Padecky: What I’ve learned from parenting a teen — at age 74
This isn’t a secret, but I’ve never written it before: I’m 74 and my son is 15. Staring at that sentence in black and white makes it real, as real as being slapped in the face with a salmon.
For others, it must read like a tabloid headline. Woman Gives Birth to an Iguana. Two-Headed Snake Has Three Fingers. Father 59 Years Older Than Son.
At least there’s no peer pressure. I never have to worry about keeping up with the Joneses because there are no Joneses. I would die to be able to talk to someone my age with a teenager but, oops, I can’t be so flippant about using the word “die.”
I just have to keep up with my son, who I won’t name here because he’s concerned about his privacy and I get that. Teenagers, from what I’ve heard, can be especially cruel to each other. I can imagine what he would face if his name was known: “Where did you get those white bucks? From your DAD?”
(Note to all teenagers: White bucks are shoes and have nothing to do with deer.)
My wife is 19 years younger and much more sensible than I am, but she’s a risk-taker, too. How else do you explain it? She was a baby when I was a college sophomore, and there I go again, slapping myself with a salmon.
I like kids. I live in a neighborhood full of them. Even so, why waste your golden years on diaper duty, middle-of-the-night feedings and then the beginning of a long series of parental actions that will leave your kid shaking with embarrassment?
One day some years ago, I stood tall and proud during the show-and-tell on bring-your-parent-to-school day at my son’s school. Other parents looked like they did Pilates on their lunch hours. I was 66, with gray stubble. My son was quiet.
Now he and I are in high school, or at least that’s what it feels like. I’m here among all the hormones, those testosterone-laden word darts, some directed at me.
My past put me here. I needed to experience childhood, the one I never had. I was an abused child. That’s the long and short of it. I didn’t grow up with the Brady Bunch and balloons and seashells and reclining in the sun feeling the summer heat. I felt a different kind of heat.
It looked like so much fun, what the other kids were doing, so in a previous marriage I had a daughter, and 20 years later had my son. I went to their games, to their ballet recitals, to wherever I was permitted.
I could, and still do, feel their joy, their childhood, their opening to a world that is not as frightening to me because they are in it. And along the way I’m learning a new language.
“Ayo, come and get me now,” my son texts.
Later I ask what “Ayo” means.
“It’s like ‘yo.’”
“You mean like, ‘Yo dad, come and get me now.’”
“Yeah, like that.”
“Then why not say ‘Yo, dad, come and get me now?’ ”
“‘Cuz you don’t.”
Those are the times I want to put my head in a blender and hit frappé. My son loves to read and is well-spoken. He treats language like an art form. Yet his vocabulary, when directed at me, is limited: Fine. Good. Sure. OK.
I never knew four words could describe how he slept, how it’s going, how his girlfriend is doing, what he wants for dinner, if he will clean the kitty litter. Then he surprises me and breaks out into verbosity.
“Hey, son, I got to run to the store.”
“You? Run? Oh sure. Uh-huh.”
That I hiked into the Grand Canyon four times, played college baseball, leg pressed 1,080 pounds as a 185-pound high school senior, I might as well tell him I walked on the moon with Neil Armstrong.
The funny thing is I like him shrugging me off like that. I get to see his backbone, his obstinance, his independence — qualities that will come in handy later in life. And I remember to keep my perspective.
Just as we watch our children to see what they are doing in their lives, our children are watching us to see what we are doing in ours. Kids miss nothing, and so this kid is watching what this 74-year-old guy is saying, feeling, doing. He is listening to my voice, the way I walk through a crisis or conflict.
I was told and believed that having children later in life keeps you young. No, it doesn’t. It keeps you alert. My son is my constitutional government. He offers checks and balances, asking why I do this or what was I thinking, then offering the appropriate criticism or disbelief.
I see life through my son’s eyes. He loves rap music. I don’t understand most of the words, but I listen. He’s allowing me into his life. Since he treats every word he says to me as if it’s another ounce of gold bullion, I sharpen his every inflection. I have become a better listener, better writer and most definitely a better person because of him.
I hope I have taught him as much as he’s taught me. Every once in a while I get lucky.
“Did you know that person?” he once asked as we passed someone on the street.
“Nope. I didn’t know him.”
“Then why did you say hello to him?”
“Because I can.”
My son went silent. I was speaking a language he could understand.
Bob Padecky lives in Petaluma and writes about sports for The Press Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.