Sunday, August 21, 2005

Heroes For a Day (or Two)

It's not often that parents of an eighteen-year-old son can be heroes for a day. By the time your son or daughter has spent a year at college parental aspirations of heroism have long faded. Sometimes it's because the parents have done a better-than-adequate job in helping their youngster fly with open wings from the family nest into a new world of independence. Or it might be because your young adult son or daughter has found ways to connect with others who can meet the needs they have. So, I guess, these are moments where parents can decide to be heroes for a day.

Our son and his best friend have significant others in a distant rural community nearly seven hours away from our home. Throughout the school year Kyle and Trevor have periodically made the trip from the Twin Cities (which cuts off three or four hours from the trip) and once or twice this summer. Kyle's friend has had a love interest in this small community for more than a year now, while Kyle has recently pursued this girl's best friend. "Pursue" might be too strong of a word, because it seems like more a mutual interest. For a couple of weeks now the two guys have been planning a last-of-summer trip to visit their girls, and they left on Friday morning for the weekend.

The rest of us in our family went about our plans on Friday. We did some errands in a nearby town and then met for a 1:15 showing of "Rebound." During the movie Kyle called my cell phone, and I chose to text him back rather than disturb my movie watching. After the movie, though, I called Kyle who sheepishly told me that he and Trevor were in the same city we were, watching a movie at a different theater. "Trevor's car broke down." "Oh, I said," so what does that mean for your trip this weekend?" "Well, it looks like it's off," was his response. "That's too bad," I commisserated, "I know you were really looking forward to it."

A brief excursus is necessary at this point. A number of days ago, when Kyle first mentioned this plan, I responded with less than a joyous response. I conveyed in a rather passionate discourse why I was disturbed that he would spend his last weekend of the summer hours away with a girl we had never met. I did my best to convey my disappointment that he would choose a weekend away from his family, when he would be leaving in days and see us only three or four times in the next several months. He was undeterred by my passionate, if misguided, appeal to the value of family, and I settled for what I knew would be the outcome.

So, as I commisserated with Kyle's plight, I was not surprised by his next words, "Is there any chance we could take one the vehicles [meaning one of our family's vehicles] instead?"

A second brief excursus is necessary at this point. We have consistently told Kyle over the course of the past few years that if he wanted to buy a car we would help him finance one once he had saved $1,000. His lifestyle choices have hitherto prevented that from happening -- movies and other forms of entertainment have found Kyle's heart more than saving for a car, so Claudia and I have not been very receptive to Kyle's plaintive pleas for a vehicle. Our typical response has been, "Well, Kyle, we hope you can use those DVDs and tickets you've been buying over the past three years to help you out with your transportation needs." And usually his friends have been able to come through with transportation plans, and Kyle has found what he needed to get where he needs to go.

My immediate response, then, to Kyle's request was, "Well, Kyle, the old van isn't really in any condition to be traveling hundreds of miles this weekend." "Well, Dad, I was kind of thinking of the new van; it's intended for long distances." He was really stretching here, and I calmly replied, "I don't think so, son. Sorry." He never bothered to ask about the car, which I knew was his preferred mode of transportation anyway. We exchanged pleasantries, and I said, "So, guess we'll see you at home later today, huh?" "Yeah, guess so."

I called Claudia, mentioned Kyle's situation and said sarcastically, "Well, here's our big chance to be Kyle's savior." She said, "Is that something you really want to do?" "Not on your life, " I said, "he gets what he gets." In the minutes that followed though, I thought a little further. Was Kyle doing something we didn't want him to do? Not really. Would his visit with New Love have appropriate boundaries. Yes, her parents would be present or available at nearly all times. Had Kyle done anything throughout the summer to cause us to mistrust him? No, his attitude and behavior during the summer had been generally that of a growing young adult. So, I called Claudia back, and we decided that perhaps we should become Heroes for a day (or two).

I called Kyle. "Hey, Kyle," I said. "Yeah, Dad." "I'm wondering ... would you and Trevor like to take the car this weekend?" Long silence. "Are you kidding? You mean we could really do that?" "Yeah," I said, "Mom and I think that would be fine." "That'd be freakin' awesome, and I'd love you a lot!" [It's worth noting that while the first clause of the previous sentence is typical Kyle, the second clause is not]. "So, come on home and pick up the car and get yourselves on your way," I said. "You're serious about this, Dad? We can really do that?" "Yep, see you soon." After a few seconds of stunned silence, Kyle's response was, "Uh, ok, Dad. See you soon."

I must confess that over the past couple of years I have done my best/worst to guilt Kyle into feeling the value of a family. We have gone round and round about why he needs to be involved in what we do and how he needs to display less selfish and more others-centered ways. You know, the whole last-minute parenting efforts to try to assuage your parental conscience that your young adult son or daughter is ready enough to enter the real world. These efforts on my part have been, for the most, ineffective and resulted in making myself only feel manipulative and shallow. On the other hand, to experience the joy of Kyle's surprise at this opportunity has flooded my soul with joy. Part of the joy comes from the surprise on his part (a surprise, I might add, that Kyle would not have experienced had Claudia and I not been consistent in the past few years in disrupting his sense of entitlement), and part of the joy comes from knowing that we would be able to do something of heroic proportions in the eyes of an eighteen-year-old and his friend.

I even decided to step up the heroism just a bit more. I filled up the car with gas (not a haphazard action when gas is now $2.60 a gallon), washed the car and got it home so that Kyle wouldn't have to wait too long before his departure. On his way to the car, in a still-shocked stupor, Kyle paused for a moment and I said, "Kyle, I want you to understand why Mom and I are doing this. You have shown yourself to be trustworthy this summer, and this is a demonstrable way we can tell you we have noticed and love you. We know this is something you want to do, and we're glad we can help it happen. Have a good time, and remember we love you." I hugged him, kissed him on the top of the head and sent him off for his weekend adventure.

Five minutes later I called him. "Kyle?" "Yeah, dad." "Having a good time?" "Ummm, yeah." "Well, I won't bother you again for a while, but I need you to look in the space between the seats. There's a $20 bill and a credit card there." "No, I don't see that there. Sorry." "No, Kyle, it's a statement, not a question. There *is* a $20 bill and a credit card there." "Oh, yeah, I see it now." "That's for you and Trevor." Long pause. "Mom and I want you and Trevor to use the $20 for food on the way and to use the credit card to pay for gas." "Sooo, you're going to buy the gas, too?" "Yeah, have a nice time, son." "Yeah, OK, dad. Ummm. Thanks. You know what really sucks?" "What's that, Kyle?" "Trevor's transmission is going to have to be replaced and it's going to cost him $2300." "Well, at least he won't have to worry about paying for gas this weekend, will he?" "No. Guess not. Thanks again, Dad."

Ah, the joy of being a hero for a day (or two).

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