I was standing on the basketball court talking to my son. On this occasion, we did not have the gym to ourselves as we sometimes do. Instead, I was trying to teach another lesson about life.
In mid-sentence, my son turned and took a lazy layup. I called out to him with a little more force and a bit more bass then normal.
“Son don’t ever turn your back to me while I am talking to you,” I said as he walks back toward me. “If I had done something like that while my dad was talking to me, I would be part of this gym floor.”
My son has told me many times that he is glad I am not my father, but sometimes I wonder whether or not this kinder and gentler form of fathering is really working.
My son now stands in front of me as straight as a soldier. His posture is an over-correction to his earlier actions, but I let it slide.
My son’s face is frozen. Although I cannot put my fingers on it, there is something going on there behind those eyes. Is it contempt, complacency, or compliance?
Although I am not quite sure which of the above reasons is the cause of my son’s petulance, I do know that I don’t like his attitude. I tell him as much, and for the second time in a short while, I am having flashbacks of what my dad would do.
My son’s countenance changes but now his feet are moving. It is as if his tennis shoes are too small and constant movement dulls the pain.
“What are you doing? Why are you moving your feet like that?”
He shakes his head and starts to speak, but the words escape him.
I close the short distance between us and again I ask him to speak.
“Men speak, son,” I said. “All of this isn’t necessary. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t say it mean. So speak.”
I did not expect what happened next. My son started to cry.
“I don’t have any time to do anything,” he said. “All I do is work. I work three jobs.”
I would like to tell you that at this point things got all warm and fuzzy, but they did not. My son likes to eat and his car likes gas. I believe if a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat. I also believe, as Abraham Lincoln stated, “No man should do permanently for another man what he could and should do for himself.”
My son’s door to childhood is closing fast. He knows this. He’s had a glimpse of the adult world and doesn’t like it. The money tree in our backyard is dying, and he never saw it coming.
“Son, I work,” I explained. “Men are supposed to work. This matter was settled when Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. Now, if you don’t have time to do things for yourself, you have a time management problem, not a work problem. You should have funds in your entertainment budget to go out with friends or catch a movie.”
I say all of this while we are standing in a gym. He isn’t working at the moment but I don’t point that out.
“I don’t have any friends, you won’t let me hang out with them,” he replied.
“Your friends don’t work and they make poor decisions, so you cannot hang out with them,” I told him. The Bible says, ‘It is better to encounter a bear robbed of her cubs then to be in the company of a foolish person.’ As long as your friends aren’t working or doing things that aren’t constructive, they aren’t welcome in our home or around you. That really isn’t a call I should have to make. You should care enough about your own hopes and dreams to make that call.”
An errant ball bounces very close to us. My son swats it away as if the ball has done something to him.
“Listen, I know it seems tough, but for the next several years you are going to have to balance and juggle work, studies, and sports,” I said. “Those things will seem constant, but you must endure. I am preparing you for that now. The reason I make you work for someone and also work for yourself is because I want you to be able to compare and contrast the two. You will be a better man as a result of working like this.”
We exit the gym together. I have to go, and my son doesn’t want to practice shooting anymore. He takes a seat in the lobby, I suppose to think things through. Either way, I am not overly concerned. How can I be? What options do I have? What options does my son have? God made him male, and as his dad, I must help him become a man.
I left him in the gym lobby, a man alone with his thoughts.