Baffled Father of a teenager!
‘We are parents of teenager’, this was enough remark to gain sympathy.
In fact many would empathize loudly with number of stories to prove that none amongst us was exception. Immediately, a mutual sympathetic group would form with all members having teenager children in their family claiming to be sailing in the same boat.
I am certainly baffled! Baffled as to why do teenagers’ parents call themselves sufferers. No way I am a sufferer to complain. Instead I am enjoying this phase, as it makes me more nostalgic. My son is so similar to me in thoughts and does boldly what I dared not do as a teenager. I failed to act, as he does, due to baggage of values that people of our times carried with pride. I think this generation is brave and risk taking. I wish I was born with my son and lived his life with him, but of course, certainly, wouldn’t have liked to have a parent like me, who despite being liberal at heart pretended unnecessarily to be conservative with genuine intention to tame.
Take it for yesterday. Chilly cold day in mid of January, 2015.
My son, in grade 11th, was leaving to celebrate the farewell party of grade 12 students in his school.
‘What time are you returning back?’ I asked him.
‘May be Oneish!’ he exclaimed, excited in anticipation of grand party. He paid little attention to my attention and lifted his tee-shirt to self admire the new abdomen packs he believed was evidently visible.
‘Can you see these cuts, Papa!’ his excitement grew further with little further rise of his cloth and exposure of chest.
‘Yes!’ I jumped into his bandwagon of freakish body curve glory sellers.
‘This is because of my hardwork at gym.’ He turned towards me and with disapproving stare asked, ‘Did you start your workout. I had sent you a youtube clipping. Sixty year old carving muscles and getting rid of diabetic medicines by exercising regularly’.
‘It is too cold to go for a walk in Delhi, now a days man!’ I imagined the daily foggy, chilly winters that we were witnessing this year. The very mention of it made me shiver. I looked around for a cap to cover my head and ears.
‘You are still that old typo walker, Papa!’ no remorse for being brutally foul.
‘How dare you call me old typo’, I yelled. And typical of me, spread my arms and challenged him to test strength by wrist pressing.
Six months ago I had successfully challenged him, but now situation was different. He was two inches taller, six footer, broad shoulders like a boxer, heavy iron fist and long fingers. He was perfect model at sixteen and I was model, going waste at forty five. My diabetes was getting worse day by day, a victim of my hectic Delhi schedule, and laziness, without exercise mornings.
‘Don’t Papa’, he warned with sarcasm and pity.
We shook hands and started pressing each other. I could figure out that he was sparing me from embarrassment.
‘So, you can’t beat me’, I laughed appreciating reality.
‘Do you think so! You will hurt yourself dear’, he measured his biceps with his other palm even while being in mid of challenge. It did not distract him and I struggled to make out of this distraction.
‘Can you see my biceps. Are they not good now, Papa’, he unintentionally, humbly humiliated me by bothering little to my efforts to defeat him.
Tired, I suddenly pulled my hand and touched his biceps and sounded appreciative, ‘yes, certainly they are grown now’.
‘Smart Dad. So you quit on pretext of looking at my biceps. Do you accept your defeat’, his eyes twinkled.
All through he was staring himself in the full sized mirror.
‘You are Narcist’ my wife would tell him and he would say ‘How would then I know the impact of my hard work in gym, if I don’t check in the mirror’.
‘You are going to be center of attraction’ I teased. I did not want to talk much about loss. He put one hand in his pant pocket and with fingers of other he brushed his hair. For months he hadn’t touched a comb. His fingers would shape his hairdo, and that looked more bizarre than when he came out of bed in the morning.
‘Looking casual is in vogue. Fashion of our time!’ came unwanted remark.
‘I have to brush my teeth’, suddenly he ran to the bathroom. ‘Can I please use your razor. I have to give shape to my beard’. The door shut behind him with a thud. He did not wait for my response or to my approval. Water ran in the washbasin.
‘You sometimes forget to brush your teeth in the morning. How come you are so serious at this hour in the evening? Preparing to kiss someone’, I walked to the bathroom door and shouted from outside to over power the water noise.
On the door was written in ink, in his handwriting, ‘BEWARE, I AM INSIDE. ENTER AT YOUR RISK’.
I knew I was crossing limit of father and son’s conservative relationship.
‘Come on Papa. You too are teasing me like Mamma’, there was noisy brushing of teeth in the bathroom. He perhaps intended to shine his teeth snow white.
‘This wouldn’t help you with your dental colour. Yes that will certainly throw away the foul smell’, I teased him. My incessant devil’s tattoo on the bathroom door added to the music of the tap water.
He had no interest in replying. I knew now he was shaving. He came out bare chested, with smartly pruned beard.
‘Your both children are smart’, my wife who entered the stage unannounced whispered in my ears and spitted three four times in a row. This spitting she had learnt from my mother to ward off black eyes. She would always praise and spit around.
‘All girls will run behind you’, she teased. I knew this was purely motherly instinct, to consider their children as best.
‘This is new shirt. Where did you get this from’, I asked looking at the well ironed black and blue square check shirt lying on the bed.
‘I borrowed it from my friend for this day’ he said. This is what was difference between our age and theirs. There was no much thought running behind any action. Friendship meant informality and sharing without questions. Infiltration into the privacy of others life was taken for granted. And at our age privacy is what mattered most in our life.
‘I would have lent you mine’ I complained feeling betrayed.
‘No offence, Dad! We keep exchanging our things. Akshay is wearing my jacket’, he said to ease me. He wore a white tee-shirt and over it half buttoned checked shirt. And that is what it was.
My wife and me just stared at each other. Outside it was very cold. Since morning it had been raining. Still it was overcast and the ever non-reliable metrological department had predicted rain whole night.
‘Are you going to stay partying at School whole night’, I questioned with suspicion. ‘Who will be there in school till one in the morning’, I asked.
‘All Papa! This is how we celebrate farewell in the school. Even teachers and principal will be there. There will be some cultural performance and I am playing a real photographer. I withdrew from a role in the skit, so that I can catch some interesting moments in the party’. He sounded very professional and confident. I had seen him grow in the last one year. He certainly looked hunk.
He had blossomed in this school. In his previous school he had been suppressed and his hyper energy level was misconstrued for indiscipline. Here he was left to explore possibilities, and soon became popular for his documentary making, fun loving and penchant for new ideas. The management admired his innovativeness and creativity and that fuelled his desire to perform better. He was loving his new found popularity. And we too felt elated, as we had longed all our life to hear words of praise for him. He was known for his hyper activity, and conventional schools failed to acknowledge his out of box thoughts.
His documentaries carried great messages. In his vines he made mockery of himself, to convey deep meaningful messages. We could not believe his sense of humour; they had perfect timing. He had amazing understanding of camera positions, and talent to direct non-artists and prompt them to perform. He scripted, told story, directed and edited. So he was one in all, at this tender age.
I remembered how I was forced to take science subjects including Math. I was uncomfortable with the subject, but science was meant for bright students and humanities were for duffers. To prove their children’s brilliance my parents pressurized me to take science. I had suffered with science all through, though when it came to scoring in exams I came out with flying colours. That performance, my output, was more to make my parents happy than myself. Now here was my son, who had quit science and Math, and taken humanities when in grade nine.
‘How can you permit your child to quit Math before twelfth?’ sarcastically acquaintances questioned. Even co-passengers in trains and flight, casually introduced during journey, would show their surprise. In their tone they were clear that we were fool or were toying with child’s future.
‘Math is important for foundation building of the child’, they would say with ‘n’ number of stories in support of their argument.
How scary math was to my son was not a concern for anyone. What mattered was practice in vogue. Without Math an Indian was not baptized.
And, my son lacked the Indian flavor right from his birth. In our culture, laissez-faire attitude of parents was not proper parenting and laissez-faire attitude on the part of the child qualified him as a dumb-buffoon-good for nothing-spoilt brat (DBGSB). I had failed to graciously qualify as DBGSB, as a kid, because I had no guts to pursue my liking, though thousands time I would had loved to do that. I envied my son for his strong headedness, and was proud of myself for letting him do, what certainly I failed to do. However, honestly, I felt that my son never acknowledged our (me and my wife’s) magnanimity, to dare sail against the tide.
His friends came to pick him. A girl and a boy! Both were dressed for party.
Our anxiety started building up when there was no news till midnight. My wife was impatient, and we both kept creating more wrinkles on the bed by turning sides every now and then.
Worry for our son always translated into unhappy situation. Romance between us would just vanish. My wife would blame me for not controlling him and I would accuse her of giving him too much liberty.
‘He is with his friends in school. Certainly he is safe! Let us call him’ I said to reassure his safety. I always tried to save the situation by sounding positive at the onset, however that hardly lasted for more than couple of minutes. My wife’s tirade provoked by her anxiety would force me to react.
‘Do you think the school will be open at midnight. He must have moved to some of his friends place or driving around with friends. These youngsters are reckless drivers’. The very mention of driving by youngsters made my wife nervous. She would be petrified. Honestly, even I would get jittery. Driving car or two wheeler, the mode of transport would not help ease out the intensity of uneasiness. What mattered to us was that a reckless teenager was driving. Both would invite equal worry.
‘Why don’t you call him’ I asked. Annoyance was clear in our voice.
‘I have tried but he did not pick phone’.
A message popped up on her phone.
‘I am alive! Going to a friends place’.
That was weird message, but that is what our son was. Plainly adventurous! even in his messages.
Such messages were funny retrospectively, but at that moment it would further fuel the fire of anxiety.
‘I am with my friend Mama. We are going to one of our teachers place to enjoy’, he was brief when my wife and son were connected.
‘Who is this teacher, ready to host children at this hour’, she threw her suspicion in the air, hoping I would come out with definitive answer, after she was disconnected.
‘How do I know! Didn’t you talk to him?’ Lying on the bed with one of my hands folded on my forehead I gave a semblance of being in deep thought. I was staring at the ceiling, feeling left out. He had neither thought of texting me, nor he had expressed his wish to talk to me. His communication had been with his mother. And, she had in turn communicated their communication to me spiced with her own feelings. So, obviously my reaction was directed to her, my wife.
When mind dwells on anxiety, the discussion drags unnecessarily to all issues, which is not contextual.
‘I don’t know if he is serious at all towards his studies’. Now, why we discussed his studies at this hour was inexplicable.
‘I am fed up teaching him. I have put my career, my personal time and space at stake for his studies, but he never responds properly’, my wife’s strongest weapon in her armour was used.
‘Let him bear the consequences. Leave him to his destiny. If he would have been so serious with his studies then he would have done miracles’, I mused. We never failed to be judgmental.
Studies were the best weapon to use against a child. Comparative accusations or merely describing gaps in expectation and in delivery, the topic would put the child in defensive. And, we never failed to use that often, whenever we wanted to convey our dissatisfaction with his performance, social or educational.
At one thirty another message flashed ‘Still alive! Will be coming in half an hour’
The content of the second message brought some smile on our face. It had dual effect on us.
One that he was coming back soon, and, second was his sense of humour, which we admired silently.
At two fifteen in the morning he returned. He called on my wife’s cellphone, indicating his arrival. I went downstairs to open the door.
‘Who dropped you home?’ I asked him.
My first concern was if he was intoxicated. There was no sign, and I did not want to embarrass him and myself for asking that stupid question without any evidence. A normal teenagers parent thinks everything abnormal.
‘Who was driving the car’ I asked
‘He was on his scooty’, he said
We had by this time reached our bedroom, upstairs on this duplex home.
‘Didn’t I say that!’ she exclaimed sitting on the bed.
‘And where is your shirt. It is cold outside’, I had missed seeing his missing shirt.
‘My friend driving scooty was feeling cold, so I gave my shirt to him. I was sitting behind and shielded by his body’
‘It was so much fun. We enjoyed sooooo muuuuch!’
That was enough to melt us down. However, we wanted to hold our fort that it was not fair to be so careless. Unfairness was on three counts: firstly, staying out for so long without proper information, secondly, driving recklessly in the city on scooter and thirdly, inappropriately dressed for winter. We did not need any proof to aver that boys drove recklessly, if at all it were boys. Our statement was made without any scope of clarification.
Deep inside I was feeling that our interventionist blabbering would play spoilsport. He was back after a wonderful evening with his friends and we were hell bent to dampen his spirits. But, as parents did we not have the right to correct him. We did not want to dilute our rights. Both, my wife and me would regret later for unnecessarily reacting, but at that point it was very hard to contain our outburst, as for hours we had concocted all sorts of stories against him. We needed a vent out. Enough we had fought with each other. Now we had a soft target to attack.
However, we tried to sound mild and perhaps that was pleasantly unexpected for our son too.
After unexpected little dressing down, I invited him to sleep next to me, on my arms, and then indulged him in gossip. How much I wanted to know what kids of this age do. How much I yearned to be of his age.
I tried to justify our uneasiness and pacified him by quoting many stories published in newspaper, which put the patience of parents on dock. All such stories made us believe that world was too cruel.
He opened up soon and started sharing his excitement. The music and dance! The drive on the empty roads of Bhopal, in pitch darkness! Yelling and shouting! Fun frolicking!
I wanted to live through him this age. I wondered if I was suffering from dual personality. I wanted to enjoy, fly like a free bird and explore the world, without getting stuck in the hassle and pressure of professional chores. I wanted to live with the same fervor, excitement and enthusiasm that he lived with. However, at the same time I wanted my son to get bogged down and sucked into the vortex of unwanted educational and societal pressure. There was some gap in my desire and action, preaching and practice! I was, like other millions, a baffled father of a teenager, who wanted best for his child, and to fulfill this aspiration was killing the ingenuity of the child. Conditional freedom is what we teenagers father advocated.
I am surely enjoying this phase of my teenager, as I said at the onset of this confession note. But, I am honestly baffled, not just because of people’s mindset that we are sufferers, but also because factually we parents of teenagers do attract pain for no reason whatsoever. I am struggling hard to come out of this predicament.