Playing father to a teenager is work—unpaid work that deserves holiday overtime. Yes, fathers vaguely recall being teenagers themselves, but their own sons are cryptic echoes at best, ciphers not easily solved, and memory is of little use because each child is so different from that little guy called by way of reference from our own wells of wisdom.
In his conversational confession poem, “Last Night I Drove My Son Home,” Jim Daniels provides insight into the rigors of bonding with 15-year-old sons who have changed mightily since their grade-school days.
Let’s make like Father Sullivan and listen in:
“Last Night I Drove My Son Home”
by Jim Daniels
from his friend’s house, where they were filming
a movie starring my son in a love triangle.
My son, fifteen, has never been in a love right angle,
or even a love straight line, as far as I know.
He stopped talking two years ago—
to me, I mean. I got this secondhand from a street informant
I’ll refer to here by her code name, Little Sister.
A warm night, windows rolled down—my cheap car
requires physical cranking. (Not even a CD player!)
Purchased in 2003 when he was ten and still kissed me goodnight
and may even have held my hand while we watched
old movies. (No cable TV either!) Yesterday
he made me kill a giant bug, and I briefly saw
that ten-year-old again.
Full moon—I could see him looking up at it,
following it as I turned and we lost it to the trees.
September, but moist like August. I ached
for a few soft words between us in that silence.
On a sidewalk near the park a young man sat,
face in hands, a friend standing helpless above him.
I slowed down. What’s that guy doing? I said aloud.
Is he Okay?
I see him too, my son said.
As the friend helped the man
to his feet, I sped on.
My son hummed an old song about the moon
that I didn’t know he knew. My son, the star
of a movie I’ll never see. I just get
these vague coming attractions.
I caught him in a lie or two this week.
Every exchange a house of cards—all it takes
is a deep sigh, and they come tumbling down.
I’d have hummed along with him,
but I didn’t want him to stop.
The poem purposely jumps from the good (snippets of conversation and the humming of a song the son might have sung when young) to the bad (silence, lies, and the constant specter of a sigh razing any exchange to the ground).
The snapshot, a mix of dialogue and first-person point-of-father thought, tries to capture the essence of a stage in life—a stage parents want to solve and preserve, on the one hand, and to see pass quickly and mercifully, on the other.
When it comes to family mythology, time is life’s trickster. Some parents will have it easier, and others will be put through the wringer. It’s random, so any poem about it can be, too, in a calculated kind of way, of course.
Do you have a family confession to make? It can be from the past or the present, but the ordeal, if spoken as truth, will meet sympathetic ears from the Father Confessor.
That’d by your reader, nodding his head behind the dimly-lit screen.