Yesterday it snowed in the morning, wet fat, postage stamp flakes, making paper mache on the porch until everything was white and then the sun melted it away. The gulls are singing their herring song and the fleet is in with all of its usual bustle. Spring is shouldering its way into Sitka.
I suppose anyone who has raised a child to adulthood and that adult child is halfway presentable and out of prison, that parent thinks they are experts at child rearing. Jan and I seem to have run in a crowd of great parents: swim team parents and baseball parents, chess team parents, they did it all. We did our share I suppose, and though we adore our son...sometimes I wonder, I’m not sure I was really a great parent.
First…my parents weren't all that great by modern standards. I was horrified when I did research on FASD for my job recently, because I’m certain my mother never gave up her alcohol and cigarettes when she was pregnant with me. She had lived through the Depression and World War II AND Prohibition, she was not giving up cocktails for a her fifth pregnancy. It hadn't hurt the other four. My folks used to watch Jan and I discuss raising kids and shake their heads….“Jesus H. Christ,” my mom said a few years before she died, “I don’t think I ever heard the word 'parenting' until you brought it up. You just feed ‘em and love ‘em and make sure they can read. I mean really.”
I remember the first chores I had to perform were how to make a martini and how to build a fire in the fireplace. Also, my folks were sick of organizations by the time I came around. I was told that the Boy Scouts of America were unacceptable because of the neckerchiefs and their close association with the Hitler Youth. Neckerchiefs not Boy Scouts. The truth was my other siblings had done scouting and my mom was done with it. So I didn’t start off with a great role model. First, I’m not one for rules anyway. I like discussions. Finn Straley grew up in a swirl of language and discussions. Of course there were rules when he was a baby…chewing…burping…peeing in the potty, that kind of thing. But as he got older concepts got more complex. Some things were “funny at home and not funny at school.” It wasn’t always easy: I remember walking downtown in Seattle where Finn’s Grandma lived and we came to a busy corner. He was a little cherub with golden curls and an impish smile.
“Remember what I told you about corners in the city?” I asked him.
He looked up at me with a furrowed brow, “Stop, Drop, and Roll?” he said hopefully.
“No…,” I said, “Something else about coming to Seattle.”
“Don’t say ‘shit’ at Grandpa’s house, because he doesn’t think it’s funny.”
“All true, and good to remember, but corner-specific.”
He looked at me squinting as if he were trying to suck the answer right out of my brain.
“Stop…Look…and Listen,” I told him.
“Oh Brother!” Finn said, looking exasperated and blowing air out his lips like a horse, as if there was just too much to remember in this life.
And there is, that’s the problem with rules. Hard to remember, particularly if you have hardly ever had to walk across a busy intersection in your entire young life. It’s way easier to remember not to say “shit” at Grandpa’s, because that’s something that could possibly happen.
Later, Finn wasn’t all that crazy about having a father who was a private investigator as a teenager. Whether it was true or not, Finn believed I knew what he did before he got home. It so happened that I often did. The police officers would sometimes call me, if they got hints of dopey teenage behavior. Reports of car surfing or ghost riding the whip often made their way to me before Finn was off the hood of his car. The worst for him was my punishment, which was often listening to my detailed description of cases I had worked on where young men had become quadriplegics.
It was the Detective War stories that killed him, this really bothered the young Finn. Every time I represented some young doofus who ended up doing something incredibly horrible that resulted in a long prison sentence it would invariably send me into a tizzy and I would rush home to confront my otherwise perfectly angelic son.
“Hi Buddy, How was school?”
“Good, How was work?”
“Good… except I met a kid who took too much LSD and had sex with three underage girls and now is being tried as an adult and is going to prison for seventy-five years. Tell me that you are not doing anything, even remotely like that.”
“Good. I’m going up to my room, until you are not crazy anymore.”
No, it was not easy being the teenage son of a private detective, and a natural-born worrier. There is a Zen saying, “There are lots of ways to get lost in the world.” I tried not being too hysterical as a parent. Jan was pretty level-headed, though she did have her peculiarities, like her need to explain every biological detail in nature. Like showing the Toddler Finn how mosquitoes suck blood from your body using a hand lens so that the little bugs grew into the size of killer pterodactyls in his mind and he ran screaming from the sound of one.
In the end I settled on one golden rule for my parenting experience, the one inviolate principle I could find no exception to: “Be kind to the dog and don’t do meth.”
It really about covers it all, and I have to say so far it’s worked. Finn Straley is a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles, California, who has so far stayed out of prison and has a phobia of mosquitoes, and most of the natural world.
I may be a crappy parent but he is still a good man. One could do worse for a sampler on the wall.
Be kind to the dog and don't do meth.
The herring gather
on the beach outside our house.
I miss you so much.