There was a poem recited during one of the last episodes of Ted Lasso that I’d never heard before, but resonated with me in a big way. It starts out with: They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not meant to, but they do. It’s from Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be The Verse. We, Esposa and I, have reached that time-honored milestone as parents, of dealing with the teenage years as delightfully presented to us by our 13 year old son. As my wife’s moniker on SM is “Esposa”, so his is “Surly Teen” and I don’t mean that as anything other than identification of the human being inhabiting the house now. Allow me to backtrack on a few details. First, Esposa and I are a multi-ethnic couple. Her background is squarely European, specifically almost all Croatian with a bit of other Eastern Europe. Mine is Brazilian via native South American plus Portuguese to go with Ukrainian and Latvian. I wanted to have a baby and early in our relationship, I expressed same to Esposa in that I’d be doing this “little project” with or without her. She decided I’d be doing this with her. The pregnancy thing is a little adventure story that can be saved for another day, but the bottom line is that I produced our son and so began our adventures in parenting. The first sign of parenting hubris came way before we outfitted our house with every modern accessory available from a billion dollar industry designed to prey on new parents. It’s the notion that you’re going to do things, “the right way.” No, you will absolutely not make the mistakes your parents made, whatever those may be. Yes, you will be the picture of model parenting, whatever that may be. If anything, you’ve got a clean slate to deal with, right? My cats and dogs have a more developed personality than this baby, so I can absolutely maintain control over helping this little person thrive and be the very best person he can be. Right? There’s this well-known curse cast upon children by their parents when they are young. It’s the infamous, “I hope when you have a child of your own, they turn out just like you.” This is usually said in a moment of frustration when you’ve said or done something so obnoxious as to render that parent hopeful that one day, you too, will be dealing with this infernal behavior. I do not recall the details of the first time I encountered my child having an anxious moment resembling something like my own anxiety attacks. The important thing was that I recognized it and immediately felt the weight of the parenting world crush me. He might have been 8 or 9 years old, the time goes by so quickly it’s hard to remember. But I could easily see it for what it was since I too suffer from it. When Esposa and I accompanied him to family therapy, the counselor provided diagnoses including anxiety, social anxiety, dysthymia, mild depression. To say my heart dropped would be an understatement. Why? I asked myself. How? I demanded. I thought I was doing a great job keeping that part of myself either hidden away or at least managed correctly in his presence. What I’ve had to come to terms with is that nature and nurture are a fantastic cocktail combo that are obviously at play in every aspect of his life. Did I pass along anxiety to him like some kind of genetic deficiency? Was it my own style and personality that fostered the dysthymia? Surely it couldn’t be Esposa, and her mostly mild-mannered, always-look-on-the-bright-side manner that did this, right? His counselor would say that there are a lot of factors that go into it, and nothing can be concluded with any sort of scientific certainty. While Esposa and I have had many issues with our differing parenting styles, and this definitely takes a toll on us as a couple, we’ve always been focused on trying to manage the situation as best we can. Before the pandemic, this included as much socializing with playing soccer as well as activities with his few friends. Esposa and I have battled over medication, which is also a topic for another day, but as we now face the terrible teens, we are mindful that the adventure is only getting bumpier even as we are always thankful that he is a pretty good kid overall and our family dynamic is ever evolving. As the summer approaches and Surly Teen prepares for his last year of Middle School, I am still hanging on by the seat of my pants. I am hopeful that we’re doing ok with him, and that I haven’t fucked him up; because certainly none of us mean to.
Thank you to SuaSponteBaker (who can be found on Twitter and Instagram under this name) for writing this guest article.
If you would like to write a guest article for my blog, I am currently open to submissions. Find out more here.