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Nick, his own man

Nick interests me. I’ve never heard a father say that about their offspring. But I have an affinity for treating my children like they are their own humans, and I have since they were little kids. He acts in ways and has traits that are all his own. His mind is always working and you can read it in his face. And he’s funny, which is something I really appreciate.

If I learned anything in my childhood home, it was how not to be a parent. Those negative lessons are just as important, and often more, than positive lessons. After all, we tend to remember trauma more than we remember when times flowed happily along. Treat your kids like they are little humans, they will have a better time than if you beat them into submission and treat them like their developing personalities don’t really matter.

Nick, in particular, received the respect of a full human from day one. He came to us at an age where much of his personality had already formed. When the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services removed him from a strung out/freaked out/tweaked out mother in a full-blown psychotic episode, he was already almost three years old. By the time he came to stay with us, he was already four and half. He was already almost six when we went before a judge to finalize the adoption.

Now, Nick is a good kid. He stays out of trouble and doesn’t engage in any mischief that we can detect. He does well in school, and while his grades don’t always please me—the college prof who knows the implications of B grades over As—he does well. Plus, I don’t want him thinking that we will be disappointed in whatever he does in the future. He has a work ethic when it comes to school. He understands the importance of academics in a way many of my college students don’t.

He does the same things that bother most parents of most eras—he indulges in the latest technologies with gusto. Such is the turning of the world. My parents wrung their hands over the little transistor radio I listened to all the time and was always begging batteries for. They worried about the kind of music I listened to when I was young (mostly Beatles, John Denver, and whatever nonsense was on the Top Forty). Their parents, I’m sure worried over something my parents’ did. I have to say, as far as I know, my parents were chaste to the point of sickness.

So, yeah, Nick watches Youtube videos almost all the time. Before that, it was endless rounds of Minecraft and PS3 games that he borrowed from friends. But, hey, what the hell? We bought the PlayStation and the iPhone.

He’s shown me the kind of videos he watches, and most of it’s smart and funny. We share laughs and he seeks me out to show me stuff that strikes him as particularly amusing. He demonstrates his sense of humor to me this way. If he sticks with what he’s been watching, I will have a satirical wisecracker on my hands. This means I have done well.

He also has a sense of the absurd. I may have had something to do with that. I think most of life is absurd and often comfort myself with a Beckett-like perspective on life. I mean, the hydrogen bomb . . . What makes sense in the shadow of that? Nick sees things all the time that are out of whack. A store sign in bad grammar, the juxtaposition of a shaggy man in a Jag, the way in which the guy across the street sort of jumbles along in an odd scrambling run with his dog. There are a million examples. He laughs at me when I have fumbled something or spoken malapropisms. He has a way of putting me in my place that is neither disrespectful or irritating. He makes me laugh at myself.

He’s often the smartest, most aware guy in the room.

By the way, I don’t know if he’s looking at bare-naked ladies or men or whatever. You just try to bring the kids up right and wait for the questions. I can’t control what he sees on that phone, and I know that if I was him, I could circumvent any effort my parents made to exert their will on mine.

He loves to do things with me. Recently, we have deconstructed his playhouse, rebuilt part of the terrace wall out back, and cleaned out the rain garden. We have a robot project in the basement that we work on once or twice a week and will take months to complete. We travel the Missouri, backpack, and camp. But he loves to sit down there with me and often acts as if there’s nowhere else he wants to be. In all instances, he’s interested and ready to work. We golf together, ride bikes, and take hikes.

All the while, he possesses a distant, disinterested aspect. When I ask him if he likes something, he takes time to think it over and usually gives noncommittal answers. But this comes, I think, from his former life, where taking a stand on anything was likely to wind up in a beating or some kind of punishment. He says “sure” instead of “yes,” “maybe” instead of “no.” It’s frustrating and I have to force him to commit from time to time. For the most part, however, I let him be. He will like things he likes, and I don’t really have a say in the matter.

Nick shows interest in cerebral things, as well. He is a nerd of the highest degree. A student of Latin, he takes part in out-of-town meets where he wins awards for reading Latin from the podium. He is in the Robotics Club, a bunch of like-minded geeks that take their inventions to tournaments in other cities.

I mean did I possess that kind of discipline when I was his age (almost 15)? When I was 14 and 15, I was interested in smoking cigarettes, drinking whatever alcohol I could filch or buy, and trying to smooch up girls (which never happened).

He displays a kind of maturity that I never had at his age. He’s very sure of himself and his personality. Lacking arrogance, he carries himself with confidence. He knows who he is. He’s aware where the boundaries between him and others are, not just at school and in his social life, but also at home. I still struggle with boundaries. All the time, I think people will find out I’m a fraud. He has no such problem. I admire that.

In addition, he has a sense of duty and place within the home. When I ask him to empty the dishwasher, he says, “OK.” I say it’s time for him to walk the dogs, and he might give a sigh, but he does it. And he gets these kinds of chores and tasks done immediately. I am one to wait to the last minute. He doesn’t. He knows he has to get these things completed, and he does them so he can spend more time by himself and with his videos.

The intricacies and contours of his personality lead him to friendships with people who are interesting in themselves. Talking to them, I have to be adult with them as I have to with Nick, as they are mostly adults with me. They are respectful and patient. I can’t be pedantic or overweening. They wouldn’t listen, just as Nick doesn’t when I treat him that way.

In the end, I have a great kid. Any parent runs the risk of losing their kid. There will be drugs and sex and mischief in his future. But I have a kind of certainty that he will be fine and make the right choices. If not, we will see when we get there. For now, Nick is his own guy. There’s nothing better than that.

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