My 14-year-old son, Younger One, is embarrassed by me. Not all the time, and not just by me (his mother is another reliable source of embarrassment, as is our car, our home, my voice, my shoes, the second head growing out of my shoulder, my horns and tail—the list keeps growing).
I know this is standard teen stuff, and it too shall pass. Older One, now age 24, was the same way when he was a teen. Thank God he’s over it. We can now once again be seen in public together, which makes family outing logistics infinitely simpler. But back to the problem at hand.
Younger One often asks me to pull the car over, so he can get out 50 yards before his friend’s driveway. He glares at me, should I cast a glace his way at a school function. Should I come within visual recognition distance of him and his friends, he angrily pantomimes, “Go away! Beat it! Scram! Die!”
I remind him that all his friends know he has parents, but somehow that seems of little comfort.
As I said, I recognize this is pretty common teenage behavior, but when the contextual subtext of that behavior is, “I don’t want to be seen with you,” it’s kinda hard not to take it personally.
Actually, Younger One doesn’t know how easy he’s got it. My Dad used to embarrass me for sport. I recall one occasion, strolling with him on the beach of Sanibel Island, Florida. My father would approach attractive young women sunbathing in their bikinis. “Excuse me, ladies,” he would say. “This is my son, Hank. He’s a Junior at the University of North Carolina. He’s a very good tennis player, likes movies and music, and is reasonably skilled at backgammon.”
The girls would laugh with delight. They thought this was the most charming thing they’d ever seen. I would smile and wave. Then Dad and I would move on.
Yes, my Dad used to embarrass me, but he was never cruel. He was just messing with me. His teasing was always good-natured and age-appropriate. (He wouldn’t have introduced me to girls on the beach when I was 14.) I may have been embarrassed by him, but never of him.
Younger One is at a vulnerable point in his life. He’s trying to carve out an identity for himself, and the uncertainity inherent in that process tends to amplify his sensitivity, especially to criticism. Engaging in good-natured ribbing with him these days is a dangerous proposition.
It is my sincere hope that his mother and I will be able to instill a sufficient amount of self-confidence in Younger One, so that one day he’ll be able to withstand all my humiliating behavior, but we’ve still got a ways to go.