The other day, as my wife and I were making dinner, my 13-year-old son entered the kitchen, pulled up his shirt, and started slapping his stomach while making these odd, animal-like sounds from deep in his throat. Then he stopped, and as the whole family just looked at him, he started laughing, long and hard, as if he was his own biggest fan. My wife looked at him, and said, “I just don’t understand.” He looked at her, shrugged confidently, in that teenager way that seems to say, “You obviously don’t understand funny,” and then went upstairs to his room without a care.
I’m not going to claim to be the one who understands my son, because honestly, I don’t. After living with him since birth, it seems like I should understand him. I mean, I should be able to take half the credit for who he is because I’m his father. But the reality is, Tristan is a weird kid. I don’t know how else to say it. He has this quirky, in-your-face sense of humor that only he and his friends get. He’s really into Harry Potter and video games, and not all that into hygiene. And to be real, I suppose that’s pretty normal for a kid his age. But what I find odd about it is how confident he is in his lack of hygiene. He just owns it.
I swear, my daughter spends 45 minutes getting ready each morning for Zoom school, while my son logs into class looking like he literally crawled out of a garbage disposal. He’s got greasy finger stains across the blue jacket he insists on wearing 24/7. He’s got this nearly shoulder-length greasy brown hair that he refuses to wash and comb. He parts it to the side with his fingers, so it looks all lopsided and emo, and yet, he struts around wherever he goes with this slick confidence that seems to let everyone know that he is exactly who he wants to be, and somehow that makes lack of hygiene totally acceptable.
Each day at lunch he gets on a Zoom call with his friends. I have no idea what they’re talking about. The terms, the references, the slang, all of it makes no sense to me. And all I can hear between each statement is nerdy adolescent snort-laughter. And it’s not just from Tristan, it’s from his dozen or so friends online too.
He has loads of friends. He gets along with just about everyone. And when I think about everything I’ve just said about my son, I start to realize a few things. I think I know him well enough to see his oddity. But I also know him well enough to see his strengths, too. And chances are, my parents thought I was just as weird as I find my son, and maybe, just maybe, this is all part of the process.
Perhaps I’m just getting older, and what I have labeled as “normal” doesn’t fit anymore, and my long-haired, odd-humored son is the new normal. And I think accepting that is something all parents really have to do, because one thing I know for sure about Tristan: He’s not going to change. He is who he is. And I love that about him.
Sure, I can redirect him. I can insist that he take a shower every couple days, comb his hair, and brush his teeth. And believe me, I do. But if I were to try and force him into becoming a jock, or a preppy kid, or some other caricature of what some parents might see as more normal, he wouldn’t go for it. He’d be a round peg in a square hole. And as odd as I find my son, I do very much love him. In so many ways, I am envious of his confidence. I never had any of that at his age, and I do hope that he never loses his swagger.
All in all, there’s no doubt that my son is weird. But he’s weird in this charming, confident way that is unique to who he is. And frankly, that is a pretty wonderful thing. Sure, I don’t always understand him; in fact, in a lot of ways I’m completely baffled. But he’s a pretty good kid who I love the heck out of, and I want him to be the person he wants to be.
I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m weird too. But if I’ve learned anything about being a father, it’s that your children are these unique little people, with their own passions and desires, and the best thing you can do is love them for who they are, and encourage their healthy development regardless of their oddities.
So Tristan, my son: keep laughing at your own humor, keep being confident, keep marching to the beat of your own drummer — and realize that your dad is here for you, no matter what.