Can I call my essay, “This I Really Want to Believe”? Because when friends tell me, “Of course your son wants nothing to do with you now. He’s seventeen, but he’ll come back,” I really want to believe them. I really want to believe that when my son, Jacob, calls me a “weenus,” or tells me I need to take a “chill pill,” that underneath he loves me and he’s just slapping the old lion with a teenage paw.
When Jacob does “come back,” I hope it’ll make up for all the angst and anger we’ve been going through. Jacob is the older of my two sons. Outwardly, he is cocky, cool, and by far the more rebellious. But I’m certain his bravado is born of insecurity. Fear masquerading as swagger. Hard shell. Soft, sweet center.
“Daddy, you take down the bricks
from the wall around my heart.”
Jacob was five when he wrote that Father’s Day card. He drew a cartoon heart peeking through a hole in a brick wall. I haven’t gotten a message like that in a long time. Instead it seems each year we added a few more bricks to the wall. At thirteen, he proposed:
“Dad, why don’t we just fight
for control of the house now?”
“First of all, you’ll have to fight your mother,” I replied with a laugh. Inside I was hoping he’d heard that line in a movie, or a TV show—that it wasn’t an original idea. Then at fifteen, when he said:
“I don’t do what’s right because you tell me,
I do what’s right because I tell myself what’s right.”
I really wanted to believe in how wise a statement that was—how self-possessed and aware a kid would have to be to even come up with that declaration. Inside I was wondering if it was just more push-back.
Being driven and focused, I’ve always urged both boys to challenge themselves in every endeavor. I encouraged them to have goals and to take the steps to achieve them. But over the years, the more I challenged Jacob, the more he resisted.
In hindsight, I focused too much on wanting him to do things my way. And all that “focus” made me blind to the fact that he might have had his own way. I no longer see the Jacob I want him to be, or who I think he should be. I now see Jacob: a remarkable young man with or without my guidance. He just is.
I have this fantasy where Jacob and I sit around having a beer, reminiscing. He says, “Gee, Dad, I really put you through hell.” I say, “Well, I could’ve lightened up a bit.” He chuckles, “I actually called you a weenus?” Then we laugh. I hug him tight, and he hugs me right back, just as tight. And right then I know my friends were telling the truth.
This I most definitely do believe: Whether or not I am, or have ever been a “weenus,” I do need the occasional “chill pill.” Because someday soon my remarkable son will be out on his own. Control of the house will revert back to me (fingers crossed), and I’m going to miss him like hell.
Judd Pillot has written and produced television comedy for over twenty-five years, and he has recently branched into drama and feature films. He’s also taught creative writing and TV production. Mr. Pillot lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Karen, and has two sons, Nick, eighteen, and Jacob, now twenty-one. They are getting closer.
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