On a Night Like This

June, 2000

     On a nice quiet evening, I like to sit out to on the front porch and enjoy a cool breeze. I put the boys to bed, grab a lawn chair and watch the parade of humanity pass by on the street in front of me. It rained for most of the day, so there is a vague dampness in the air and I am pleasently ignored by the mosquitos. I look up and see the stars peeking out from behind the fast moving clouds making their long journey across the nighttime sky. A cool wind is unbelievably refreshing after a long tough day interacting with the mechanized world.
      A night like this reminds me of the many evenings I enjoyed long ago when I was a teenager, and my future was like a buried treasure yet to be unearthed and opened up. I would gather with my friends and we would talk our "grown-up talk"; about what we would do and see and be when we had the chance. A night full of dreams, spent sitting on the swings at the park, or lounging on the grass in some backyard.
      With my adolescent friends, we would talk in hushed whispers, as if spoke too loud that the magic would be broken somehow, and our secret desires would be quenched, or worse, heard by the grown-ups whom we were sure would laugh at our innocence.
      One night in particular stirs my imagination. I was seventeen, and my high school graduation was only a few days away. I "snuck" out of my parents house and went down to the park. It was a beautiful night and I met with my friends at about nine-thirty. (There was something special about nine-thirty, it was a time etched into our minds. It was OUR time- nine thirty).  There were probably six or seven of us sitting there, with others drifting by, stopping to visit for a while before sneaking back into their houses, sort of a secret teenage "open house". The topic of conversation covered a wide range, touching into areas like: parents, freedom from parents, who's seeing whom amongst our peers, and frank discussions about
sex. Most of the kids there had 'reputations', we weren't the social elite by any means, but we could discuss what we felt without feeling 'creepy' about it.

      We were boys and girls trying to act like men and women, talking about how we felt about the future, and what we thought about our parents (and the dreams and plans they had for us.) We talked our frustrations out and pledged each other our support for the little mutinies and rebellions we dreamed of. "When I get out of this town I'm gonna......", was the recurring theme, and we were talking as sensibly about it as we knew how. A group of dreamers looking at the next ten years of our lives like shoppers
picking out a wardrobe or a new car. It was a heady night.

      And now I sit out on the porch, waiting for middle age to set in, and watch the parade of teenagers go by in their little groups, furtively looking about for old guys like me, you know--- "the dads". They're on their way to the secret meeting place by the swings at the park, or in some 'safe' backyard, where they can discuss the future, make their plans and complain about my generation. The truth hits me like a bolt of lightning. When I was a kid, on those nights I never snuck out of anywhere. My parents knew where I was and had an idea who I saw. It was no big secret to them at all. They knew exactly what I was doing, just like I know what these kids are doing. Everybody of thirtysomething or better knows this score. Our parents were just giving us the room we needed, and a forum of our own to put our thoughts together.
Another revelation comes to me. The 'old folks' were watching us, not with disdain, but with hope and a little envy too. They knew that the future was ours, and they wanted us to be ready for it. Suddenly a crazy thought enters my late baby-boomer brain. MAYBE I CAN TALK TO THESE KIDS! I've been
around- I could give them a lot of advice, you know- give them the benefit of my experience. I can tell them what I've been through, and maybe save them some grief later in life.

       As if to answer this insane thought, one of the kids walking by gives me THE LOOK. This is the glance only a teenager can give, a glance that informs you that not only are you irrelevant, but are one of THE ENEMY, the chronically out of touch. Eye contact made, he retreats back to the mutterings and murmurings of eternal youth, leaving me to realize THE PAINFUL TRUTH. My world is full of what they despise: minivans and mortgages, leaf rakes and aluminum siding, conservative politics and pudginess. No role model here. I'm just another old guy that hasn't got a clue, just like my parents were
back when I was seventeen. I look back at the house. James and Peter are asleep in their beds,
dreaming their childhood dreams.
       As it was is as so it shall be. Twenty-one years ago tonight, I walked across the platform and received my high school diploma. I figure I've got about nine years before James does the same, with Peter following him three short years later. That's not much time to get involved into their lives and give them as much as I can to get them started, before they go off down the block and talk their treason. The simplest rule of parenting applies here:  Grab hold of your childrens' minds, and they'll follow your commands --- but grab hold of their hearts--- and no matter where they go- they will always
find their way home.

My conclusion: Being a dad is hard work. Especially when the future I worry the most about is not really mine.

Gotta go......... I'm aging rapidly.

Neil