Chiming in, holding up

by Wolf Pascoe on October 1, 2012

Each night I ask the stars up above
Why must I be a teenager in love?

— Dion and the Belmonts
(Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman)

Back to school we are. Nick is in the oldest group now, a big fifth grader.

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“Now that Kevin’s graduated, I’m the best soft-sword maker,” he said to me last week.

It’s a wonder what he can do with a pile of old newspapers.

At Fern Hill, the year begins with a picnic at a local park. Dozens of families gathered on blankets and spread out their dinners. Each class had their own blanket too, marked by a banner. Nick took his pizza with him as he joined his classmates, leaving Nora and me to trade summer stories with other parents.

Every once in a while I looked over at him, animated among the older boys, nervously chiming in the conversation, trying to hold up his end. He’s still years away from being a teenager, but there it is.

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REUNION

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At my twentieth high school reunion, I walked around nervous. I couldn’t understand it. I remembered high school as a long, golden moment. Then it hit me. This was how I felt in high school, all the time. Nervous.

Middle school (we called it junior high) was far worse. Thank God, no reunions there. Middle school was where the first cliques formed, hundreds of thirteen-year-olds, clustered around the yard at recess like so many galaxies.

I used to stand with one clump, listening and laughing to Dennis, whose magnetic personality was the sun around which we revolved. I thought that was all there was to it, standing there and laughing.

Then one day Gary said to me, “Wolf, are you in the crowd?”

“Of course,” I said.

“How come I don’t see you at any of the parties?”

There were parties?

A year of desolation followed, as I plotted and schemed to get invited. Finally I threw a party of my own, and invited everyone. By some miracle they showed up.

We lived in a tiny apartment, everyone else in houses. I had been ashamed of that, as I was ashamed of having no father. But no one else seemed to care.

Gary and Ellen made out on the couch in front of everyone. This made the party legitimate. I suppose there was music playing, someone had brought a Letterman album.

We pretended to be grown up, because what else can you do? It didn’t even feel like pretend, because it was so important. Parties were necessary because parties were what adults did.

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NEVER EAT ALONE

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Watching Nick at the picnic made me nervous all over again. He’ll take his own path, I know.

My friend Eduardo said the book Never Eat Alone changed his life. It’s a book about building relationships, the ultimate distillation of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

I got the audiobook without knowing why. To help me feel less nervous when I went to high school?

Nick saw me listening the other day and asked about it.

“It’s a book about how everybody needs everybody else in order to get anywhere,” I said. “It’s really about being generous, like throwing a party.”

“I want to hear that book,” he said, pretending to be an adult.

We listened together once or twice, then he got tired of it. I got tired of it.

I wish I’d had this book when I was in Middle School.

I wish a lot of things.

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So, how did adolescence work for you? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sirena October 1, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I hated middle school (I still forget and call it “Junior High School”) and high school was even worse. I didn’t go to my high school graduation and didn’t participate in any high school activities. We have NEVER had a high school reunion (I called the high school once and they said that “someone has to organize it” and I guess no one every has). But I DO have two very very good friends from “middle school” and high school which made it all worth it and bearable. I turned out O.K. (well, this is MY opinion of course) and I often wonder who those popular kids turned out. Sounds like Nick so far has had a way better time in school than I ever had and that’s a beautiful thing. He will have some happy Fern Hill reunions and hopefully a better time to come than we did.

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Wolf Pascoe October 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Sorry about middle school. I’m with you there. I’m sure the popular kids turned out GREAT, there being no justice in this world.

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Barbara October 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm

“Gary and Ellen made out on the couch in front of everyone. This made the party legitimate. ” It’s so true, isn’t it? And where were our parents when all this making out was going on? Oh, those cliques and the need to fit in. I guess it could be said I was in the popular group, but I felt the outcast often, and there’s no way I’d want to go back. On the other hand, I love our class reunions. The older we get, the closer we get. Those perceived lines and differences that separate us are fading, and we can see each other clearly now. Good luck to Nick in the coming years. I think he has a great guide as he maneuvers those waters, though.
Barbara recently posted..Till We Meet Again, Port A!

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Wolf Pascoe October 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm

My mom was hiding in her bedroom. I remember asking her, “What if people start to kiss?” She said, “Well, all right. As long as they don’t make a habit out of it.”

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Jim Parkevich October 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Hi Wolf..
At 62, I feel I have earned the right to help younger men and boys/new men..
I graduated from high school 44 years ago…seems like yesterday..Some of my best friends are class mates from 50 years back. I and my male counterparts were fortunate to be raised and nurtured by men of WWll and Korea..They survived the worst atrocities, which I am sure you are aware of. But they came home, made their lives and raised their own families as well as hundreds of other young people who invaded their homes..Everybody else’s father was your father by default..No shenanigans,” respect” was expected..we always replied….”yes sir….no sir”..We did not lie to our own fathers or our other fathers.
We listened intently when spoken to, and did what was expected of us. We treated our girlfriends with decency and OBEYED curfew with the daughters of these men or got “laid out straight and too the point.”
Let Nick grow to be his own young man..But maybe, being involved in his life from a position of “strength” with his friends, might show him that you and with other fathers by your side, stand firm to protect them, yet guide them through what is becoming an increasingly hostile world..There is strength in numbers, I can remember so many..my own dad and all the other fathers in my life, Scout Masters , Teachers, Police, Little League Coaches, Ministers..Common men who stood head and shoulders above much of the riff-raff of today…For Nick…I hope you and other dads around you, AND WITH YOU, take a stand for strength, to lead and nurture this next group of boys into manhood….and character.. I hope I have not rambled too much……

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Wolf Pascoe October 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm

There were a lot of veterans in my life as well. You’ve given me an idea for a new post, Jim. Thanks.

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The Exception October 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I remember junior high (in AZ they still call it that) and didn’t mind it too much for the most part. We were all just goofy! My daughter is now a seventh grader and anything but goofy. It is odd to see the difference in our experiences despite the sameness of our personalities. She is testing my boundaries, the lines of respect, and finding herself… that torn between being the teen ager nearing adulthood (in her mind) and the child who really just wants to run, build forts, and giggle to her heart’s content. She is developing new friendships and continuing to find her own way while I am watching to see how the model I demonstrated and the lessons I have attempted to teach took root.
Sometimes it is hard to treasure the teen (tween) years but I am doing it all the same, one minute at a time!

The picnic sounds delightful as does the school… that is a treasure in itself

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Wolf Pascoe October 1, 2012 at 7:59 pm

I like this daughter of yours.

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