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Monday, Jan. 09, 2006
I think Iíve said it before, pretty sure I have. Iíd walk through fire for my kids, my wife. Most father/husband types would. Even on the bad days. And in the repeating circle of things, the boredom of day to day that gets enlivened by key events, this be one of the bad days.

I donít like to do entryís that zero in on problems, on family issues. I'm a little more private than I let on. Itís likely that I can count on one hand the number of times Iíve written in sorrow about such things in the past 5 years. You know thereís been problems. A life lived in a vacuum of happy endings and joyful romps through the glade wonít be continually found here. Mostly, I recount how glad the kids and wife make me at the end of the day, grouch about stocking the pantry and paying for the numerous cars, cash handouts, the surprises that wake you up in the night.

What Iíve not written much about is the son I call Ben, the youngest of the three kids.

Iím really not sure that I know how to, either.

Heís 18 years old, in high school as a senior and living at home with Ally and me. He has a job slinging pizzas and a girlfriend. Interests? Pretty routine. Video games on his own setup, working out at the local gym, building stuff out of wood. Buys too many sneakers and trendy clothes, but hey, I did the same thing. Certain concessions are made when youíre 18 and have a long time girlfriend. Spends too much time in his room, often communicates in grunts, and then only at mealtime. Wants lots and lots of freedom. The capper? People who know say he looks just like me when I was 18.

When Ally and I were busy in the business of producing small likenesses of ourselves, back in the day, we were close to an older couple who had 3 kids as well. One of the solemn platitudes they handed us went along the lines of ď3 kids? Yeah, one of Ďem always gets left out. Itís like your ability to encompass all of them runs out at two, and you rotate the affection and attention for two amongst the three.Ē I canít even imagine having more than 3, obviously.

Ben spent a lot of his young years tagging after the sisters. The fun loving tomboys who wrecked havoc on the softball field, made tons of friends and pretty well breezed through school with high marks. The three of them were, and are, pretty close. Got along well. Pretty hard not to when you get picked up from school by Dad, crammed into the front seat of a pickup truck and spend 45 minutes on the road together every day. Makes either for mortal enemies or relative coexistence.

Thatís the cliff note history. No reason to expect Ben to not turn out to be pretty stable and well adjusted. And we took great pains not to compare the three, to get rivalries in gear by saying ďWhy canít you be more like your sister, for gosh sakes?Ē. Thatís an unwinable scenario if there ever was one.

But Ben . . . well, just didnít quite take the road we hoped for.

Never took much interest in organized athletics, or organized anything for that matter. No Scouts, choir or library club going on. School was ever the trial, getting a B was a major deal for Ben. Friends? He had plenty of friends, they ran along the same lines that he did, the underachievers and the get-bys. Some of them we ran off, some we didnít.

Ally set herself a goal of helping him with his schoolwork. For several years, after it became apparent that he was having his troubles, she would chain him to the kitchen table and wrestle out the long division and the grammar issues. Nightly this went on. Iíd throw in a word or two occasionally.

I just donít remember having the times with him that I did with the girls, Beth in particular, throwing a ball or catching fish. Hanging out watching a movie. Hearing the tales of woe from school, friends gone sour. Ben and I kinda both drifted through his childhood, bumping into each other at sunrise. Finding each other at an oyster pit with a steamy cloud of puckered shells. Needing a ride to and fro.

I donít remember much hugging, even in the Dad to Son way, or wrestling on the living room floor, or tramping through woods. I remember coming home in exhaustion many times and seeing a bike dismantled in the garage, tools strewn and greasy chain akimbo. I remember bellowing up the stairs to ďPlease get the mower and cut that grass, wouldíja?Ē

I remember mainly the times that I started to get really pissed off at him. Times that have strung themselves out for years, that make me angry at him. That embarrass me, that make his mother cry in my arms at times, that make each of us question ourselves and wonder how long it will be before the only way to see him will be from opposite sides of a thick plexiglas wall.

He canít leave the pot alone.

He just fucking canít. Call it friends he shouldnít have had, or teenaged angst or just outright being stupid. He got nailed for it at 14 and got off easy. Got nailed again at 15 and did the 6 month counseling thing, which Ally had to attend with him (and think what you will, but I never went. Putting me in a counseling scenario with human resource types and a room full of kids, and all the typecast state-funded drama thereto would guarantee only resentment and bitterness from me. Like putting a wolverine in your average chicken coop). When he was all through with that, and on best behavior for quite a while, he got a job and we allowed him a junk car for getting around in. Six months into that, he gets pulled for speeding and a bong falls out of the door. Not the best of ways to hide the evidence, if you ask me.

A judge got into it this time. More counseling. Lost license to drive. Community service. Ally and I, grateful that he didnít get jail time. Somehow kept the job. Failed a required high school course. Failed it again. Had some unexplainable incident at community service that got him the boot (and which, of course, looked just dandy on his records going back to the courts. Very efficient are the courts at stuff like this). Piss tests for compliance. Endless counseling. A scoffing and snarling 18 year old, who knew the scam and hated it. Finding another community service gig.

[Iíve got to say this for state sponsored counseling. Would you, being put into a room with a parent, spill your guts about things you were previously trying to keep secret? Feel nurtured by sharing your pot stories with kids who had gone far, far beyond that level and could care less about your pitiful tale? Like to force a wage earning adult to sit through this with her kid, while dregs of society trooped through and laughed the whole thing off? And having already gone through it once, just how much resentment would you have about doing the same, tired and by-rote things for another 6 months? From the lowest common denominator of barely out of college counselor types, who essentially droned a lesson from a book for two hours, checked off your name, took your money and got the hell out? Who acknowledged that you had fulfilled your course requirements but just felt like you needed some more sessions, at $25 a hit? And wouldnít sign off on you until you had? I know I hit the pressure relief valve enough times with these babbling idiots, to the point of alarming my wife. Iím afraid that any amount of biting of the tongue on behalf of my wife and son was for naught when I blew. The legal system has a scam indeed, my friends, and itís the biggest waste of time and money I have ever seen.]

And in spite of all this, after all the dreary sessions, spending the majority of a junior year and half a senior year having no life, no car, none of the things that make high school even remotely tolerable, Ben turned up with a couple of questionable piss tests. That came to light just a couple of days ago.

Just in time for his court hearing this morning. Right now, as a matter of fact.

No, Iím not there. Ally gave me the whisper, ďHe was kind of hoping you wouldnít go, after last time.Ē Last time was 9 months ago, and it was ugly, in a year of ugliness. Ally took him this morning. She has his ear, and he confides in her a great deal more than he does me, which I guess is to be expected. I gave her the checkbook. For the fines. The fees. The never ending paying for things that cost.

The kid is guilty. Iíve harped and moaned and Iíve yelled. Iím very proactive about responsibility and taking care of your own affairs. Owning up to them. Staying out of sight, keeping The Man at bay. Not letting the little foul minions of state government get their hooks in. Because they never, ever want to let go.

My son. The only one Iíll ever have. I weep for him in the quiet of 3 am time when he sleeps. My wife says he looks up to me, wants to be like me. Loves the things we do with wood, wants that. Looks like me. Wants to get out of a school he hates and just work with the talent he has. Wants his freedom. Like me.

Thereís a long cool lake not far from here, and I look at the day when he was 4, and learned how to cast a line into water and wait, as patiently as a 4 year old can wait. And a tug and a pull, and one shining face pulling a small fish to shore, by himself, for me to unhook. And nothing whatever on the face of this Godís earth would keep me from taking it home and frying it for him. Seeing small hands on a fork, and telling him that ďYou caught this! Itís yours, you dig in, now.Ē And with a smile, he did just that.

That freedom of the day. How the sun went light against a silver fin, and how long ago it was. That sense of no time at all, and all the days in front and beyond. Why it is, and where it goes.

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