Friday, November 21, 2008

How Did This Kid Come From Me?

When our son 4M started high school, he transferred from the tiny Catholic school that all our kids have attended, to the large public high school (which all our kids have also attended). Since he hadn’t gone to the public middle school, we had to enroll him at the start of the school year. And, since I work out of town, tasks like that typically fall to Molly. So, she took 4M to the school office to get him enrolled, amid the chaos of the first day of school (at a school which we already knew was somewhat ‘administratively challenged’)

So Molly and 4M are standing at the counter in the school office, waiting for some or another administrative functionary to do some or another administrative function that needs doing, so 4M can take his place in the long line of students at Large Public High. While they’re standing there, quietly minding their own business, a young lady sidles up to 4M, in full view and hearing of his mother, and says, completely unsolicited, “You’re hot!”

Which took Molly back, just a bit. I mean, in our day, the girls were more, uh, subtle about insinuating themselves into our attention. Heck, in my case, they were SO subtle that I’m hard-pressed to recall any attempts at insinuation. But that, as they say, was then, and this is now.

I have alluded previously (although it may have been a while ago) that 4M is something of an All-American Boy – tall, good-looking, athletic, hard-working, honor student, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent, and all the rest . And as such, he has attracted somewhat more than the usual share of attention from the fair sex. Which leaves me somewhere between scratching my head in perplexity, and scratching my head with something more akin to envy. (Molly swears that he’s mine; I asked, just to be sure). Which might account for the density of the hair on the top of my head.


Also, when 4M was still in the Catholic middle school, he attracted the attention of a young lady from one of the other Catholic schools in OurTown. A very attractive young lady, and the daughter of a dentist. Over time, as they passed into high school (she went to the Catholic high school, but that hardly mattered, since 4M had lots of friends that went there), their relationship grew into something of a more ‘serious’ nature.

Molly and I resisted him having a girlfriend, reasoning that such an ‘exclusive’ relationship really only had its appropriate context when marriage was a possible end result. But, we also knew that we didn’t want to ‘drive the relationship underground’. So, we developed a kind of uneasy truce.

Once, a couple years ago, Molly and I went away for a 4-day weekend retreat. We farmed the younger kids out to spend the weekend at friends’ houses, but we let 4M and 5M stay at home, to fend for themselves in our absence. Before we left, we told the boys to mind themselves, because if they misbehaved, our neighbors in the community would let us know. Assured that they would be on their best behavior, we went on our retreat.

A couple days later, in the midst of the retreat, we got a phone call from one of the neighbors, saying that they’d seen a young lady going into our house, and then noticing that all the shades were drawn. I asked my neighbor what, exactly, he’d be willing to do in the situation, and he said, what do you want me to do?

I asked him if he’d be willing to go over and knock on the door, and let 4M know that his parents were up to speed on what he was up to, and that it was time for the young lady to be on her way. Which he did, and he called me back to report on the outcome.

He explained how he’d let himself into the house, and found 4M and the young lady sitting together on the couch, and he’d said what we’d agreed he would, and the young lady left.

“And I have to tell you,” he continued, “this was an EXTREMELY good-looking young lady.”


So, we had the long talk about trustworthiness (following on his late-night escapades with his sister’s car), and what was appropriate behavior for a single young man with members of the opposite sex, and so forth. I even took him over to the girl’s house, and had him apologize to her father (which, though the dad took it with all due seriousness, also amused him somewhat).


4M also convinced us to get him a cell phone, so we could stay in touch with him, given all our respective busy schedules. We looked into it, and if we dropped the long-distance from our home phone, it was actually a decently attractive deal, from a financial standpoint. What we hadn’t fully reckoned with, in our naivete, was that there were other people for 4M to talk to on his cell phone besides us. And his cell phone could do incoming calls just as well as outgoing ones.

One morning at the breakfast table, 4M was especially groggy, and he had an odd look on his face. I asked him how he’d slept, and he said “not so good”. I asked why not, and he got a very odd look, and he pulled me aside to talk privately.

“A girl called me at 2AM,” he said.

What? What in the world did she have to say to you at 2AM?

“She said she was horny, and wanted me to come over to her house so we could have sex.”

Well, I just about dropped my teeth. Two thoughts immediately shot through my brain –

1) That’s a pretty bold little chickadee, right there, and
2) Where were the girls like that when I was in high school? (I'm kidding!)

I did trouble to ask whether he had gone to her house, and he assured me he hadn’t, but that he found the whole experience to be perplexing. Which perplexity was reassuring to me, as his father. And we had a good father-son heart-to-heart on the general topic of “How shall a young man keep himself pure?” (Ps. 119:9)


The thing is, 4M really does aim at living a Christian life, as best he’s able. And I want to help him do that, as best I’m able. But I confess that the combination of his own junior-stud-muffin looks and the, uh, more aggressive nature of the young women of his acquaintance, have presented him with a degree of challenge that I never had to face. In fact, we ended up backing off some in our resistance to his having a girlfriend, because he told us that, if he had a girlfriend, the other girls would leave him alone. Which really has proven to be the case.

And I keep asking myself, where did this kid come from? Neither Molly nor I were super-popular in high school, and while we weren’t considered ugly, we weren’t considered more-than-normally attractive, either. So, a son who has strangers sidling up to him in the hall, telling him how hot he is, in front of his mother, is a little bit outside our experience. I genuinely appreciate his heart, and his determination to do the right thing. But sometimes, I can only shake my head at what he’s been given to deal with. One of Molly’s favorite sayings is, “It takes a steady hand to hold a full cup,” and I only hope that, especially as he gets older, and living on his own, he can have a hand that’s steady enough to deal with the cup he’s been given. . .

Monday, November 17, 2008


Saturday afternoon, my sons and I partook of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (that's confession, for those of you who aren't up on the 'proper sacramental terminology'). And, as he is often wont to do, my priest gave me, as my penance, to read and meditate upon the scriptures for this Sunday's liturgy, which included this passage from Proverbs 31 (vv 10-13, 25-26, 28-31) -

When one finds a worthy wife,
she is far more precious than jewels.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil,
all the days of her life.
. . .
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
. . .
Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
"Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all."
Charm is decietful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the gates.

I won't go into detail on precisely what I confessed, but it was astoundingly appropriate that my penance should include a meditation on the excellent woman whom God has given me for my wife. It's like this entire chapter of Proverbs, which is usually taken as a kind of 'idealized' portrait of a godly wife, was written by someone with detailed knowledge of Molly's life. She really is, and has been since I've known her, 'far more precious than jewels'. And, as I've entrusted my heart to her, she has shown herself over and over to be 'an unfailing prize'. And she has certainly brought me good, and not evil, every day since we've been married.

I know, I know, it's not like this is breaking any new ground here on this blog; I've been singing my wife's praises around these parts from the very beginning. But, when God goes to all the trouble of confirming the message from the Scriptures, and in a sacramental context, no less. . . well, I have to pay attention to it, don't I?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Uh. . . Thanks

Way back when I still worked for my previous employer, an automotive supplier in OurTown, we moved to a new office building which included, for the first time in my own youthful existence, a ‘Fitness Center’. It was mostly just an open area, where folks could have aerobics classes, or other forms of strenuous (or not-so-strenuous) exercise, on the theory that fit employees will work harder and be happier, and cost less in health coverage. The center also contained a large multi-station weight machine, a couple racks of free weights, a few stationary bikes and a rowing machine.

For my purposes, the main feature of the fitness center was the showers. Those enabled me to ride my bike to work during the months when the roads weren’t snow-covered (it was about 5 miles from my house to the office, which I could cover in about 20 minutes), and to do short workout rides on my lunch hour a couple days a week (there was enough time for me to get in about 12 miles, shower and get back to my desk in a little over an hour).

Of course, when I was showering after my workout, lots of other guys were in the locker-room at the same time, having done their own lunch-hour workouts. One group of guys were into body-building – they’d lift weights with the specific goal of building large, well-defined muscles, and they’d spend a fair bit of time in front of the mirror, making sure that all their work was paying off in terms of how buff they looked.

Now, at this point, I should say that, all the cycling I was doing in those days (upwards of 3000 miles/year) was having its effect on my own physique, such as it was. Specifically, my legs got very strong, and chiseled-looking in their own right. Check out any avid cyclist’s legs, and they’re probably pretty tight and ripped-looking. But I didn’t have a ‘Body Beautiful’ by any stretch of the imagination – I didn’t do any lifting, or anything to build up my upper body, or shoulders, or anything like that, and I still had a round gut that was a couple sizes too big. I just liked to ride my bike, and I liked being in good aerobic shape. At least, good aerobic shape for a fat guy.

So one day, having completed my lunch-hour ride, I was drying off after my shower. One of the body-building guys was getting dressed at a nearby locker. As I got dressed to head back to my office, he nodded in my direction, and said, “You got really nice legs.”

Uh. . . excuse me?

“You got really nice legs,” he repeated. “How do you get those?”

Okay, now this was really, really weird. Looking back, even a couple hours later, I suppose I understood that he was just talking out of his body-building focus, expressing admiration for something he was trying to accomplish for himself. But right there, on the spur of the moment, it felt the least bit creepy. Suddenly, I had a deeper, existential understanding of what women talk about when they say they feel like pieces of meat when men check out their bodies. You know, I might even have been flattered if one of the women complimented my strong, manly legs as I sauntered through the gym after my ride. But another guy. . . in the locker-room. . . both of us half-dressed (or less). . . not so much.

I mumbled something about riding my bike a lot, and hurried to get dressed and get out of there, while my body-building co-worker pressed me – you don’t do any lifting, or leg-work? Only cycling?

Yup, just cycling. Well, gotta go. . . big project. . . see ya ‘round. . .

I felt bad leaving him standing there like that, but I’m pretty sure he just turned and started checking out his own legs in the mirror, wondering to himself, “Cycling, huh? . . .”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Zebra Dreams

All our kids have played middle-school basketball, from 5th through 8th grades, starting with 1F, and down to the present day, with 6F being in 8th grade. 7M is in 5th grade, so he’ll play this winter (our middle-school girls play in the fall, since the small Catholic schools that form a league together, mostly only have one gym, and it’s hard enough to try to schedule four teams’ practices in one gym; eight would be impossible).

A couple weeks ago, 6F’s team played a game against a team from a school across town, one of whose players was the daughter of Tom Izzo, the Michigan State University basketball coach (such are the occasional perks of living in the shadow of a Big Ten university; several years ago, 3M played a few games against Nick Saban’s son. . .) Coach Izzo came to watch his daughter, which created a minor buzz in the ancient, inner-city gym (for the most part, people let him watch his daughter in peace, but everyone was aware of his presence, you can be sure). The game was played, 6F’s team lost a close game (neither she nor young Miss Izzo scored any points), and we packed up to head home.

On the way home, Molly mused, “How do you suppose the referees felt about calling a game in front of Tom Izzo?”

I had to laugh; it hadn’t really occurred to me to wonder about that, but it was funny to think about. For these middle-school basketball games, the referees are usually young-ish guys in their 20s, maybe even college kids, who are paid $25/game, usually for two games. They get way more than their share of grief from parents who are convinced their offspring will be the next incarnation of LeBron James, or Candace Parker. But it might be the tiniest bit more intimidating, mightn’t it, calling a game where one of the parents in the bleachers has coached in four Final Fours, won a national championship, and been T’d up by the very best, on national television. . .