I was recently at a train station doing one of my favorite things. People watching. Train stations are great because you can blatantly listen to other people’s conversations, watch their ticks, learn their histories just through sheer proximity.
I watched a young girl grow frustrated with her mother until she finally said, “Mom! This semester’s not going to be like last semester.” I scrolled through imaginings of last semester and concluded by her Amstel Light shirt what the problem might have been.
I watched grandparents gush over their two year old granddaughter who only wanted to run around. They didn’t try to corral her. They just followed to protect her in case something happened. And the two year old knew it. She’d peek behind her every few steps to make sure they were still there and then shriek and run a few more steps.
And then…enter our hero, walking John Wayne’s walk, his eyes locked on the scrolling train times, and intent. My goodness, he was intent personified in creased dockers, a blue Oxford and a navy blue sports coat. Sharply dressed. Tight brown/gray hair. His walk brimming with intent. A prototypical man on a mission.
I’ve always admired people with focus. And although he was just dropping off his son obviously to go back to college this guy was parading through the sea of strangers like he was on a mission to save the world. A duffel slung over his shoulder, he didn’t veer for people. People veered from him.
The son, the cliched lesser son, slouched lazily behind in jeans and a t-shirt and hair in his eyes. He kept enough distance between he and his father so you’d still know they were together but still showing his disapproval by distance from his father.
The father bought the tickets, turned, and handed them to his son. He told him not to put the tickets in his back pocket. The two then waited, both looking up at the train board. Not so much with each other as next to each other. There’s a difference. And when the boy’s train’s track was announced, the kid looked at his Dad for the first time square in the face.
It seemed awkward because for the first time, the father failed to make eye contact with his son. He seemed busy all of a sudden. Checking his pockets and the duffel on the floor in front of him. It was the first time the father seemed unsure.
And then the father pulled folded bills out of his sports coat and handed them to his son. It was a set amount. He’d had it in his pocket waiting. I wondered why he’d waited until the last moment to hand it over.
And when the son stuffed the money into his pocket he looked away again. But then the father lifted his eyes to his son’s face.
“Have fun. Not too much fun,” the father said and smiled but the boy was already too cool and looking around the train station. He nodded but he did it as if he were nodding to some internal thought.
I started cringing because the father saw it too. I could see in his face the pain of a distant child. I wanted to tell him that I thought my parents were idiots too when I was 19. We come back. We grow up. We realize that everyone who came before us are not idiots. My parents didn’t change suddenly when I became 24. I did. Over time.
The boy stuck out his hand and the father took it, still searching his boy’s face. “Call Mom when you get in.” The kid nodded distantly again looking down as if something interested him on the tile floor.
And the boy started easing back. And the father raised his voice a little and yelled out something I couldn’t believe. With a mischievous glint he said, “Hey, remember if you meet someone special…don’t forget to put a thing on your thing.” And he pointed to the boy’s crotch.
A thing on your thing?
That startled the boy into eye contact again. For a moment. But it wasn’t a kind glance. It was a get this guy away from me patronizing glance. And the father knew it. The kid half smiled in an effort to be kind and turned his back and walked onto the escalator. Together, we watched only the back of the boy’s head as he leaned his entire right side on the rail that young people have of draping themselves over everything as if gravity were especially hard on them.
As the boy disappeared, the father took out his phone and began walking towards the exit. It took him a few steps to fully recover his hero walk. And he was gone in seconds.
Put a thing on your thing?
As parents it’s our job to curb the worst impulses of our children to protect them. Why not sexual instincts anymore? Why do we write off the sex drive as sacrosanct even though it’s as dangerous as lying or anger issues.
Pregnancy. VD. And how many times have you seen young people marrying the wrong person because they were fooled into believing that sex was love?
But instead of telling our children this, we tell them to put a thing on their thing as if that would protect them. Instead of acting like adults, too many parents seek to relate to their children by acting like children themselves. Is telling your child to put a thing on his thing just easier than teaching them not to use others. To love others fully?