Watching manhood develop

July 19, 1998|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

SO WE'RE down the street at a neighbor's backyard barbecue a couple of weeks ago when my wife is asked to leave. It's our son who does the asking.

Seems girls are around and, well, you know how it is: No self-respecting guy can make a move on the babes if his mother is watching. So Mom, would you mind going home before someone sees us talking and thinks we're related? Thanks, Mom.

Sensitivity even seals the deal with a kiss on the cheek.

Behind him, Marilyn looks as if her mouth just sprung a hinge. Needless to say, Marlon has since been treated to several vivid retellings of the 23 hours of labor it took to bring him into the world.

Shifting winds

Some days the boy is amazingly perceptive. Other days, you swear that if you put your ear next to his, you'd hear the ocean.

There is, of course, a simple explanation for that: He's a teen-ager. Third member of that alien race we've played host in our home. I wish I could report that it gets easier, but it doesn't. All that happens is you learn the terrain a little better.

For instance, having just passed through the Rebel Without a Cause stage, we're now deep into the Parents Just Don't Understand stage. This is the one where you go overnight from the adored mom or dad to the unbearable dolt who embarrasses his kid by any number of thoughtless actions.

Like existing, for instance.

Not that there aren't advantages. Lately, I find that if I want Marlon to do something, I have only to threaten to come within 20 yards of him in public. Especially if I imply that I might try to speak to him in his own language: "Yo, homeboy. Wassup? Chillin'? Word."

Just a hint of that, and I get the lawn mowed any time I want. Front and back.

Know what, though? I'd gladly cut the grass myself just to get through the day without being treated like a human zit.

Not that I don't understand. Change is an adolescent's birthright. Heck, it's his job description.

But pity the poor parents. Change is not easy for us. It's abrupt and cruel, has neither pity for memories nor regard for sentiment. It just comes and demands to be dealt with.

We're doing the best we can, but Marlon's at that age where he's a different person every time I see him. His very face seems but a trick of the light. He grins while trying to sweet-talk his mom and he looks like the quintessential boy, then he turns his ZTC head to a certain angle and you see the dawning shadow of a man.

We should be better prepared for this, I guess. After all, children begin breaking away almost from birth. My grandson, all of 2 years old, recently figured out how to unlock the front door. Twice now, the neighbors have found Eric toddling merrily down the street and brought him home. Don't say it: We've already bought a doorknob guard.

Like Eric, Marlon's going to overestimate his own abilities. Going to wander off in directions we didn't expect and can't protect him from. And all we can do is hope we've taught the right lessons and that if he gets in trouble, he'll be able to find his way home.

As I wait with eagerness to meet the man he becomes, it dawns on me that I'm really going to miss the boy he was. Going to miss talking pop music and basketball and comic books with him. There's always been a neon streak of kid in me and that guy really brought it out. Really did.

Now he's impatient to be gone, and me, I'm just treasuring the waning days.

Poor Marlon doesn't understand why he sometimes catches me watching him. Just watching. Won't understand for years.

He throws an arm around my neck and assures me it will ever be thus and he's never going to leave. Then he turns his head to a certain angle.

And it's like he's already gone.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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