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It’s Only Funny Because I Stopped: Thoughts from a Hypocrite Dad

August 11, 2012



My young adult/teenage children probably can’t help but think of me as hypocritical when it comes to my active efforts to steer them away from drugs, alcohol, casual sex, and other parent-decreed ills.  As they endure some grounding or other punishment designed to nip in the bud any early slippage or suffer through yet another overwrought, emotional lecture aimed at hard-wiring into their brains a knee-jerk aversion to the things I declare harmful, I imagine they immediately remember the numberless times they have overheard me happily sharing memories with friends (and even parents) of my own teenage adventures, laughing uproariously at the wackiness that ensued as I undertook many of the same activities I now hold out to them as sure one-way tickets to ruined lives.  I’ve thought about and wrestled with my “hypocrisy,” often worrying whether I have somehow evolved into the blind, unfair Dad who just doesn’t get it that I never thought I’d be.

I have come to a realization recently however that has eased my concerns about having adopted a double standard with my kids.  I now recognize that my stories and anecdotes are only humorous in hindsight; they are only funny because I stopped.  The cheery nostalgia of my tales relies 100 percent on the fact of my having eventually changed my behavior.  I stopped making bad decisions, or at least the particular types of bad decisions cited here, prior to suffering any of the potential horrible consequences I now so desperately want to protect my children from.  Of course, I’d like to think I avoided unhappy outcomes because I was smart about my teenage stupidity, but as I reflect on friends and family who were not so fortunate, I’ve grown to accept simple dumb luck as the more likely explanation for my avoidance of grief.

I fondly reminisce about the creative and elaborate strategies employed by me and my underage buds to obtain beer on Friday and Saturday nights, and our determination to finish all of whatever we got our hands on because who knew when we’d be able to score more.  But what about my own father who started imbibing young for fun, adventure, and to be “grown up” and ended up slipping into decades of alcoholism, lost years of close relationship with his son, and only finally recovered after converting to a religion called Alcoholics Anonymous and dedicating himself to multiple meetings a day and active proselyting for his new faith for the rest of his life.  Or what about my sad grandfather who I so wish I could have known better but who died alone and drunk after spending a lifetime exacerbating his innate depressive nature by mistakenly trying to cure it through escape into a bottle.

I laugh about the day at age 13 or 14 when I sucked down an entire pack of Marlboro Reds while hanging out with an older, female cousin who smoked and who I thought was foxy and urgently wanted to impress.  Aren’t kids silly?  But what about my revered, expert hunter and fisherman, tattooed uncle who started smoking Lucky Strikes as a punk kid to fit in with the greased up, super cool 1950s Utah hoods and later with his Navy shipmates and who now labors to breathe thanks to the progressive damage inflicted on his lungs by the emphysema that will soon kill him.

What great stories I have about the ingenious schemes my younger self utilized to steal cassettes by my favorite hard rock artists from the local Grand Central store or to obtain partying money by refilling and reselling used popcorn and drink containers when I worked at the Orpheum Theater so I could pocket the receipts while still having a perfect inventory count at the end of the night.  But what about my various relatives-in-law who were snatched away from their families to do prison time because it was such a simple matter to leave a few tires outside the Costco auto bay when they locked up at night so they could come back later to pick up and sell them on the side, or because it was just so damn easy to obtain credit cards with fake identities and then use them to buy all the cool stuff they coveted but couldn’t afford.

Man, we’d get excited when we were able to convince a few girls to join us for an unsupervised keg party at the house of some buddy whose parents had gone away for the weekend.  Booze meant babes with lowered inhibitions, which coupled with our teenage male horniness, created what we thought was the perfect storm for making adolescent fantasies come true.  And after that night when Vicki let me touch her boob at the drive-in, there was no doubt I was going to ask her out again.  But what about my step-cousins who took on unplanned parenthood before they were old enough to vote or went through the trauma of an abortion while concurrently worrying about not failing tomorrow’s chemistry exam.   Or, let’s consider my beloved female cousin whose rape while tipsy at a drunken youthful party couldn’t help but have contributed to her premature streak of grey hair and years of struggle as the single mother of two kids by separate fathers, neither of whom stayed around long.

My ’56 Chevy pickup modified to hold a Corvette engine kicked ass in the block-long illegal drag races we’d undertake regularly on or around Washington Boulevard on weekend nights whenever some douche bag in a hopped-up El Camino or Camaro erroneously believed his car was the shyte.  Memories of avoiding cops and playing chicken through intersections to demonstrate that one did not mess with the “Bad ‘56” can still bring a smile to my face today in spite of my now knowing better.  But what about my young uncle who died a horrific, fiery death, leaving behind two beautiful red-haired daughters, when he and another trucker decided to compete unnecessarily for the front position on a lonely, windswept two-lane highway in the vast emptiness of the mountain west.

I can’t help but feel kind of cool when I share with less-experienced friends and colleagues  stories of my youthful experimentation with marijuana, cocaine, speed, and magic mushrooms.  (Man, it felt like I was endlessly sinking into the bottomless abyss of my waterbed. Wild!)  But what of my cousin whose similar “fun” experiments eventually led her to a not-in-the-plans crystal meth addiction that had her stealing from a trusting grandmother and inventing false stories of cancer diagnoses all in service of obtaining the necessary funds to feed her need.

In the end, I have decided I’m not a hypocrite; I’m just a father who deeply loves his children.  I am extremely lucky that my youthful foolishness only left me with great, funny stories vice life-long hurt.  I may not be able to keep myself from reciting or blogging them, but I can say without doubt that I would gladly trade away every single one of my romantic tales of “daring to be bad” in my youth if it would mean saving even one of my loved ones cited here their sad misfortunes.  Going forward, I will continue to do my best, in my often ham-handed and imperfect way, to protect my children from the maybe-not-inevitable-but-still-possible consequences than can result from bad decisions, even if I myself happen to have been lucky enough to enjoy my stupidity cake and eat it too.

Please let my treasured children do as I say and not as I do.

From → Family, Ideas

  1. This story certain hit home- I wonder how we got through it all-of course, some didn’t. As over protective as I was, I lost my beloved son at age 15 from a “unknown cold virus that got in his heart”. My life had never been easy. It changed completely on that most horrible of days. Even the realization that my “being right there” wasn’t always enough hasn’t changed me from trying to emphasize “being careful”. I appreciate your reading my Legacy article TWICE, and encouraging me to add more. I made books of my family stories for my elder relatives and my kids. I drew from them often, but rather doubt I will publish them in their entirety. Since I write on a variety of topics, I am sure you will see references to my Legacy again. Please continue to read my word, and follow if you are not. I appreciate your interest in my story. I haveBejoyed your blog as well. best wishes, beebeesworld

  2. Bt the way, I am also a great admirer of Kahlil Gibran! beebee

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