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Something There Is That Knows Walls Are Good For A Time

photo-5 copy 2I love my daughter to death. I’m reasonably certain that my son loves her to death, too, but he’s a lot more conscious of, and vocal about, the facet of their relationship where she annoys the hell out of him. She’s 10. He’s 15. He wants her to go away. In the context of his unconscious love for her. Probably.

Anyway, she did go away, to Washington, D.C. with her grandparents and me and my son were stoked. Yes, I know, I just got done telling you how we love her to death and we do. People are complicated. I have included my daughter’s picture of The Lincoln Memorial in the upper left of this post to serve as proof that I do, indeed, hold her in very high regard.

However, when you’re the father of two children, you relish those rare times when you’re allotted some quality time with them individually. That’s why I was stoked. My son had other reasons. His mother was scheduled for two 12-hour shifts over the weekend so it was man-to-man time. The guys. The fellas. Hanging out. Talking guy stuff. Good times, right? But when I texted him Saturday morning about when to pick him up, he texted back, “I think I’m just going to chill, but thanks for the offer.”

A bunch of flowers wilted and old people gazed out the windows of nursing homes and it rained on a man playing a violin but, other than that, I was cool. I had stuff to read and write. Tennis balls to bounce off the wall. Lots of stuff.

A plan emerged from the twilight of my discontent. Yes. That’s exactly how it happened. The boy would undoubtedly get hungry. I offered to take him out to dinner and he accepted. Bro time! Boys night out! Just a man and his son sharing and caring from the heart! A good parenting tip to avoid getting your feelings hurt is to keep your expectations low. I snacked on chips and salsa and watched a basketball game over his shoulder while he goofed on his iPhone. I asked him what was up. Not much. How was he doing? Fine. Any colleges interesting him? Eh. DRIVER’S LICENSE, BRO! He nodded.

I imagined being 15 to inhabit his mind in search of a question that wasn’t stupid. A question that would open the flood gates of intimacy and foster deep connection, leading ultimately to genuine confessions of love. I asked him if he wrote papers in English class. He said he did. I asked what about. He said he just finished a paper about Robert Frost where he had to argue whether or not “Good fences make good neighbors.”

(Okay, English teachers, just stop it. Stop it this instant. Stop killing the life of poetry for young people with Robert Flipping Frost. There’s like a million ways you could get kids jazzed about poetry and not one of them is Mending Wall. However, thank you for the guiding metaphor for this post.)

I asked him if he would email me the essay and he said he would. We ate our dinner, then, in between my questions in search of signs of life and his detached answers that smacked of evasion. I imagined myself standing on the table and screaming I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked or I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard, nature without check with original energy. I would hurl a Diet Coke across the restaurant and it would hiss and fizz in slow motion through the shocked air buzzing with unrestrained carbonated life. But I ate just ate my cold fries and called for the check.

Later, I was pleased to discover that my son’s paper made a strong case against walls. He wrote about the 38th parallel between North and South Korea and said, “This wall was created to end the war between the neighboring countries and create peace, but all it did was create tension and unrest for the world.” He noted the futility of the wall between black and white people erected by the Jim Crow Laws. In the context of the poem, he noted that “The wall between the farmers had no real use, but the neighbor wanted to keep it due to tradition.” To individuals he warned, “Barriers created in the minds of people can be beneficial in some cases, but in most cases they only block the person concealed in them from growing.” And, finally, regarding relationships, he warned, “Walls can be used to keep things in or out, and they are very effective in this respect, but they also keep people from growing toward each other. People can build personal walls between themselves. This can be good for a time, but the wall will eventually fall and the issues that created the wall will resurface.”

Here was a gap, some stones missing in the wall between the stands of pine and apple orchards that are the mental lives of me and my son. Just when you think you can’t possibly love them more, you do. Though his argument was convincingly leveled against the ill effects of walls, I gently dwelled on his careful qualifiers. Walls can be beneficial in some cases and walls can be good for a time. I found these concessions to be fair and compassionate and I wanted to hug him and kiss his head while knowing the prohibition of such acts can be beneficial in some cases. The wall erected between the adolescent and his parents can be good for a time. Indeed, necessary. But be mindful, boy, of what you’re walling in and what you’re walling out. Never forget that you once wrote a paper called The Negative Effects of Walls. And if you know anything, know this in some deep corner of your heart: I, alone in my stands of pines, am always willing and ready to join you in the task of taking down a few stones, whenever, you and me, doing the work of hunters.

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