My son will be 16 later this month and, man, it’s tough to avoid clichés about the passage of time. One minute I’m wiping his ass and then, the next, I’m standing next to him on a sidewalk in Grand Rapids, Michigan, waiting in line to see a rock concert. You never see it coming, you don’t think, “Eh, this’ll pass and soon we’ll go see shows together and speak in awed tones about how hard the drummer for Listener hits his drums.” But perhaps this is best. This not knowing. Grabbing the next diaper is not, in itself and always, without joy. Stay true to the ebb or the flow with no eye to their opposites. Just wipe.
And then one day he’ll be 16, wearing an orange hoodie and a t-shirt depicting a comic book character you’ve never heard of, and his hair will be in his eyes; you’ll catch yourself muttering boy needs a haircut, kids, bah. He’ll be sarcastic and witty and he’ll make you laugh, no longer merely because he’s cute, but because he’s really, really funny. He’ll shave the whiskers off his face, wipe himself, and, because the sun will hit him just right and create a perspective much more broad and encompassing than that of your immediate concerns, you’ll think My God I have loved participating in the process of your becoming a man. Who are you? Where did you go, Little Boy? If I… could put time… in a bottle…
But these lofty bird’s eye reflections will soon give way to your entry into the small concert venue and the dissonance of being at a rock concert with your son. Dissonance, because you go to concerts with your outlaw friends where the music is loud, the message is defiant, and the atmosphere fosters chaos—the delightfully scary knowledge that anything goes and everything is permitted. But your son? You chase him as he runs toward the street. You tell him to say no to drugs and to use condoms—that is, only, of course, IF he’s having sex. (Is he having sex?!?) You make him eat vegetables and do homework and listen to his mother. But music—loud good music, no matter what it says, always says “WAHHHHHHHH, YEAHHH BAYBAYYYYY. KICK KICK snare drum drum DRUM—CRASH!!! YOUR DAD IS… DUMBBBBBBBBB. He’s an ASS ASS ASS.” Or what have you. And it is here, at the crossroads of this contradiction, where the essence of my conflict as a father finds its expression.
I despise authority. I am the authority. To hell with me! Better listen to me! And on and on until I just kind of cancel myself out and either the ebb ebbs or the flow flows and all I do is notice my son tapping his foot and nodding his head. And he’s smiling, but not in a simple happy kind of way. It’s more akin to a deeply satisfied smile that has just now stumbled into the realm of a very old and precious secret. A drummer himself, he’s watching the drummer and nodding his head with every thump and crash. The drummer—he’s hitting the drums so hard that I wonder if he’s up to something more than making music. Somewhere, way beyond the song, he’s fighting an old fight inside himself, breaking down the walls of a jail that can’t hold him, and, like the rest of us, always, becoming someone else.