Nick’s turned 16 and is given to acts of rebellion. He’s not at the point where we’ve come to an impasse, just moments of defiance. Of course, as parents, we see his recalcitrance as silly. He doesn’t have many chores to do as a member of the household. Empty the dishwasher, take out the trash every other week, empty the compost bucket.
The biggest problem we have with the boy is getting him to study. He has great dreams for himself. He expects he will get scholarships to colleges of his choice. After all, he has done his volunteer work. He works a summer job. He keeps his grades high, sometimes. My challenge is getting him to understand that, right now, he’s getting by on his brains. That will only take him so far. Someday, and soon enough, he will have to have a study discipline, which he hasn’t developed them at this time. I fear the day that he gets caught with his pants down.
But as long as he keeps his grades, does the few things we have for him around the house, and keeps his room at least walkable, he gets almost unending freedom to do what he wants. Granted, it’s not much these days. He likes to watch videos on his phone. I make him read a book from time to time. Other than that, he hangs around with his robotics club pals, plays with kids in the neighborhood, and attends the occasional movie with his closest associates.
Despite being more of a renter than a kid who needs attention, he likes doing things with me. It doesn’t matter the pretense, he comes along and every now and then opens up about his views on politics and society. He’s an idealist who seeks to be gentle with other people. His sympathies lie with the poor, the immigrant, and otherwise disaffected person. He despises Donald Trump and the kinds of mean-spiritedness he represents.
I know this from our walks. Evenings, particularly those nights when we’ve just been goofing around all day, we take the dogs for their daily constitutional. He moans about it when I say, hey, let’s walk the animals. He’d rather stay at home and lay in his messy room with his device. But it’s just this behavior I, as a father, feel obligated to counter. He needs to be out and about, breathing fresh air and exercising those muscles that seem so much stronger and sustaining than mine.
We are on Thanksgiving holidays. For both of us, it’s five days of screwing around. I write and do school work. He lays in his bed. I remind him to do his few chores. He’s cleaned the cat box and emptied the dishwasher. Tonight, as last night and the night before, I will tell him it’s time to put on his shoes and grab a leash. He will grouse a little and may even clam up and act as if he’s put out.
In the end, he will accompany me on our rounds of the neighborhood. I look forward to it. On our previous walks this week, he started to chatter about five minutes into the walk. He excoriated the mean and evil, the greedy and the avaricious. When we passed through the aromas of burning wood, he identified the fire as that of a homeless camp. He offered his thoughts on how to solve the homeless problem. He hardly let me have a word in edgewise.
But we had our moments of true conversation. He asked me all kinds of questions from home finance to how one invests in the stock market. He inquired where we get our money, how much his mom and I make each. He listened to me when I talked about the various ways we try to make ends meet and donate a significant amount of our income to charitable causes. Taking in the wonders of the urban environment, he asked what came before the neighborhood as it’s developed today.
These have been good nights for us. I did my level best to listen to him as if he was an adult, which he is. The patronizing voice of the father in the relationship came not from my mouth. I treated him as his own person, remembering the days when my father would attempt to start conversations with me and always wound up scolding me for my own thoughts.
Last night, he declared himself a socialist. It was a moment of pride for me, particularly because he went through the ideas a communism as he knows them and the exploitations of modern capitalism. I remarked that it was time for him to read Marx.
“Karl Marx?” he asked.
“Yes, that’s it,” I said. “I think you’d appreciate his critique of capitalism and the historical way he assessed the acquisition of the means of production.”
“But communism doesn’t work,” he said. “It doesn’t leave enough room for reward and incentive. That’s why I fall on the socialist side of things.”
“It doesn’t matter whether communism works or not,” I said. “It’s never been tried, only perverted into authoritarian schemes that oppress the people for the sake of power.”
“That’s another thing,” he said. “When someone gets power, that’s all that seems to matter to them. They feel like they need to preserve and increase their power. That’s what I see as the problem of greed. The wealthy feel they need more, when, in fact, they don’t.”
“It is the flaw in American character,” I said, “to be acquisitive to the point of excess. But that’s a subject for another discussion.”
“If people would just realize that once you have enough, you can give people enough room for them to get enough. We should allow competition and acquisition to a point. That’s what will make people work. But then, when they get enough to do, say, anything they want, then we ought to leave more for other people.”
Such is the view of my 16 year old. I let it lie like that, let him have his ideas, and validated them so he would feel comfortable in talking to me again.
Tonight, here in about an hour, we will go for another dog walk. He’s been out in the open for a couple of hours today. He helped me with the grocery shopping and other errands. Looking back on this, he will wonder why I can’t walk the dogs by myself this time. But it’s the holiday. Father and son ought to walk in the dark together. A father should listen to his son, see where he is, and where he still needs to go.