Thursday, June 18, 2009


It can be a might hard on one’s ego to have a child return home after their first year of college. Suddenly, they’ve become worldly and wise, and you, it is believed by your loving child, have entered the early stages of witless senescence.

When our boys were small, I could tell them anything, and they would trustingly accept my words as true and correct. We’ve all witnessed kids quibbling, in the age-old debate that begins, “My dad is smarter than your dad!” If you and the other dad both happened to be present at the onset of one of these contests, you would glance at the other dad and offer an apologetic smile, knowing you really were smarter than him.

But eventually, this open acceptance of your wisdom begins to waver. It starts when you share information that you know is suspect, and they give you a hard stare as they mull over your words. You can almost hear the gears turning as the machinery of their little mind is locked in a struggle between their faith in your expansive knowledge, and the thought that maybe you really don’t know everything. This uncertainty in your abilities continues to grow until they hit their teen years, and they are convinced that, in fact: you know nothing, intentionally cause them embarrassment, and dress weird. Fortunately, you still know a little more than they do, and they grudgingly tolerate your lectures on the subject, though they’ll never confess it to be true.

It’s a hard day, though, when they return from that first year of college. Now, they see it as their duty to challenge everything you say, as they engage you in critical-thinking debates.

Dad, why do you always skip the Arts section of the newspaper?

Oh, I don’t really care for it much, I guess.


I don’t know! I’m just interested in other things—that’s all.

Is it because you don’t agree with what you see there, or you just don’t understand it?


Look at the photograph of this painting. Would you describe this style as expressionist, realist or post-impressionist?

He holds up the newspaper and I look at the photograph, which I would describe as a one-legged frog, belly-flopping into a Jell-O salad. I decide that before being drawn further into this engagement of cerebral-jousting, the safest thing for me to do is fake a seizure. Which, I do.

If you try this, you will later want to explain that it is a recently diagnosed medical condition, with sudden and unpredictable onset, and that your doctor said it is best if you avoid strenuous mental activity. Then, the next time you recognize that you’re being pulled into a contest of intellectual gymnastics, rigidly contort your face and stare blankly at a corner of the ceiling. At this point, they will search out another victim—hopefully a younger sibling…the younger ones are accustomed to the abuse.

Eventually, your child will be out of college and have a family of their own—and it will be discovered that you are once again filled with wisdom. Then, your advice will be unabashedly pursued as your grandkids challenge the patience, will and intellect of their parents... it’s only fair.

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