Friday, January 30, 2015


No, this blog post isn't a review of the series finale of Parenthood, the NBC television series that came to an end last night after six seasons. Although I do admit that I did watch the series and found it reasonably entertaining, despite the fact that all of the characters in any given scene usually talked at once. (Real life in big families may indeed be that way, but I often times found it annoying to watch on TV.)

Instead, this blog post is about real life parenthood. The kind I've been dealing with for just over 25 years. The kind that is, without a doubt, the most difficult job anyone can embark on.

Bringing a new human being into the world is the easy part. Pretty much any man or woman can become a father or mother. There's no real skill involved in that. You find a mate, do the deed, and nine months later you're presented with the fruits of your labor. But being an actual parent? That takes a whole lot of effort. And I don't know if you ever really know if you're doing a good job at it.

I think most parents believe that raising a child or children will be easier than it really is. Sure, it's scary at first. But you learn as you go along and kind of get in a groove. I know that's how it was in my world. Then your kids hit their teenage years and everything you had down pat goes out the window. Having a teenager is like giving birth all over again. You encounter new issues, new challenges, and new stress. Lots and lots of new stress.

Everyone who's followed this blog knows about the struggles my older son went through during his teenage years and early twenties. As a result, my wife and I struggled, too. That's one of the crazy things about parenting: how you feel is determined largely by how your children feel. (I think it has something to do with love.)

My younger son has also struggled. To begin with, he had the unfortunate experience of growing up in the midst of his brother's depression and addiction. That's not a good situation for any kid. But he also suffers from depression, along with ADHD. When he hit his teenage years, he had a difficult time in school. His first two years of high school were torture. Thankfully, we found an amazing high school for him, and his junior and senior years were better than we could have ever expected.

Following graduation, my younger son moved on to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After a semester there, though, the academic work proved to be a bit too challenging for him. He made the decision to put his studies on hold, leave school, come home, and look for a job.

My wife and I fully supported our son's decision. Sure, in a perfect world he would've gone to college, found the work challenging but doable, gotten decent grades, and graduated. But we all know the world isn't perfect, and--surprise!--what you envision for your child while they're growing up may not be what actually happens to them. In fact, they're very often two totally different things. (I call this the "parenting reality check." It's when dads realize their son isn't going to be a major league baseball player or NFL quarterback, but instead just a regular ol' person.)

My son came home at Christmas and didn't go back to school. Since then, he'd been taking it easy and looking for a job. But being at home was frustrating for him for a few different reasons:

1.) Finding an entry level job in or around a major metropolitan area (Detroit) with a very high unemployment rate isn't easy.

2.) Being at home after spending more than two years away at school (high school and college) means not having many friends around.

3.) My son absolutely hates where we live. Grosse Pointe is a mostly affluent suburb, but we are anything but affluent. And that makes it hard to fit in sometimes. (A lot of the time, actually.)

In a nutshell, my son felt "stuck," and the situation was making him uncomfortable. So two nights ago he came up with a plan: Go to Lansing (Michigan), stay with some friends, and look for a job there.

I'll be totally honest. I wasn't completely enamored with the plan. My wife wasn't, either. But one thing we learned while dealing with our older son's problems is that we can't control our kids' lives. As much as we want to be in control, we as parents are only here to direct our offspring for so long. When they undergo the metamorphosis from teenagers to young adults, you have to loosen the reigns and eventually--gulp--let go.

Yesterday our son went online and bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Lansing. Then he packed his stuff and asked us for a ride to the bus station in downtown Detroit. It was kind of a shock to me and my wife. Yes, we knew our son had come up with a plan the night before. No, we didn't think he'd be putting the plan into action the next day.

We tried to get our son to wait a bit longer before starting this new journey, but he insisted it was what he wanted to do. And, he pointed out, he's 19. An adult. And he should get to do what he wants to do.

The parent I was a few years ago likely would've insisted that our son stay home. That he work harder at finding a job in the Grosse Pointe area. And that he just deal with living somewhere he didn't particularly care for. But the parent I am today decided that my son's plan, as spur-of-the-moment as it was, might be a great thing. Maybe it's what he needs to kickstart his life and gain some independence.

Or, maybe not.

Regardless, my wife and I agreed that we had to let him try. Having our son do what we think is best and stifling his desire to try something new would just mess with his confidence and make him question his ability to think and make decisions for himself. For a 19-year-old trying to find his way in life, that would not be a good thing.

So we let go.

We drove our son to the Greyhound bus station last evening and helped him carry his stuff inside. Then we gave him big hugs, told him we loved him, and left. (Oh, I might've slipped him some cash, too.)

A new chapter in our son's life has begun. Whether this chapter is long or short, successful or unsuccessful, one thing is for certain: it'll be life experience, and hopefully that will benefit him as he moves along in this crazy world.

Did my wife and I make the right decision? Hell, I don't know. I guess time will tell. A lot of parenthood is throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks. At some point down the road, we'll be able to look back and figure out if we did a good job or not. (Fingers crossed!)

Which brings me back to the Parenthood series finale last night.

I think the most emotional scene for me was when Zeek, the eldest member of the Braverman family, was sitting with his eldest daughter Sarah. He asked her the question I ask myself almost every single day:

"Have I been a good father?"

I like to think that I have, in spite of any mistakes I've made along the way. Hopefully my boys agree. Lord knows I've tried pretty damn hard.

Godspeed, my son.

"I think that the best thing we can do for our children is to allow them to do things for themselves, allow them to be strong, allow them to experience life on their own terms, allow them to take the subway...let them be better people, let them believe more in themselves." --C. JoyBell C.

Nineteen years ago, things were easy!

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