I was chatting with an old friend from home. He mentioned seeing some photos of my 7-year-old son on Facebook. “I can’t believe how much Tristan looks like you,” he said. “Hope he doesn’t act like you, too.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I’m just saying let’s hope he doesn’t do some of the stupid things you did as a teen.”
The whole conversation was very tongue in cheek. We were laughing during most of it. But the problem is, I hear this more than I’d like.
Probably because I was kind of a shitty teen. I mean, people often described me as a shitty kid, who did shitty things, so I suppose that made me a troublemaker. Not that I got into trouble with the law, or anything. It’s just that I grew up in a conservative Mormon community in north central Utah, and I often liked to push the boundaries. And when I think about that, I think about my kids. I have three of them, and wonder if they will pull the same crap I did. Then I think of my grandmother, who raised me as a teen, sitting in her white vinyl rocker, shoulders slumped, face resting in her right hand, eyes closed. Everything about her seemed to say, “What am I going to do with this kid?”
The funny thing about being a parent is that I feel I need to make sure that my kids don’t make the same mistakes I made, and yet I feel that I can’t tell them about the mistakes I made without losing credibility.
Or grossing them out.
For example: I have no intentions of telling my children that I smoked pot at the tennis courts before high school most mornings. Then cut morning Mormon seminary because I had the munchies and visited Burger King. Or that I lost my virginity to an angry redhead at sixteen-years-old. I don’t plan to tell them about all the crap (PEZ dispensers, magazines, and CD’s) I shoplifted from local stores in an attempt to feel like a badass, or the times I was kicked out of class for being loud and obnoxious. And I certainly will never tell them about getting suspended from school for showing my ass to my floral design class.
None of these things are worthy of jail time. Most of them were just adolescent, coming of age moments, where I learned some valuable lessons. And luckily, unlike many of my high school friends, I never got a girl pregnant, or got busted by the police, or anything like that. But I suppose the really scary part is that I’m old enough now to see how a lot of these stupid teen actions can impact adult life. The two friends of mine who had children in high school never went to college. Two of the friends I smoked pot with at the tennis courts died a few years after high school from drug addictions. And one of the kids I used to shoplift with spent time in prison for setting fire to a jewelry store after robbing it.
Sometimes I think about this stuff and realize how close I came to having a very different life than the one I have. In so many ways I want to tell my children this stuff. I want to let Tristan, Norah, and Aspen know about my mistakes, some of the things I’ve seen, so that they will think twice.
But I’m the dad, and I doubt that they will get it. They will see me as old fashioned, or over zealous, like I often saw my grandmother. Or perhaps they will see it as a license to do some of those stupid things. I remember when I discovered that my aunt got pregnant in high school. I must have been 15. I looked at her life, the fact that she had a house and was still married to her high school sweetheart, and thought, “things worked out for her.” It almost made me feel more comfortable having sex because I knew that whatever happened, I’d be fine. Now I look at my aunt and realize that she was wrangled into marrying my uncle because of the pregnancy. I know about how hard they struggled being teens with a baby, and how it kept them from finishing high school.
I suppose what I’m trying to say here is this. My kids are young now. They listen to me. But I know that there will be a time when they won’t. When they will see me as this old, out dated dude. I am old enough to know this. I am also old enough to know that I don’t want my kids to make the same mistakes I made, and yet I’m not sure how exactly to keep them from making those mistakes without telling them the details. But I don’t want to tell them because I don’t want them to see me differently. But perhaps that’s good. Perhaps that’s what I should be doing. Letting them see who I was, and how I got to where I am.
I don’t know. Now I’m rambling.
Raising good kids, it’s complicated. It’s frustrating to be able to know what can go wrong because you’ve seen it, and yet, not know just how to give a proper warning. Ultimately, though, I need to realize that my kids are not me. They are going to make their own mistakes, and they will have their own temptations, and I’ve got to, somehow, learn to live with that.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.