It happened all at once. Up until that horrible moment, I thought I was doing ok as a dad – fun enough, disciplinarian enough, occasional flashes of parenting brilliance (like taking Ari and his friends for a paintball birthday party), cool enough to talk to about where babies come from – in short, not someone 11 year old Ari would feel the need to call Social Services about. Then it all came crashing down. In one conversation. And I walked right into it.
There had been a big confrontation brewing over Ari’s not having a cell phone of his own. He was 11, and Karen and I decided he was too young and didn’t need one yet. For the most part, he accepted this indignity with more or less (mostly less) equanimity, and while there had been many “discussions”, there had been no major explosion.
Then one night, the argument began again, only this time something was different. He was agitated, angry, and clearly ready for a brawl. I took a deep breath and waded in. For the better part of the next 20 minutes, I held my own. And then …
“But I NEEEEED my own phone.” Ari said this, obviously, since I already had my own phone.
“Why? What do you so badly need a phone for???!!” I said this, breaking the classic rule of cross examination: never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.
“Well?? What?” Me again, now breaking the classic rule of parenting cross examination: if you’re not sure that you really want the answer, trust me, you don’t.
Anguished silence. Then, “I have a girlfriend.” And like THAT, the earth shifted under everyone’s feet. I had to look at this from a completely different angle.
“You have a girlfriend.” Nod. “A girlfriend”. Nod. “And you want to talk to her.” Nod.
A sense of euphoria flowed through my body. This was going to end SO well! I was going to be a hero! I picked up one of our house phones and held it out.
“Here, sweetie, I completely understand. You can use the phone anytime you want!” I said magnanimously.
Silence again. I shifted uneasily. The look on his face wasn’t one of unbridled joy and gratitude – the one I had been hoping, nay CERTAIN, I would receive. Actually, it was a look of pure disgust. That look said, “I have met some stupid people in my 11 years on this planet. I have met some whose stupidity was so great as to defy description, even with extensive use of 11 year old hyperbole. But you. YOU. You are without a doubt number one. Numero uno. Top dog. Stupidest one out there.” All this, I read into that look. Alarmed, I tried to see where my brilliant plan had gone so badly awry. Then he enlightened me.
It started with a deeeeeeep sigh. Then, as if explaining to a small child that the sun will indeed come up tomorrow even though it has disappeared tonight, he said, “I don’t want to call her.”
um. what? WHAT? I DON’T GET IT???!! I just looked at him, not understanding. More sighing from Ari. Now a full eye roll. His look even turned pitying.
“I want to text her.”
Oh. Text her. I let the phone in my hand drop to the couch, knowing nothing would ever be the same. I was now officially: an idiot. Make that THE idiot.