There’s a teenager in my house. Until a few years ago, he was my son. But when he turned thirteen, he also became this tall stranger with new pimples around his nose and an insolence in his manners.
For nearly two years now, there’s been an undeclared war between him and me. He wins the skirmishes but he loses the battles. He may get his way every now and then, but he knows that I make the big decisions. I am always tempted to punish him, and I am sure that he has thought of fighting back. We are suddenly to each other two people we don’t like very much. He has ideas that shock me and I have standards that appall him.
Once or twice, we manage to rediscover each other. After a heated argument over why he should roll up his bedding and pick up his soiled clothes and study his lessons, this teenager and I look into each other’s eyes. I search for the baby I woke up for each dawn for, thirteen years ago. I do not know what he looks for in my face but he finds it there because he smiles. The anger vanishes between us although the issue is not solved. Strewn on the floor each morning will be his bedding. Close by, like the molting of a snake, are the algebra lessons undone, the comic books well thumbed, the messy bathroom, the weeping younger sister, and the unwatered lawn…
When I surprise him in his room, I find him staring at the ceiling daydreaming. I am reality, I am the enemy, with my many do’s and don’ts. Sometimes, I feel he and I will never reach each other again. Surely, he may not understand me till he’s a father himself and stands where I do now.
He says he will never marry, which is typically thirteenish. He says when he grows up he will get a good job. Then he will buy a fast car, and take all the pretty girls riding. He goes to school which is not a rich man’s son’s school, and not a poor man’s either. He was doing better last year at his studies, passing by the skin of his teeth. I am not too sure he will pass this year, not even if he has two sets of teeth.
He barely opens his textbooks. He reads adventures, detective stories, aviation magazines – but he reads, thank God! He can sit for hours before the idiot box, the TV, mesmerized by even the most stupid programs. He needs a new pair of shoes and school pants badly, but he wants me to buy him a set of drums (only P300). He will master them, he says. To convince me, he goes about with a pair of sticks tapping out some crazy rhythm on tabletops and windowsills and sometimes, even on the head of a younger brother.
He wants, like all his friends in school, a car and a pair of funny-looking Spanish boots. He will not get either but I am trying to save for a small microscope he saw at Alemar’s.
He does not lie very well. I sent him once on an errand and he was gone three hours. When he returned, he told me that the man I wanted wasn’t there and that he waited, etc. Ten minutes later, he was telling me the truth. He had gone joy riding with a classmate, a boy of 15, who, obviously with his parents’ help, had gotten a license and drove a car of his own.
I went to his school and sought out this license-owning, car driving 15-year old. I found him nice and respectful. But since I will not hand over to this friend and to anyone else the responsibility for my son’s safety, I asked him to stop taking my boy along with him on these rides.
I do not know if it will happen again. He brings home too many envious stories of too many cars on their high school campus. He wants what all his friends want – Noise, Speed, Glitter.
Last week, on the eve of an induction party, I kept him home. He had me believed it was a simple Boy Scout Investiture ceremony and perhaps Coke and cookies later. It turned out to be something more elaborate. They had to have sponsors and he had picked his out. She was much older, a sophisticate from a nearby college. She smoked and drank, and she expected him to call for her at home and take her back. I was quite sure liquor would be sneaked in. If his fifteen-year old friends could get licenses, bringing in a flask was no problem.
It was also his bad luck that the day before the party he handed me a report card with four failing grades. I said simply, stay home. I felt guilty about making him miss the fun, but he was over his hump quicker than expected. At 730 pm, when the party was beginning somewhere in Pasong Tamo, he had a bottle of Coke in one hand, and was horsing around with his brothers and sisters. At home.
Next year, I will send him to a school in the South. I want to take him away from the city, away from souped-up cars and 15-year old drivers and college girls who smoke and drink at 17. I saw Silliman last summer and was impressed. He would board at a place where he must get his own food and put his room in order.
I am not always right about him, but I am right about the things I want for him. I want him to have all the virtues that seem to be going out of fashion – honesty, a respect for the law, compassion, and a curious intelligence. Mine is certainly not a modern attitude because I refuse to be his pal. I am his parent and I will not retreat from that responsibility. I will not give up my parenthood with all its difficulties and loneliness (and its bills) to become my son’s pal. I will not encourage him to think along with his generation that life is one joyride. I allow him his Beatle cut and his passion for Presley. He must allow my passion for his good future.