A Boy at the Intersection
I have known him since he was a young baby in arms. I can vividly recall the news of his birth though I was not living nearby at the time. He has a beautiful sister two years his elder. And he has always been a bright, handsome young gentleman himself.
Neither are my children, but those of my best friend since childhood and his amazing wife. Although they have numerous real aunts and uncles, I was flattered and touched when my permission was sought for them both to refer to me as "Uncle". I have not had the privelage of having children, which made the gesture all the more important to me. This occurred well before they were teens, so it has become very normal and familiar as they grew up.
They were both raised by involved, caring, instructional parents. My advice was asked many, many times over the years of their growth, both by the parents as well as both children at various junctures. I have always been hesitant to share my views in that regard... I have no justifiable "say". But, not being shy, and recognizing the sincerety of those times, I would carefully relate my view of whatever the current "crisis" was. My advice was always given with a quiet, internal caution to myself..."You have no authority here, nor have you earned any. What you think is only your opinion... nothing more. Remember that!"
My suggestions and whatever insight I thought I might be offering always seemed to be well received and often heeded, frequently to my great surprise.
I'm not sure what merited that! I was a relatively "good kid" growing up, also with very rare, loving parents. But I sure delved down some roads that were very, very bad in my teen years and even well into my twenties. Alcohol abuse and promiscuity were my chief moral violations. However, other than the fact that the underage consumption of booze was clearly illegal, I was not a lawbreaker, having been raised with great disdain for someone who would steal from or harm an innocent for personal gain. I'm not proud of my early life tangents, in fact, I am deservedly ashamed. But I did do those things. (Please note that I do not claim "they happened"! They were conscious, very wrong decisions and choices I made on my own. Period!)
I always felt that it was the clear understanding of the basic differences between right and wrong that pulled me through my numerous bad acts and saved my skin, and I have written about that belief here before. Even when I was behaving badly and/or with great risk, I at least fully knew I was wrong. That pulled me through some very sizable potential jams, mainly because it stopped me before I continued further
"Accountability" is an often tossed about term these days, but that makes it no less important. I was always, at the very least, honest with myself about what I did and when it was surely wrong. I didn't lie when confronted and I learned to expect and accept my punishment when I was "caught". And the punishments were severe when necessary. When they weren't, it served as sort of an inspiration to go astray again.
I watched his sister graduate high school this Spring. I was so shaken and tearful that a complete stranger suddenly gripped my shoulder to ask if I was OK. When I replied that I was, he asked simply if it was my son or my daughter. He looked perplexed when I quietly responded that it was neither. I followed that with a quick smile that said "Thanks" and silently recomposed myself. It tore at my heart as if she was my own.
It is not the elder sister I am concerned about now, though. She just entered Naval School and is a very serious, applied young lady.
The young boy has grown into a hulking giant of a young man, yet with a still developing boy's mind. At 6' 8" and 315 pounds, he is a star football player and the largest, tallest boy in his school. He is stunningly handsome, poised, usually soft spoken and polite. He is very intelligent and quite articulate.
Sadly, over the last several years I have seen him slip away from the "good" path he was once soundly established on. A few years back it began with some destroyed private property. He then lied about it, steadfastly denying his guilt to his father and the officers that pursued the matter. Only when confronted with a footprint on a broken pane of windshield glass that perfectly matched his own size 15 footwear, did he finally confess. Because he admitted it, even though late and under threat of arrest, he was not incarcerated.
"Dad" specifically asked my thoughts afterwards. I wondered aloud if it might not have been a better lesson for him if he had been arrested. I also mentioned that any fines and cost of damage reimbursement would come out of the boy's personal pocket if he was mine (he does have a part time job). I also told "Dad" that I would be particularly upset about the fact he lied and it seemed he would not have confessed if he thought he was going to get away with the act. "Dad" sort of agreed, but was quick to point out it was his first major transgression. Yeah, I had said, better nip this in the bud! To me, this became instead a lesson that conveyed "it would have been OK if you didn't get caught".
A few months later, we had a 'special event' that my wife got some complimentary tickets to attend. She passed the extra tickets along to the boy and his sister, as I am uninterested in ice hockey. The sister cancelled out as there was a scheduling conflict with another school event she was to attend, so the brother was to bring along his buddy instead. There was an entire area of seats purchased as a company which included my wife and her workmates. My wife had told her cronies of the fine young man she chose to accompany them and they were eagerly anticipating meeting him.
No show. But his ticket had been swiped, suggesting he had been there. He came home very late that night. He was sick the next morning... suggested it might be "food" poisoning. Hmmmm. When confronted, he swore he had been there, in his reserved seats with his buddy, but could not find any of the twenty odd people that he would have been seated directly beside, including his "aunt". The two seats were right beside my wife and remained empty for the evening. Remember his physical size I mentioned above? Hmmmm...
Somehow, the excuses were accepted, but sure as hell not by me or my wife! No punishment and blind acceptance of very weak explanation. I reiterated to "Dad" that he didn't want to let this crap spiral out of control.
I told my wife how worried I was about not just the situation, but what appeared to be comfort on the boy's part with the prevarication. That invites rationalizing other poor behavior!
About a month ago, I was driving home from the hospital in our remote "Big City" at dusk. As I began to cross a pair of end-to-end twin bridges over a local river, I just made out a stumbling, wandering person directly in the middle of the road. It looked like a kid perhaps, and I just did see him in time to avoid running over him. After the initial scare subsided, I was very angry at the stupid stunt. Had I not been late to return home, I would have turned around and gone back to investigate further. You see, between the bridges is an island of sorts, where parties and trouble are common. I know because the situation was the same when I was a kid around there.
The next day, the phone call came. My "nephew" had been there. It was a big party and the police had apparently arrived shortly after I drove by. When they raided the gathering, he and his girlfriend, enebriated, snuck hand in hand under the bridges and across the river, in the dark, where they were apprehended on the shore by a waiting officer. The obvious plan had been to elude getting caught and then later sneak back and drive his father's vehicle away... drunk!!! "Dad" was called to drive the vehicle and his intoxicated son home.
Once again, he would have not only lied but would have risked his life, his passenger and any encountered traffic in an attempt to drive his father's vehicle home after drinking. I would have grounded his butt for at least a month! To my understanding, he got yet another stern conversation and another "warning"... nothing more.
His dad came by to talk to me a few days back. He expressed outrage that his son had walked through a porch full of garbage that the dog had disassembled without lifting a finger to clean any of it up. His eyes seemed to cry out "Where did this come from"? When confronted, the boy was apparently indifferent and unrepentent.
I have seen so many examples of parents not wanting to be "unkind" to their children by avoiding spanking, privelage revocation, grounding or other harsh yet effective forms of punishment. Or they rationalize that they did these things too. Yeah, and they were nothing but lucky to have lived through it! How is that justification? At 6' 8", I'll agree that the window for turning that kid over his knee has long closed firmly. "Dad's" too late for that now. And his options are rapidly narrowing.
None of the "good" in this young man has left... yet. But so much of the "bad" is blossoming and more and more frequently taking over. He is very obviously a weak pawn to peer pressure. And yes, there have been other incidents I didn't list here. Some perhaps were less significant, but ALL were deemed to be and handled that way. He will be 18 years old shortly after the turn of the New Year. He is less and less concerned with his schooling and increasingly more defiantly headstrong. He doesn't want to go to college. He sees football as his apparent destiny. Maybe he's right, but the odds are not supporting. Even if that was the case, life is about a lot more than the needed skills to being able to play football.
During the other day's visit, I could see the escalating sense of worry and helplessness in his dad's eyes. His father mentioned the military but also his concern for his son's well being if sent to war. I understand and share that. I also believe that his father doesn't realize that his son is going to war, whether he joins the military or not. Without some discipline and principle in heavy, painful doses... very soon... his boy is going to be ill equipped to fight.
I'm not sure why I felt compelled to share this with the great folks who kindly read my words here. Perhaps it is a request for your input. I have been very blunt with the boy's parents in the past. I believe that friendship demands honesty, even when it is inconvenient, unwelcome or difficult. Perhaps it is even more important then?
"Crunch time" is quickly approaching... I pray God will hold this basically good kid in his hand.