OF FATHERS AND SONS

OF FATHERS AND SONS

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Love & Friendship

Of Fathers and Sons

I wasn’t brave enough to get a tattoo—I’d considered getting a field mouse swimming for his life with a largemouth bass surfacing to swallow him whole—so I got a removable platinum post pierced just below my lower lip. The guy who installed it said not to get silver or gold for anything that goes near the mouth or teeth. “Too soft,” he said. “And you don’t want to poison yourself.”

Dad was a bit peeved. Okay, Dad was a lot peeved. He said I looked like I’d joined an Amazon tribe and why hadn’t they just made the hole big enough to hold a Pepsi. “Supersize it,” he said. My dad is always making jokes, tacking some quote about George Bernard Shaw on the end of them: He was never more serious than when he was joking. It’s my dad’s way of dealing with things that make him uncomfortable.

“You don’t have to take me to bridge group,” I said.

“When did you take up bridge?” he asked.

“No, I mean . . . “

“I know what you mean,” he said and walked into the kitchen.

“Did you see that?” he asked my mother.

“It’s a phase,” she said. That’s how she deals with everything. This too shall pass; that’s her quote.

I make decent grades—Bs. Could be worse. I’m no star athlete, but I’m not a serial killer, either. I didn’t make Eagle Scout, but I’m not into drugs. I’m not a straight edge, but I don’t drink and drive. I don’t have any problems that are going to get me into any real trouble, something I can’t say about a lot of the kids in my class. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re going to end up in prison—statistically, I guess a few will have to—but I do think I’m a lot closer to the straight and narrow than a lot of them. My fantasy is to throw a big party for everyone with bigger troubles than me. Invite them over to my house. Make my dad meet them.

I’d introduce him to Malcolm. Malcolm’s father is a clergyman, and Malcolm thinks it is some kind of preordained, cosmic fate that he’ll spend his whole life getting into trouble. Malcolm once went out into the country and shot a skunk, climbed up on the roof of the school and tossed it into the ventilation system. School was canceled for a day and Malcolm was suspended. (He just had to tell someone—it wasn’t me, if that’s what you’re thinking— and word traveled pretty fast.) The principal asked why he did it. “To express myself,” he said. I think if my dad knew about Malcolm, he wouldn’t mind my post so much.

Then there’s Sheila, who blew the doors off the PSATs and had Ivy League schools calling her house. Sheila has no interest in college; her parents made her take the exams. Most kids would fail them just to tick off their folks, but Sheila was too clever for that. She set some kind of new school record for the PSAT and then expressed herself by telling the people from Stanford that she’d love to come but would be busy serving forty-to-life. That sent her folks up the wall. Sheila wants to be a cop, but for some reason that’s not good enough for them. Personally, I think she’d make a fine cop.

I’d also introduce Dad to the smoking-lounge kids. It seems that half of them are pregnant; Dad could see that I’m not pregnant or a smoker. I’ve only got a post. And it’s platinum. He’d of course point out: You’re male! How’re you going to get pregnant? And he’d have me there. But it’s good to concede a point now and then.

All I’ve got is a piece of metal puncturing my skin. It’s not hurting anyone else. I get some strange looks, of course; in fact, maybe that’s why I did it. My dad keeps asking me why, and I just don’t know. Maybe I’ll take a cue from Sheila and make something up. Maybe I’ll tell him I just did it to get his attention. That’s not true, of course; he always has time for me. But we could share a good laugh just the same.

“How do you eat with that thing in?” Dad wants to know.

I shrug as I shovel in a fork full of green beans. It’s a good question. Food buildup around it is a problem and buying a Water Pik wouldn’t be a bad idea. But it’s a rhetorical question. He’s playing tennis now, serving me a lob, which I’m supposed to bat back.

“Good thing you don’t have to send photos for college applications.” He doesn’t let up.

“I could take it out around the house,” I offer.

“Now there’s a start.”

“But then what would you have to criticize?”

“Your haircut for starters.”

I know he loves me. I know he respects me. He wouldn’t bother giving me a hard time if he didn’t.

“The world has changed since you were a kid,” I tell him.

“More TV channels. That’s all.”

“You know something, Dad?”

“What’s that, Son?”

“I love you.”

He looks me up and down a bit suspiciously. It’s the line that always gets him. The looking me over is all part of his act. “I know,” he smiles and turns his attention to his plate.

“So the post isn’t so bad, after all, is it?”

“It’s very nice. Very much in vogue,” he says. “If you live in the rain forest.”

Scott Diel

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