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 Texas : Features : Columns : Notes From Over Here :

My Son Has Just Received
His First Car

by Byron Browne
Well, it was bound to happen. Our son has his first car. At almost twenty years old, maybe he was a little past due but, it has finally arrived in all of itís 1992 Mitsubishi 3000 GT with only 78,000 mile, glory. The car, punctuating our homeís facade like a hood ornament at the top of the drive, has big fat tires and everything and our son is now indeed a Highway Star. He loves it, of course, looks fantastic in it and, after the requisite cursing and small-scale violence involved with learning how to manipulate a standard shift, has added this tool to his ever expanding universe of accoutrement. However, as we zigged and zagged around the local high schoolís parking lot it occurred to me that the car exposes entirely different worlds to the two of us. For my son the vehicle offers status, maturity and of course the freedom of rapid access to whom and whatever he feels drawn towards. For myself I had the selfish and dour thought that the car was just another element propelling my son away from home. Even after his two years in college, I am still, at times, having separation anxiety. I find that Iím still walking around my empty nest kicking at disregarded toys or picking up too short, discarded trousers and pushing them into the hollow recesses of a neglected chest of drawers. But the car is just another, and most probably the penultimate, accessory in a long and varied string of factors and events that has facilitated his exit from everything childhood.

Many parents will tell you that a significant portion of their childís ethos was lost the moment they dropped him or her off at kindergarten. Yes, school. That institution that teaches the three or four Rís, conditions timed structure and how to interact with your peers without, usually, slapping them stupid. Kindergarten, and its ugly stepsisters first and second grade, also teach our children that publicly kissing them is a horror (who of us was not broken the first time our child recoiled from the kiss trying to find its mark on the forehead before sending them in to classes?). School is that Fagin that introduces and demonstrates prejudice and bias. It is there that that great evil, Vanity, which every philosopher from Paul to Gandhi has tried, in vain, to dissuade us from, comes into full view. Try as I might, I cannot forget the first time I heard my son fret over the appearance of his clothing and the comb of his hair; both on the same morning-both my fault. The tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil finds fecund soil in our school systems. Couple this newfound wisdom with some newfound vocabulary (my first was, ďOh, this damn ice cream!Ē Spilled on pants at a birthday party. Six years old.) and your angelís halo is not only forever sullied but they have taken their first steps on that path that leads straight out the front door. The only Good, as far as I can tell, is that the information acquired in these primary grades is nearly sufficient to battle that Monster of monsters: Puberty.

Which of our homo habilis ancestors committed a sin so grievous that we are forever cursed by the plague of puberty? Iíd like to know. Iíd like to wring his simian neck. Adolescence is that period, those tender years when our children acquire Universal Knowledge and the burdenous boredom that must accompany such a load of wisdom. These are also the years when we, as parents, grow horns, forked tongues, oily tails and acquire a stink so putrid that it can be eradicated by no soap or salve. During these few years adults make the leap from Shaman to shameful in Olympic time. The only hope of redemption is trusting Nature to gather them to adulthood, to allow them to view us from the other side. Then we can all continue on with our lives, assuming that we have not taken theirs during the intervening years. Abandon all hope ye who enter these turbulent times. No other force of Nature so swiftly and assuredly steals our pudgy-faced cherubim than adolescence. As a single parent I stood much too close to this volcano for far too long. The hair on my arms has yet to grow back.

For the longest time I felt the drag of what I took for some dark, malevolent entity on my son and try as I might, I could not disentangle him from its tendrils. It took a few years before I realized that puberty wasnít the only thing tugging at my son- his friends were just outside grappling for a firm hold as well. And they were pulling him out of the house with the same force as puberty was pushing him.

As with school, my sonís friends, most of whom I loved as my own, were intermittently, harbingers of foul tales and suspect language. They proclaimed prurient stories and lusty, exotic adventures. My son and his friends spent hours to days reacting exciting scenes from movies with stale, precocious themes and young actors, relating segments from sophomoric, inane television sitcoms and becoming breathless from the buxom, latex-wrapped heroines of comics. Then, of course, that messiah of the media, the Internet, that muezzin in the minaret calling all to partake of worlds that, perhaps, were better left alien and imagined. Nevertheless, my son has been a willing and active participant in this heated desire to become adult before due, at times following and other times leading the group as it sped away from their respective homes at mach speed. These boys raced from childhoodís comfort as if they had broken its window with an errant baseball. However, many of us are, at times, not only susceptible to wantonness but also desirous of it. My son and his friends flared to the end of the pier with eager anticipation to leap off. As they should. Isnít this as common at this age, as natural a thing as craving anything soaked in sugar? Not running with the pack would stunt natural progression. Maturation would grow weak from malnutrition and soon become a bent, malformed entity. It should not be negligent to silently wish to see our children hustling around with their friends, swimming naked in the lake, choking on a first (hopefully last) cigarette, breaking the speed limit, grimacing at the harsh, metallic fume of bourbon, leaping from the higher branch, stumbling into an unexpected kiss in an unfamiliar room. Cloistering children is as much a sin as letting them roam at will. Finding that balance, as complex an exercise as advanced calculus. I did not want my son to stay home once he was fit for flight. I only found that there was pain in watching him leave.

And so the car facilitates this progress. His wheels are greased. With the car my son flits from college to home and back again as a humming bird at feeders. But heís on track and the car is only the next gear advancing his journey. And if the vehicle is that penultimate factor in my sonís final exit from home, if it is the next to last conveyance in his maturation process, what will be the ultima, the final stretch? I suspect, as it has been since antiquity, his marriage to some exciting young beauty whose own parents are, even now, watching from behind some ball-cracked window.

Copyright Byron Browne
Notes From Over Here
August 1, 2009 Column
Byron Browne can be reached at Byron.Browne@gmail.com

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