Throughout history, up on the big screen, in books, on TV and all over real life, teenagers have accused their parents of “ruining everything.”
I’m the first parent to agree.
As a toddler, my boy was brave and open to all. I’ve been gradually destroying that.
“Careful,” I told him a few weeks into kindergarten. “Don’t run wearing that heavy backpack. The weight will cause you to—”
Yeah, he fell. Scratches. Crying. Blood everywhere.
From then on, my son took what I said somewhat seriously.
Somersaulting down giant inflatable slides, riding a bike with no hands, listening to country music—all ruined for him, thanks to Dad.
Some years back, my son asked if I thought we should go to a shooting range to learn how to handle a gun in the event of a zombie apocalypse.
“One day,” I told him. Then I pondered: “I’ve often worried how shooting ranges keep crazies from easily turning and shooting someone else on the site.”
During a visit to the USS Midway while on a summer trip to San Diego, we were exploring the bowels of the ship when my son pointed out the watertight doors all over.
“Is that in case water gets in?” he asked.
“More or less. But if that happens, sure, the doors will keep the water out, but the ship’s going down, and in any attempt to escape, water’s getting in, and by then you’re at the bottom of the sea with a long way to swim to the surface. You’ll have to leave the doors shut and die of starvation on the sea floor.”
Thanks, Dad. Here’s to no seafaring in the foreseeable future.
I even ruined a walk down the aircraft carrier’s bow prongs up on deck.
“Let’s not go to the end of those,” I suggested. “This is an old ship. What if they break off and we fall into the water? Long way down.”
I really try to avoid adding worry to my son’s emotional palette, but there’s no stopping me. I wear my anxieties on my sleeve. Only one thing changed that dynamic. When I wasn’t looking, my son became a teenager. At 13, he developed what teens perfect by age 14 or 15—a disease called Unrivaled Cockiness.
I had to handle the situation with industrial-strength parenting. I brought out, dusted off and polished up the ol’ “I’m right, you’re wrong.”
This summer, my wife and I enrolled our 14-year-old in a summer school program where he had a month to complete several workbooks, and then he’d go in to the school, turn in his work and take tests on what he learned.
“I have a 4.16 GPA,” he reminded me as if the 100 times before wasn’t enough, “and yet you’re putting all this pressure on me to get to work this second, when I still have weeks before I start the class.”
“You’re not starting the class then,” I told him. “You’re turning in work and taking tests. If you don’t get going now, you’re cramming it in the night before.”
“You guys say you never put pressure on my academics, but here you are pouring it on.”
“Fine, fail, but don’t say I didn’t tell you so.”
My wife acted like I’d depleted our kid’s college account behind her back and blew it on a Tesla.
“If he fails,” I said, “he’ll learn that next time he can’t procrastinate. This is why God made fathers. Tough love. Life lessons. Wisdom.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” she told me.
Before she could simply make the kid start his work, our boy came out of an internet search on the summer course and discovered he did need to get to work.
So the moral of the story: I still have a way of ruining things for my kid. I ruined his cockiness and I continue to inject fear into his mind. I try to use my powers for good, not evil.