The View From Away: If he's trying to hurt me, it's working

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It’s only now, when it’s too late, that I can see it all clearly. Your son comes into your life, makes you think he needs you, makes you think you’re important and then, step by step he takes it all away. Sometimes literally step by step.

I just get used to him being a baby, and the day before his first birthday, I come home from work, and there he is, walking from Carol to me. And why? So he can leave.

I told Carol right then, “It’s the beginning of the end. He doesn’t need me any more.” You know what she did? Laughed.

Well, he’s gone. Not so funny now, is it?

I should have known. We named him Robert, after a lifelong friend whose emotional support has been invaluable countless times. I probably should have looked the name up. It’s probably from something like Old French: “Robbaire: one who steals a parent’s love and then leaves, tearing a giant hole in your chest where your heart used to be.”

How could he be going to college? He’s practically an infant. For the first couple of years, he couldn’t even be bothered to stop whatever he was doing to get up and go to the bathroom. Real mature, Bobby. We had to go out and find a child’s version of Depends to put on him.

I say “we.” It was mostly Carol. I was spending most of time of my time in rooms full of comedy writers. Many of them had similar problems, thanks to prolonged drug and alcohol abuse, but I wasn’t required to clean up their messes. But we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about my child, and his carefully orchestrated plan to make me redundant.

So what if he’s been in boarding school for the last three years? Can I just point out that was eighty miles away, with teachers living three doors down and rules about where you could go and when you had to be in your room. Rules that were enforced. Did I mention Chicago is a thousand miles away? How am I supposed to drive a thousand miles every Saturday to have lunch with him, look at his homework, read his papers and run into his housemaster completely by accident to get an update on his behavior.

Not that I ever did any of that.

And so what if the University of Chicago is “Where Fun Goes to Die,” according to the t-shirts they sell there? Its high academic standing is a transparent ruse to keep responsible parents, e.g., me, from finding out about the keggers and orgies. But let’s not even talk about the school. Let’s talk about not being ready. He didn’t even get his driver’s license on the first try. And yeah, maybe I didn’t pass on my first time, either. Apples and oranges. “Robert,” as he suddenly wants everybody to call him, was tested by dedicated civil servants. I was tested by a bitter loser who felt threatened by my power.

Eventually he fooled them, and we had to let him drive, because who doesn’t long for the day when his car insurance rises sharply overnight? Who among us hasn’t said, “The car looks nice the way it is, but you know what would complete the picture? A 3-foot-long dent on the driver’s side.” And no house is complete without a gouge beside the garage door because 10 years of obsessive video gaming have convinced your son that cars come with a “parking reset button.”

Don’t even mention that time I sideswiped the family station wagon entering the Christmas tree farm where I was working. That gate was much narrower than a garage door. Plus, I’m pretty sure I was swerving to avoid a rabbit crossing the road. So, my son: immature adolescent inattention bordering on criminal neglect; me: collateral damage from protecting fluffy bunnies.

Oh, and when I totaled my dad’s car slamming into a telephone pole? Completely different circumstances. What are the odds that I would fall asleep at the wheel twice in less than two weeks? I’m no mathematician, but I have to figure they’re astronomical. And when did this discussion become about me? We are talking about my son and his complete unreadiness to leave me behind by myself without him.

I mean face the challenges of living on his own in college.

How could I have been so blind? The precociousness, the endless curiosity about the larger world, the initiative in getting two summer jobs – it was all part of the plan to walk out without a backward glance. A plan that has become a vast conspiracy. During his construction jobs, he somehow conned his bosses into praising his responsibility and work ethic. When they ended, he bugged some local bartenders until one of them, perennial Portland favorite Michelle Bathurst at The Snug, agreed to let him shadow her.

After a couple of weeks I walk in to check on him. He must have seen me coming. All of a sudden he’s walking around like he knows what he’s doing, cleaning, pouring, joking with Michelle and customers. He doesn’t appear to see me come in, but he has my club soda with lime in front of me when before I sit down. Then the whole scam starts. First the patrons: “Oh, are you Robert’s dad? He’s great. We like Robert. Hard worker. You mean Chicago Bobby? He knows how I like my drink. ” And then Michelle comes over, “You raised a good kid, there. I’m going to miss him.”

The spontaneity, every remark unsolicited – he obviously set the whole thing up to make it look like he could function in society as a competent adult.

Sometimes I think he does these things just to hurt me.

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Portland resident Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at mikelangworthy@me.com.

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