With his son home from college, David Stanley deals with two versions of his son and himself as a parent
Aaron, my son, is twenty. He is a 2nd semester college junior. It is summer vacation. Aaron did not line up a summer job. As a collegiate tennis player, Aaron’s summer job had always been tennis. The job description: To practice, train, travel, and compete. He lost that job. Thirty-some applications later, he still has not found a replacement job.
Aaron was a collegiate tennis player until he blew his stack at an opponent. Two weeks before the end of the season, he lost a close match. Aaron was acting out, a bit of tennis drama, on the court. He has great flair on the court, such fun to watch, but my son does love the drama; arm waving, fist pumping, anguished cries. When the two players met at the net for the post-match handshake, his opponent called him out on his behavior. Aaron, completely out of the blue, gave his opponent a solid two handed shove to the chest which knocked the kid down. The shove got Aaron kicked off the college varsity tennis team.
I have an unemployed, slightly angry, twenty year old living in my house. I interact with two versions of my son.
1) I am the older adult in our house. We are not peers, but I am ‘first among equals.’
2) I am the father to an adult teenager, a stellar example of Elkind’s personal fable, complete with eye rolls, harrumphs and the occasional slammed door.
With my adult teen, the crux move is quick identification. Am I dealing with Aaron v.1 or v.2?
Until Aaron finds suitable summer employment, he is working for me. He is our gardener and general handyman. I pay him minimum wage for all tasks beyond his normal household chores.
When he first returned home, getting an ID on which version I had was easy. I had Aaron v.2. He was newly home and fresh from college. Suddenly, from being a reasonable and self-efficacious young adult, he was back in his teenage home. Predictably, he retreated to his teenage self. Sadly, I retreated to a similar “Dad Place.” Our interactions ranged from loud and heated to “I love you, man.” They were the same arguments, under similar circumstances, that I had with my father when I was twenty. Most likely, the same arguments all young men have with their fathers.
Father: “Okay, here’s what needs to get done today. Are you listening to me?”
Young adult: “Christ almighty, it’s only 9:30. Why are why talking about this so early? It’s not like this crap is going to take all day, is it?” (Insert eye rolls, harrumphs, and growls where needed.)
Father: “You’re getting started at 9:30 because the rest of the working world has been at work since 7:30 already. And I don’t need the crappy attitude. Seriously. Just cut that shit out already. You’re twenty years old. Just start getting stuff done. Let’s get moving. I’ll see you in the garage in ten minutes.” (Insert authoritarian “dad-tone” where needed.)
Young adult: “I have been living on my own since September. Why are you treating me like I’m fifteen?”
Father: “On your own? You have been living on my dime since September. Not exactly on your own. And I’m treating you like you’re fifteen because you are acting like you are fifteen. Frickin’ show me you’ve grown up since September, and I’ll start treating you like an adult.”
Neither one of us enjoys these exchanges. We enjoy each other’s company. Aaron is my favorite golf, snowsports, and weight room partner. We’ve noticed that given a choice, we often prefer to hang out together than with peers. Odd, we think, but it seems to work for us. However, our heated exchanges, from either perspective, are about ego and power, not friendship. They are not about a kid growing into a young man who can thrive on his own.
I need to let go. I am nervous about letting go when I don’t see enough evidence that Aaron has an adequate amount of self-efficacy. Aaron is scared. He needs to release his grasp on his adolescence. It might not be great, being an adolescent, but it’s where he’s been for the last 8 years and it’s a comfort zone.
We talk. I explain that I want him to be a successful adult. What can I do to help him show me that he can handle his life with minimal interference from Dad?
“Let’s start,” Aaron says, “by giving me a list. Just give me a list of the jobs for the day. If I need you, I know where to find you. I can do this stuff without you checking up on me all the time. I hate you checking up on me.”
I bit my tongue. My snap back retort is “Well, until now, if I didn’t check up on you all the time, nothing got done.” But I keep my mouth shut. That response is my need to be a big deal talking. In my heart, I’m actually smiling from ear to ear. I let the smile come through.
“Sounds like a plan,” I say.
With that, we neatly segued from v.2, the angry, angsty adolescent, to v.1-the young adult who lives in my house. For the moment. Hopefully, for many moments.
—photo by ChrisHConnelly/Flickr
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