First appeared 2/20/14 on Uncommon YA
Sensitive is not a dirty word.
Artistic is not an insult.
Creative should be considered a compliment.
And just because someone doesn’t spend his every waking hour “working,” that doesn’t mean he’s lazy.
So yeah, clearly, I’m still chipping away at the old adolescent angst all these years later, lugging some teen baggage. And a lot of what I wish I’d known has to do with my parents, their expectations, their skewed understanding of who I was. I’ll admit my feelings on this matter are pretty contradictory.
On the one hand, I wish I’d known for sure just how wrong Betty and Ralph were about so much (feels good to refer to them by first name, rather adult). Their judgments about my friends and their distaste for my involvement in anything not involving cleats or a helmet were obviously just ignorant. Even so, a part of me listened, absorbed their negativity. Heck, even today, I’m sometimes still flattened by their echoes, those voices that berate me as a loafing grasshopper rather than an industrious ant; that drill into my heart the idea that creative pursuits are a waste of time—and certainly no way to foster testosterone production.
I wish I’d known then not to listen. Knowledge would have saved me years of second-guessing: my talents, my interests, my sense of purpose. Plus, it would have been nice to have the luxury of not having to define myself in contrast to who they expected me to be. To just feel accepted for who I actually was. Honestly though, which one of us has that perfect parental support, that clarity of mind, that easy ride into adulthood, the cooler stocked with grape soda and ultimate self-knowledge? I mean sure, my own kids have the perfect-parental-support thing in their favor (Ben, if you’re reading this, I’m being ironic), but I guess the point of maturing is facing the challenge, making the discovery. The payoff is in looking back with a mix of regret and wonder; the payoff is in the journey itself.
What I’ve come to realize–it’s taken a lifetime, and some days I totally forget it–is that my parents probably had a list of things they wish they knew, as well as their own matching set of baggage. I mean, by the time my dad was twenty-nine, he had three kids (I was the youngest and only son, so yeah, Expectations), and he spent most of his time busting his ass to provide, his off-hours building miles of stone walls. My mother dealt with the fallout of childhood visits to a mental hospital to see her father. Add to that the fact that they grew up during WWII, and came of age as greasers, and it’s almost inevitable they wouldn’t quite know what to do with this shy, sensitive, artistic kid.
And if I think past the disappointment of all they did wrong, I can recall some of the things they managed not to flub. One of my fondest early memories is of my mom and me reading, The Pokey Little Puppy, to be exact. And my dad still has scrapbooks detailing my acting career, so even though he never came out and admitted to pride, there is tangible evidence.
I guess I’m trying to say there’s really no point wishing things were different, or wishing we’d known better. My folks did the best they could with the kid—and the knowledge—they were given, and in our imperfect way, we loved one another. And I’ve come to realize that, even though my worth could never be measured in touchdowns or stone walls, it was there all along. But I couldn’t have known that then. See, adolescence is meant to be equal parts struggle and joy. All things considered, mine was pretty perfectly balanced, and I wouldn’t wish it any other way.