by Steve Clem on February 20, 2013

“Like its politicians and its wars, society has the teenagers it deserves.”
Joseph Priestley

I remember the days when I was a freshman in high school.

I was a tall, lanky, geeky nerd. I lacked social skills and was incredibly shy, believe it or not. I was obsessed with girls, but not one girl was aware of that fact. Nor were my parents. I was awkward, had pimples, goofy hair, and probably weighed about 120 pounds dripping wet.

It was the worst of times, and it was the worst of times. If you want to put me in hell, make me a freshman in high school for eternity.

And now, 28 years later, I’m watching my oldest son go through his own hell. He’s tall(er), lanky, and a bit of a geeky nerd. He lacks social skills (though less so than I did), is incredibly shy, and is probably obsessed with girls — but no girls know for sure, nor do I. He is awkward, has pimples, goofy hair, and weighs about 120 pounds dripping wet. He’s my mirror image not-so-mini-me.

And as I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, I didn’t have to face the things he has had to face in the last seven years: a split home, moving across town to a new school in eighth grade, living in a home with new pseudo-siblings. I didn’t have to navigate transitioning between two homes every week, or figuring out what things I needed to bring with me each time.

The last few months have afforded me some quality time with him that has been absolutely amazing. We’ve spent one-on-one time, talking through life issues. He tells me his problems. I tell him mine. We talk about how life can be really difficult sometimes. How some days you just want to scream, “¡NO MAS!”

I just hope every day that he can come out of this as unscathed as possible. He’s already flirted with the whole “I don’t need to study, I’m smart” thing in his first semester of high school. His horrible GPA and being dropped from his advanced classes have, I hope, sent him a wake-up message or two. But I know the next few years are going to be a roller coaster.

I remember my friends with older kids always telling me to get ready for the teenage years. I always thought to myself , “It can’t be THAT bad.” And, of course, I was wrong. So to my friends with younger kids, I warn you: BE READY! And by “be ready,” I mean “give up control,” because it’s going to go away anyway. I’m not saying don’t lay down the law. I’m saying forget about your kid telling you “please,” and “thanks” and smiling at you. Ever. And forget about any words you speak having ANY degree of intelligence in their world.

I’ll see him on the other side of this mess, and hopefully will continue to have one-on-one time where we can escape our two separate worlds for a few minutes to check in. And just as my dad did for me, I’ll guide him as best I can, even if he doesn’t always listen.

I also am well aware that a few decades from now, he’ll be in my shoes (even if he wears a size bigger than me already). And God willing, I’ll be sitting someplace warm, overlooking a beach, telling him over the phone, “Yes, son, I remember going through this stage with you. Good luck!”

* * * *

Steve Clem is a divorced dad, a recovering Republican, and a Prisoner in the Tundra. He is in The Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest Hokey Pokey of all time. He was the founding editor of the Iowa City weekly The ICON.

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