I used to think I knew my boys well. We were especially close after their mother left, when they were six and nine. I was a stay-at-home-dad and involved in everything in their lives when we were married and then after their mother virtually disappeared. For a while, shortly after she left, we all slept together in my bed with both our dogs, too. I was jammed in so I barely could move but it was still very comforting and I treasure that memory. Now, as they’re young adults, I’m wondering if I really know them (at all)?
My first-born, always seemed to be more “like me” than his younger brother, who came along three years later. The boys bore no resemblance to each other physically or in any other way. My younger son was more of a “pleaser” especially after the breakup of my marriage. His brother was the “rebel” and his rebellions often took center stage in the house. Younger brother wanted none of that attention which only fueled his pleasing nature.
They never particularly liked one another or got along especially well. One of my greatest sadness’s is that they were never close; though I harbor hope they will be as they continue into adulthood.
I was a rebel of sorts in my youth so I recognized much of my youthful self in my first-born. But, as his rebellions took on greater grandeur, I didn’t really see anything that resembled my teen years. Ironically, younger son was the one who got things done so in reflective reality they each carried a part of me that I’m actually only realizing as I write this paragraph.
My boys resemble both sides of my character and how I was as a young man. I rebelled against authority but I got things done and didn’t rock the boat enough to create any serious harm. That is the essence of both my boys – however one carries just the rebellious side and occasionally carries it too far while the other toes the line occasionally too assiduously. What a wonderful revelation I’ve received in writing this column. What a blessing!
Maybe I know them better than I thought when I began this column? But, the reason I chose this topic is that (all) our kids have their own “dark” sides that we may never know unless it manifests itself in a way that becomes public. My older son has done that but we’ve also seen his friends and interacted with him more regularly while his younger brother keeps his friendships private and is generally more internal, while not necessarily being introverted.
You cannot be introverted and pursue musical theater, which is his passion and where he shines. He sings; he dances, and there’s no introvert present when he’s on stage. Where his quiet nature surfaces is in other ways that are significantly different than his older brother who wears his feelings literally on his sleeve. Today, he sent me a photo of his latest tattoo – a full shoulder job that was inspired by a favorite rock star’s tattoos. Younger brother shuns the entire idea of tattoos (thankfully).
My divorce and the subsequent fall-out has been the biggest drama in my boys’ lives. It has been a significant one in my life as well, but I believe my boys will be dealing with the fall-out their entire lives. Given their disparate natures, they have thus far dealt with it completely differently.
When I think that I don’t know them that well, it’s when their behavior contradicts who I think they are, what I think is good sense, and simply is completely different from how I might behave. This only reminds me of something I repeatedly say, that our kids are NOT us, whether or not they happen to have our DNA. They may have some of our genetic make-up but they are their own selves and it’s incumbent upon parents to allow those selves to blossom rather than steer them exclusively toward the things we think or like or want them to do/be.
I think much of this reflection is a function of the looming reality that both boys will soon be out of the house. Older son is already living out of our home, with some financial support from us, but he is on his own. Younger son is finishing high school this year and will depart for college, likely back east, next fall.
There are no empty-nest blues going on for me since it really feels exactly as it should – that my boys grow and leave. I often assert that we parents have a sort of lease-hold on our kids and if we’ve done a good job as parents, that lease will end and they will “buy” their own life-deal and it will be under their control, not ours.
So, I’m grateful they are moving towards this independence. And, maybe as adults, I will actually get to know them better. Who knows…that is the joy, mystery, and beauty of having them in the first place.