It’s 9:15 in the evening and I’ve donned my down vest and cap to take the dog for an evening stroll. Even better, I’ve pulled out my mp3 and earbuds so that I can enjoy some of my own music as we saunter around the block.
Hey Dad, I just got out of the shower but can I walk the dog with you?
No, Son, your hair’s still wet so I’ll just go.
Really, Dad, I’ll only be a minute.
My wife cuts me a glance and I already know what she’s going to say and I nod my head. Sure enough, she says it: Your son wants to take a walk with you. And she’s right, my son wants to take a walk with me.
In that brief fifteen minute excursion, I catch further glimpses of life amongst the teen tribe. How Scream-o isn’t the same as Punk and it really – supposedly – takes considerable talent to master the Death Metal growl. How kids in middle school really don’t listen when you tell them to stop the bean-dips – reaching up and grabbing another’s nipples – and you just have to punch them in the face to make them quit. How I was apparently right in that even our town isn’t as safe as he previously thought, and that truly grabbed my attention. He and some friends were walking home from the high school football game when they were challenged from behind by some older teens and if he’s not exaggerating, had to bluff their way out of the situation. And with each of these snippets, I asked further questions or in the case of the bean-dips and football game incident, offered some suggestions such as not walking home at night in an alley.
As a father, my life really isn’t my own anymore and it’s been that way for years. I miss quiet moments and the latitude to do what I want, when I want to do it. And God knows I miss my favorite musical pieces. But the reality is that I have to take advantage of every opportunity to spend time with them even if I’m not in the mood. It’s their attempt to maintain the lines of communication and as they age, those lines can fray or become brittle with age so it’s my responsibility and obligation to put away the mp3 and honor the attempt. I’m actually counting myself fortunate that my young teen still wants to walk the dog with me and share those insights and moments because I hear plenty from people who feel as though they’ve been completely shut out.
Perhaps however, they really haven’t been shut out but simply haven’t realized that they’ve been approached. The time spent together doesn’t have to be earth-shattering and when teens come, it’s frequently when it suits them instead of on the parents’ schedule. Dad might be tired, sore or just craving some privacy and quiet but it’s still the first rule of fatherhood in effect, that a father’s life is no longer his own. So pay attention when the teen comes up and says something to you. It isn’t the dog or the other stuff, it’s you that he or she wants.
Better yet, pretend that my wife is looking at you and then put away whatever it is that you’re doing.