Discussing Delayed Gratification With My Son

This discussion with my son, in order to be appreciated for its complete lack of integrity, needs to be situated in the context of my alcoholism. Implicit to alcoholism is the inability to delay gratification. Most people set themselves aside and work hard for things. Alcoholics bypass this pesky “working hard” part by depressing their central nervous systems. It’s a cheap shortcut but an effective one for a time. Since my first attempts at recovery 20 years ago, I have managed to stay sober for roughly 16 of those years. However, my struggle to delay gratification is a persistent one. What I mean to say is this was a difficult talk to have with my son. What I mean to say is I’m a big fat liar.

 

“You’re sophisticated for a 14-year-old boy. You know how I know this?”

“No.”

“Well, first, you know what sophisticated means and you’re eloquent and you know what eloquent means and you know the difference between your and you’re, you are, and there, over there, and their, that’s their stuff, and you’re enrolled in an elite high school that’s preparing you for a career in computer science. So, because you’re so fancy and sophisticated, I’m going to speak to you in a sophisticated way about this crazy ass D in math. Okay?”

“Okay.” (NOTE: We’re eating chow mein at Panda Express and this, of course, contributes to the sophisticated atmosphere.)

“Why are you getting a D in math?”

“Because the teacher-”

“I’m going to stop you right there because I already know the answer. I don’t know why I asked you a question that I already knew the answer to. It’s not like I’m Socrates or some shit. You’re getting a D in math because you don’t do your homework. Why don’t you do your homework?”

“Because. Well. It’s just. Let’s see. It’s like. There’s. When I. The dog. It’s like.”

“Can I help?”

“Please.”

“Doing algebra homework sucks. You know? It’s like you’re there. The book’s there. The paper’s there. The pencil’s in your hand. And you (YOU!) would rather be anyone else in the whole world than the person who’s right there, about to do his algebra homework. Because there’s no BANG in algebra homework. It’s not an X-Box or an iPhone or the Internet or, or, or BOOBS. Dude… Dude. Stop giggling. This is totally serious. Math is not boobs but it’s totally serious. Are you good?”

“Yes.” (NOTE: Trying not to laugh.)

“Algebra homework doesn’t GRAB you like a video game. Algebra homework doesn’t melt the world and scream I AM ALL THERE IS FORGET EVERYTHING AND SOLVE FOR X NOW!  It never will. And I’ve got bad news for you. Well, wait. It’ll sound like bad news at first but it’s bad news that’s got good news hiding inside it. It’s hard to explain. This is what I thought I’d try to explain to you because I think you’re sophisticated. Are you ready?”

“I guess?”

“You’re 14. You’re in high school. You have to spend a great deal of time doing things you don’t want to do. And the bad news – brace yourself – is that you never really go back. In fact, it gets worse. As you move through high school, college, and the world of work, the things that tend to occupy your life are often more like algebra homework than X-boxes. HOWEVER, and here’s the secret good thing that you don’t know about yet and you’ll have to just take my word for it until you see for yourself. Okay? Are you ready?”

“I sincerely don’t know.”

“When you do things you don’t want to do and, in spite of yourself, you do them with your whole heart, you begin to realize that your whole heart is a much bigger thing than you.”

“You lost me.”

“EXACTLY! Now listen. I know you don’t give a damn about algebra. I’m not asking you to care. In fact, the less you care about math, the better. Because here’s the challenge. Here’s the experiment I’m throwing at you. I want you to do your homework BECAUSE you don’t want to.”

“Um.”

“Just try it. Try to want what you don’t want and do what you don’t want to do and then see what happens.”

“Um.”

“You need a reason? Okay. Here’s a reason. When you have your book and your paper and your pencil and you don’t want to do your homework and you can’t figure out how to want what you don’t want, do this: think about your mom.

“Mom?”

“Yeah, your mom. Listen. I know this is impossible to believe. It still blows my mind. But I’m telling you. Forget what you want. Do the opposite. Think about how proud your mom’s going to be when you ace algebra and then do your stupid homework. Do you understand?

“I guess.”

“Seriously. Just do your stupid homework. Do it BECAUSE you don’t want to and I swear to you, I promise: there’s something on the other side of that that’s way, way, WAY bigger than an A in algebra. Okay? Yes. Good. I think you get it. Now stop crying and let’s go.”

_____________

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