids his age, adults and little kids. Many people are not able to say those things about their children. I am.  

He can’t completely control the fact that he is a seventeen year old male with all the pressures, angst and hormones that come along with being that age. And yet….

I am looking forward to Fathers Day 2009. I am working on forgetting 2008. There were some things on the plus side of the ledger. We went out to a nice breakfast at a place we had not tried before. We saw the Hulk which I chose over Indiana Jones. I got some very nice cards and some presents as well. (Back to those cards later.)  I was with my son and wife from morning through night.

However, the one thing I wanted most I did not receive. I wanted a great day with my son. In an earlier post I commented that my sweet son had showed up at an unexpected time. On this day the expectations were high and missed…by a mile. The details are unimportant. Suffice it to say that his best that day consisted of indifference and at worst he complained, argued and wanted things done his way not mine.

For as long as I could I took a calm approach hoping the tide would turn. By mid afternoon I lost my cool. The message still did not get through. At the end of the day I went to my room rather than continue to be with him. He later came up and apologized. He was clearly sincere. I felt a bit better.

Back to the greeting cards. He must have had some premonition that Fathers Day was going to be trying for him. On both cards interwoven with some very nice sentiments he wished for me a happy day and “hopefully I will not get on your nerves.” Irony defined.

The Longest Baseball Awards Banquet In Recorded History

Probably a good thing that I waited 48 hours to write this.  I have calmed down some. Instead of a long post, here are some key stats:

  • 4.5 hours long
  • Each coach talked about each kid on each of the 4 teams, approximately 110 kids
  • Two coaches took way too long per kid
  • 16 quasi-inappropriate comments about individual players by the varsity coach alone
  • 2 embarrassing and 4 good things said about my son over 3.5 hours after the start
  • 1 varsity most improved player award taken home by my son D

Good intentions but poorly paced. At least the food was good, and most importantly my son knew that I was there on a night that was important to him. I came close to staying late at work like most other nights. Didn’t. Good call.