How I Learned To Live With My Teenage Sons Hating Me
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What’s the hardest part about being a dad?
For me, unquestionably the most challenging part of being a dad was the cold and bleak Russian winter, sometimes called having teenager. When Thomas Paine said, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” it was thought to refer to the American revolution. More likely he had teenagers at home, another very real revolution.
A little background. My ex-wife and I separated when our sons were 4 & 6. I was an older (first child at 43) and very engaged dad. This is my first day of fatherhood:
I didn’t move for over an hour as Sam’s grip on my finger meant the world to me. I formed a daddy’s play group, all with dads over 40 that met every Saturday for nearly two years. Until my children started preschool I took every Wednesday off from my law practice to spend the day with them. From Pre-K through the 6th grade I was one or the other or both’s class room parent 11 times (it does help to be self-employed).
My ex and I shared parenting seamlessly when we were together and did not miss a beat when our marriage ended. We well could have been the poster couple for post marriage mutually supportive co-parenting friendship. This is all by way of saying that I built an identity around who I was as a dad and the kind of relationship I had with my sons. All I can say is to beware of the pinnacle you put yourself on cause it is a long way down, when you are tossed from the top.
It felt like I went from hero to chump overnight.
I was completely unprepared at about their age 13 to have them roughly push be out of their lives, maybe except for sports, though I knew to stop coaching them at about age 12. They needed a coach they did not call dad. It felt like I went from hero to chump overnight. I could say or do nothing right.
And oh, the mean things they said to me. I came to think of it as gratuitous meanness, meanness for meanness sake. I made the mistake of taking it personally, I was hurt and angry, so I fought back which only made it worse. I give a lot of credit to my ex-wife, who would talk me down from the ledge. She was generally more detached than me and a family therapist and encouraged me to understand that this was a “normal” process of separation. Not fun, but at least normal. They were hard on her too.
It was really inexplicable. They were still both excellent students and accomplished athletes and oddly other adults would give them the highest praise. It seems like a compartmentalized stage aimed at parents. It was not without its amusing and rewarding moments.
When my youngest was 14-15 I was still trying to hang on to my old role (I’m a slow learner) and signed up to chaperone his first school dance. Driving home:
Harry: Dad, I thought you did a great job chaperoning.
Me: Thanks, Harry.
H: I can see you really enjoyed yourself.
M: Yes, I did.
H: You have every right to chaperone if you want to, and I would not ask you not to.
M: Thanks, Harry.
H : Just so you know I won’t be going to the dances you chaperone.
Actually, I thought he was brilliant in how he handled it. I got the message.
Driving home from baseball practice age 15-16:
M: Harry, your mom and I have been talking. I’m going to ask you a question that you’re not going to like. Let’s just get it done.
H: Whatever, Dad.
M: Would it be useful if I got you some condoms?
H: Well Dad I don’t need them right at this moment, (pause) but that could change at any time. Come to think of it, I’d rather have you get them now when there is nothing for you to ask about then to wait until there is. By all means, let’s get them. Tonight?
I will say that at 17-18 when they went away to college things improved almost immediately. They had tangible indicia of their independence, not only in their living situation, but in the choices I was making.
Peter Stanwyck is a small business attorney and litigation lawyer in the San Francisco Bay Area. See more of his Quora posts here: