A joint Father's Day and Birthday Tribute to my Son + Husband.
Last week my husband read me a text from our nearly 15 year old son as I was leaving for work. "Dad— is there $70 in my bank account and can I access it? An issue has come up."
Calm down, my husband said. I'm sure there's an explanation, he said. Oh I KNOW the explanation. In the 15 seconds I've had to process this, I've gone through every possible explanation and it is clear to me that our son is a drug addicted gambler, so YOU calm down, how about that?
It may have been helpful to take a deep breath and ask myself some clarifying questions:
Has Ben shown signs of gambling or owing money? NO, but he talks about the NBA draft or something— what is that?
Has his personality or mood shifted suddenly denoting drug or alcohol abuse? NO, but teens are moody and maybe I'm too naive to see it.
And not for nothing, but what's with the cryptic text, Ben? PLEASE BE MORE SPECIFIC!
An excruciating two hours later my husband called. Ben had taken my beats headphones to school and busted them. He investigated how much it would cost to repair them and was inquiring to my husband specifically about that amount so he could take care of it for me. On his own. Like a responsible young man. BUSTED. Here I thought I was the cool as a cucumber parent of a teenager, just taking it all in stride, when in fact, when faced with the possibility of something bad happening, I crumbled. I did not assume the best of my son, I did not take a moment to pray or breathe, and I did not heed my own advice to young parents: Use common sense and ask yourself, What would the Huxtables do?
When did this fear grip my heart? I resented the fact that I was becoming a stereotypical mother of a teen— fearful, nervous, pessimistic. I wasn't always this way. I entered motherhood with sheer terror alongside high hopes.
In the fall of 1998 ( some millennial's heads are spinning) I was a college sophomore. I had been dating Adrian for one year, though our friendship dated ALL the way back to summer 1996. I was pursuing a B.F.A at Marymount Manhattan College— drawn to New York for it's dizzying lights and proximity to Broadway. I came to New York with stars in my eyes like everyone else.
Unexpectedly, the city's darker side— homelessness and poverty affected me too, so I added a double major of Sociology with a concentration in Social Work to round out my studies. The balance of studying the Human Condition along side the very introspective, borderline narcissistic course work in Undergraduate Acting felt better to me. I envisioned a life of globe trotting and humanitarian aid— in between movie shoots of course, alongside my handsome movie star husband and our gaggles of beautiful children. I guess I was majoring in how to be Angelina Jolie though I didn't know it at the time.
I was home in New Jersey visiting my Mom one glorious autumn weekend when she asked me a question that nearly took my breath away. "Is there any chance you could be pregnant?" Unable to acknowledge I was sexually active to her, I balked: "Not unless I'm the next Virgin Mary..." ha ha ha, chuckle chuckle. I assured she was mistaken and the topics returned to the benign. Hours later aboard NJ Transit I wondered, "When WAS my last period?..."
Truthfully? The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember fragments. I took a test. It was positive. The girlfriend that was with me at that moment is still by my side. Adrian and I told our parents. They loved us. They gave us freedom to decide how to proceed. We discussed options. We grew up. Fast.
Adrian was working on a play in North Carolina, I was finishing up my semester at Marymount while planning a wedding— you know, like kids do in college. So I wrapped up finals—including a term paper on TEENAGE PREGNANCY because in case you've been wondering, God DOES have a sense of humor! (I got an "A", natch.)
Email existed in 1998 but Adrian and I began our courtship as letter writers, so we continued scrawling our hearts on paper and sealing and sending our fear, our love, and our hopes to one another. I have BOXES of letters from him and I wouldn't trade them for anything. While searching for an old picture of Ben, I came across two postcards from Adrian during that time. These postcards tell you everything about the kind of man my husband is.
He was not only remaining by my side. He was excited. He was invested. He was probably terrified, but he knew I was carrying enough fear myself, so he offered me only hope and strength. A good friend posted a photo of her husband and their children yesterday and acknowledged that she didn't think about whether or not he was going to be a great father one day, only knew that he was a Good man. She was delighted to learn Good men make Amazing fathers. I agree and I thank God for it.
Ben turns 15 today. FIFTEEN. I can hardly believe I am old enough to say "15 years ago..." and be referring to a life event I actually remember. But remember it I do. Ben went from infant to toddler as I went from college student to wife, though his transformation was much cuter. He went from toddler to preschooler as I went from Mom of one to Mom of two then three. He and I, we have been growing up and learning together this whole time. He taught me to trust myself as I parented him in a city that assumed I was an inexperienced nanny. (I was an inexperienced mother, thank you very much.) From day one he was an independent, confident, non-conformist, and thereby taught me the art of letting go even during preschool. And Adrian? He taught me to love generously and dig deep for more patience— there's always more if you search.
This recent text incident had a perfectly Cosby ending and for that I am grateful. But I know it may not always resolve so telegenically. May our children feel known and loved. May we never be too busy to miss an unexpected moment— mundane or monumental.
Happy Father's Day to Adrian + Happy Birthday to *Ben.
*This post was published with explicit permission of the teenager involved. Benjamin Brooklyn Witzke, you are quite the young man.