Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Tough Love Should Stop Short of Humiliation: Slacker Sons Don't Benefit from Globe Articles

I’m not going to mention her name or give a link because that would only make matters worse, but the essay by a mother about how she threw her angry slacker son out of the house in yesterday's Globe and Mail deserves comment.

The story isn’t unfamiliar. Anyone with kids knows of a similar one: young man has a chip on his shoulder, doesn’t know what to do with himself, gets involved in soft drugs and petty crime, seems headed for perdition. His parents despair, may have to employ some tough love and send him off on his own.

The difference in this case is that Mom writes about it in Canada’s National Newspaper. She recounts the 19 year old’s anger, her frustration, the attempts she and his father made to turn him around. And then she tells how they locked the doors and put his suitcase outside, how they watched from the window when he came back to pick it up and then walked away laughing with his friends, how she likes a picture of him where his face doesn’t show.

That's tough love, for sure, and tough love sometimes is necessary. But this woman has gone beyond that: she has humiliated publicly someone she says she loves.

One of the constants over societies is that young men who start out wrong, frequently after many, many twists and turns, end up leading a not-too-terrible life. My grandfather David McGowan (or MacGoun, he spelled it both ways) appears to have been one. He left Napanee, Ontario, at 16 in disgrace for reasons now lost in the mists of time. He fetched up in Walla Walla, Washington 12 years later as a barber who became well respected in the community. My other grandfather says he held a sort of philosophical salon on Saturday mornings where the president of Whitman College and other local luminaries gathered to talk ideas, books and politics.

The young man who is the subject of the essay may end up doing that well. I hope so. But if I were he, I would be even more furious at the way Mom has appropriated his life, showing her disdain for him publicly. This is an essay about her, written for her own reasons, which will make matters worse, not better. If her aim really were to help her son, she would have done better to keep her own anger confined to a circle of friends, family and counselors.

She's got a day of fame, though, and maybe that's what she wanted all along.

1 comment:

lagatta à montréal said...

Yeah, it's all about her. Imagine she is my age, or a few years younger. "Don't tell me you didn't smoke the odd joint". And, he, you are from Montréal. Of course you drank beer and wine; you aren't from some Bible Belt town on the Prairies, and back in our time, checking for age was unthinkable.

I do have friends and relatives with uncontrollable kids, or perhaps more maddening, kids uninterested in intellectual matters and culture. I'm thinking of a couple who live very close to you, I can't provide more details without being as bad as that writer, but the profile of husband and wife not so different. And slacker kids who coasted through school, Cégep and university, without ever working at odd jobs.

But this quote really bothered me:

"I have tried to pinpoint when, exactly, his world got small, so small there wasn't enough room for family but only friends, that aimless group of lost boys shuffling down the streets. Maybe it was Grade 10, when his marks slipped and his attitude changed."

Why on earth "only friends"? It is a normal part of leaving the parental nest, sad as it may be for many of either generation. No slipping marks or drug abuse, but I was out of there at 17.

I do hope the son's behaviour improves. In Italy, where alas hard-drug use is common even in middle-class families, I know people who have been robbed blind by their children, and such "tough love" is contrary to their culture (which also fosters long-term dependency among youths, especially young men). But mum does seem to be viewing him as some kind of possession. Loyalty to friends is an important component of young adulthood.