House of the Rising Son
It’s three a.m. and I awake abruptly to the sound of tapping and music
Well, it’s happened. The number we were betting on has at long last come up. It sure seemed to take its time but well, we finally hit it. Eighteen! What a great number! All it took was a roll of the dice, some risk and a little luck.
No, we didn’t win the lottery. Something better happened. Our son turned eighteen today and we, his exceptional parents have won a long-standing bet. We played a long shot on that giant spinning roulette wheel, THE UNIVERSE, betting we could get our son safely to eighteen while carefully dodging the poorer odds of smoking, drugs, alcohol, a pregnant girl, tattoos, holes-in-body and Mohawks. Yes, it was a tough bet and those odds were stacked heavily against us. It seems that in the ‘Grand Scheme of Things’ sweepstakes, many kids don’t get to thirteen, let alone eighteen without acquiring at least two of those universally kid-friendly prizes.
But, we did it. We won! And what did we get? A payoff every parent would eagerly want: simple relief. Who wouldn’t be grateful to have a child still in one piece with no apparent addictions, piercing or squalling little ones? Yes, it’s an extraordinary feat and we, the proud extraordinary parents, are very pleased!
I suppose we can’t take all the credit. The boy ultimately had to make his own choices and decisions along the way. From what I can see, he made some good ones. Certainly there were pressures from his peers with all the smoking, alcohol and odd hair styles flying about and he may have tried some things that had unforeseen consequences, but the barber was never ever far away.
Now, we’re not expert parents by any means even though the Universe in its wisdom insists otherwise. I tell myself I’m an okay father and my wife is an even better mother. Perhaps we’re just a bit unconventional, that’s all. We started out like most novice parents following tried and true parental techniques; mindless kindergarten, cliché summer sports camps, “high-income family” friends and then endured many years of floundering through the long and painful journey of adolescence, guilt and denial. But now here we are at eighteen and the boy, though not perfect, has arrived on the brink of manhood virtually unscathed. He is not I and he is not his mother. It’s a win/win pay-off.
I can’t speak for my wife but I can easily take claim to something else here, the ‘Ignorance is Clean Hands’ award. It’s a consolation prize that many parents accept which releases them of their guilt for all the things they “could have, should have” done, all the things that would have helped propel their child toward becoming the person the grandparents always envisioned. It’s the “my god, if I had only known?” defense. I accept this prize gladly. I still wear so many blinders; I might be wise to carry a cane.
During this journey to manhood, we taught him basic “common sense” common sense; honesty with one’s self, kindness to others and staying the hell away from religion but it turns out, much of the outcome was influenced by random spins on that universal wheel. It took a lot of faith and luck but as every parent learns, there is a point when you just have to let go. We let go between fourteen and tomorrow. It wasn’t a real ‘letting go’; it was more of an unleashing.
He’d be gone half the night, disappearing with ghostly friends and acquaintances to who knows where. Thanks to the cell phone, we still had contact even though it was just a message to “CALL US, GODAMN IT!!!”
It wasn’t easy, waiting for a phone call or staying up until three in the morning to actually witness him walking safely through the door. The sleepless nights were difficult but that was always part of the deal; up with feedings and diaper changes, up with last minute homework and school projects, up with “it’s time for your friends to go home.” Yes, it’s been a long dream, a nice dream and it continues to unfold.
* * *
It’s three a.m. and I awake abruptly to the sound of tapping and music. It’s drifting from his room. I go immediately back to sleep. I’m in that dreamy mode where my house is on fire but it’s perfectly okay. I’m burning up but it may be just the dream. I’m drifting back to Kate Beckinsale in black leather and me howling. I awake again at four to the sound of different music, without a smoking Kate. The music sounds a bit louder and familiar. Perhaps he has left his computer on so I lurch like a zombie to his room. Ironically, it is the Zombie’s Leave Me Be playing on his I-Tunes and there greeting me with a euphoric “What’s up!” is my bushy-eyed son, tapping away at his computer.
“Well, besides me and my blood pressure, you are,” I say. “Why are you still up?”
“I can’t sleep.” I can tell he’s all jazzed up like a night-vapored cat on catnip.
“You’ve been up for… like, thirty-eight hours!” My timing and reasoning skills barely register before noon but his don’t either, so we don’t argue the point.
“I know, I know. I was just about to go to bed.”
“Better leave me a-lone… you’d better leave me a-lone” the Zombies croon.
“Alright. Get some sleep then. You can’t be up all night like this.”
It’s four in the afternoon when he finally rolls out of bed. This has been going on for the past year now, up all night creating music while in between, silently tapping what seems like Morse code to friends on his I-phone or computer. Apparently, there are a lot of speech-deprived teenage insomniacs out there. When we were kids, we’d be asleep before midnight unless it was a weekend. Of course, we didn’t have any of the technology these kids have today. We were burdened to communicate with pen and paper or actually perform the rare act of ‘voice speaking’. Not much of that these days.
“You’ve got to get to bed earlier.”
“That’s what you said last night.”
“But you didn’t?”
“I know. I will.”
“When are you going to bed then?”
“I don’t know.”
It’s not lost on me that this is just the beginning of a new game with a new bet waiting to be made. He’s now technically a man, a semi-responsible adult, driving, looking for work, functioning in a jungle of tapping woodpeckers and all-night night owls and searching out his future. I‘d be happy to bet on this next phase. All we have to do now is settle on the next magical number, which I believe is twenty-one, a real milestone to manhood. He’s matured quite a bit but I’m betting that some of those same pitfalls of late nights, smoking, drugs, alcohol, a pregnant girl, tattoos, and holes-in-body are still lurking and in play out there somewhere.
My wife and I are up for it though and I know he is too but I’m hedging my bet a little that he probably won’t be up before three.