When I was in my junior year of high school we moved from one small town in North Carolina to another. We did that a lot in my family. Basically, every year.
I transferred into a school where everybody had been together since kindergarten. I was the new blood and I took advantage. Six weeks into my junior year I had dated eight girls and then suddenly the roller coaster stopped and I was left with my arms in the air wondering why we weren’t moving anymore. No one would go out with me for the rest of high school. Why? Because the women of West Rowan High School had gotten together and decided that obviously I had an issue with commitment and was poor marriage material. Most of them were looking for someone to marry as soon as they graduated and that was not a huge priority for me. I argued that um… I was only sixteen… but my argument fell on deaf ears.
Now, I eventually married after college at twenty-two which makes me an old maid in Salisbury, North Carolina and a young freak in Los Angeles, California. Where am I going with all this? At fifty, most of my LA friends who are my age have thirteen year olds while my kids are basically grown.
Having pseudo-successfully made it through raising three teenagers Kate and I get asked for advice a lot. Here’s an email I recently sent to one such friend.
It’s rough. Thirteen… fourteen… that’s a bad age. You have to look at this time in their lives like temporary insanity. Rough years. Resign yourself to the fact that you have basically lost them. But be ye not faint of heart, they will come back. It may take three to five years, but they will come back. Well, most of them. The rest of them become strippers or work the night shift at the Enterprise Rent-A-Car desk, but that’s a much longer conversation.
The only advice I can pass on with any confidence is that during this three to five year period where most of your conversations with your teenager seem to be taking place through a slammed door? You have to dig deeper to seek out connection. And the only way to do that… is to play the “long con.”
You’ve watched “The Sting” or “Ocean’s 11.” Playing the long con takes passion, discipline and commitment. You can never waver, even when the going gets rough. Playing the “long Con” in your teenager’s life means finding ways to stay in the mix, stay relevant and that means finding something you can do together, so that you have at least some point of contact.
And don’t push it, like any “con” you can’t fly too close to the sun or you’ll crash and burn. Pick one thing. ONE thing your teenager loves. And here’s where the “con” comes in… pretend with all your heart… to love it too.
I know, their taste is awful. I know how painful it can be and I wish I could sugar coat it, but know in the end that if you choose to take my extremely sage advice you will end up sitting on the couch with them watching Jersey Shore or even worse going to some “Radiated Zombie” concert that splits your soul and ears in two.
But you make yourself do it. And you don’t judge it, you actually try to get into it. You pretend to enjoy something they enjoy and it gives the two of you some shared experience during a time when your worlds seem millions of miles apart. Play your cards right, commit to the “con” and you’ll have great Dad moments where you get to text them – “Did you hear that Travis the Zombie drummer is in rehab?” “OMG Dad. Awesome!” Playing the “long con” gives you a chance to carve out one small place in their world.
Now, let me be clear, have no illusions, No matter how many episodes of “Teen Mom” or “Tosh.O” you watch together or how many In Touch Weekly magazines you buy them they’ll still be driving around in some dude named Brenden’s Kia Sportage smoking cigarettes and saying “My dad is such a prick.”
Because, you know what? You are a prick. And if you’re not a prick you’re probably not a good Dad. “Prickish Dads” are awake and pacing a darkened house fifteen minutes after curfew. Total Dad Pricks make their sons learn how to change a tire, and freak out when a boy honks or texts their daughter from the curb. But I digress.
And in the end, even if you’re a great “con-man” and have played this game of pretend to perfection, trust me, your teenagers will secretly know you hate “Jersey Shore” or “Radiated Zombie” and that you’re only doing it because you love them and don’t want to lose them and you know what? Deep down? They will love you for it.
They just won’t admit it until you’re getting drunk with them at Aunt Tootie’s wedding when they’re 26.
Thirteen to twenty-six is a long time to wait. But everybody knows it’s the “long cons” that offer the highest risk… and the greatest reward.