The Parent’s cherry tree
It was high-stress time. I work in the corporate offices of a large bank downtown. For five months I’ve been asking for help with a multimillion dollar project while juggling five smaller ones as well, and working fourteen hour days. My wife would often laugh and tell me how I fell asleep on the sofa in mid-sentence, or how I’d switch from one topic to commercial property value as I drifted off. But I was managing to keep my head above the corporate waves of schedules and meetings and risk management by cutting loose details of lesser importance, like the captain of a sail boat might cut loose a broken mast so it doesn’t capsize the ship. Yeah, I may have been spitting out a bit of sea water, but somehow I was treading water. And then the phone rang.
Every parent has nightmares about such a call. The principal of my son’s high school was on the line and telling me my son had been caught climbing over the chain link fence that surrounded the school and kept all the students in, and his hands smelled of marijuana. No, none had been found on him. Of course I went into panic mode. Yep, somewhere down inside myself there was another gear, a reserve of energy and love we hide away, a secret battery pack only tapped into when when all our energy and mind is wrapped up on something else, and for the survival of family we absolutely need an alternate boost of energy. That is what I shifted into.
I immediately scheduled a meeting with the principal before police or medical tests could be spoken of. As soon as I hung up the phone was on another line with a lawyer, and by the time I ran out of the elevator, I knew my rights, my son’s rights, and how I would handle it.
All the way down I was on the headset postponing meetings and soothing corporate egos, arranging conference calls, but on another level I was going over my meeting with the principal. He wasn’t going to know what hit him! I was a Project Manager alright. And I was going to manage this project too. While I was multi-tasking on a level that should have qualified for the Olympics, a strange thought came to me: In my youth I’d been a hell-raiser. Fist fights, concerts with free love on my mind during the Hippie days was what made my world go around back then. But to succeed I had to stuff that part of me away beneath the tie and suit I now wore. Now I was respectable. That older part of me, however, was calling. What if I used a bit of the Hell-raiser from my wild days, allowed him to come out a little in order to get my son out of this mess? Could I pull it off?
Wow, that principal never knew what hit him. I marched in there with my head set on and slapped my attorney’s card on his desk and shouted a few key points about violating the rights of a minor, and that caused the principal to jump up as though he was going to jump bad and bully me. Hell no, that wasn’t going to happen! I got right up in his face and went nose to nose with him. And I enjoyed it. It was an act, or was it? Wasn’t that the real me, the hell-raiser, and not this office-dwelling, tie-wearing corporate dude? The truth was I was a blend of the two and stronger to be real, to allow them both into my being. My son’s troubles changed me at that moment and allowed me to be who I was.
I could hear in Dylan’s voice that he was shocked by his father’s behavior. He was even more surprised when I called his mom and told her that we wouldn’t be coming home that night. It was time for me to get real with my son. He was turning into a man and needed some real answers. Like every father I had a choice: Should I alter the truth of my past, let him know who his father really is, or give him the ‘George Washington and the Cherry Tree tale’, how his dad had never lied or stepped on a crack or drank beer or smoked pot? This was a young man being confronted with real choices, hard choices every day at school, and I knew he deserved the truth.
So I got us a room at a beach front motel, and I bought us a few beers too. That’s right; it was the boys being real. I told him the stories of my wild days, and I told him of the person I had to become to make it in the world. I told him about smoking pot and what I learned from it. I told him about drugs, and I cried when I remembered losing a friend to them. I told him how I had seen drugs destroy lives.
And he asked a lot of questions. I think he really trusted me now, really knew me. He had the real information to make good choices. It was a change in our relationship. Something shifted at a primal level. There was a new respect that went both ways. And after all the stories and telling him what I had learned from them, we had pizza delivered and watched some stupid sports comedy and laughed. I was pleased to see that after one beer he shifted over to juice.
Without mom there all the rules went right out the window. We ate lying in bed, and threw our napkins on the dresser. Our trash stayed on the table, and the toilet seat stayed up.
About a week later Dylan asked me about university.
And me? Well, the old hell-raiser in me was tempered with age and education, a perfect balance for attacking corporate America. I started pacing at meetings and that allowed me to speak freer and allowed my mind to grasp all the different perspectives of clients and bosses and not be afraid to instantly address concerns and questions. I don’t know if it was the right approach, but it was mine that had been suppressed too long. I was real, and for the first time in years I really looked forward to going to work. I loved it.