Snakes were a bit of a stretch for me. But one thing I always wanted for my boys was for them to develop interests and passions – even if I didn’t innately share them. That’s how I started learning about snakes with Oldest Son when he was 7 or 8, then picking out a “pet” snake, then buying live insects and even mice to feed our various snake friends over the years.
BMX was another chapter. Some weekends I found myself driving three hours for two 45-second bike races around the track before handing out whatever food I’d thrown in the cooler and then pointing the car back home. Sometimes I grumbled, but mostly I was thankful my sons had something they were excited about.
Perhaps I have a selective memory, but I mostly remember loving being a part of it all with them.
Connecting with the boys via their passions is more challenging now. I’m not invited in as much as I used to be. Ask Youngest Son — he certainly doesn’t want me anywhere near while he and his friends are building a ski jump or hucking their meat and filming it in the terrain park at the local ski hill.
Middle Son loves hip-hop. Rap. What I’d hoped was a passing interest has withstood the passing years. He writes lyrics and lays them down over recorded tracks in his room. If you’re lucky, a friend, his brother maybe, you might be invited to listen. (A few years ago he did write me a really sweet birthday rap.)
Mostly though, I’ve hoped he’d find other genres for using his beautiful voice and talent for writing lyrics. Too much violence and brokenness in hip-hop, I worry. Too much negativity and mistreatment of women.
I’ve hinted at these things with him, careful not to close a door between us. He’s occasionally responded by playing rap music for me he thinks I’ll like. He tells me the story behind the artist, how much the person has struggled and overcome.
But…but, you’re a white middle-class boy from Bozeman, I think to myself. Please don’t ever think you have to be anyone but who you are.
And so, he spends hours and hours in his room alone, writing, recording, mostly being very private. There is no place for me to drive him for training, no tribe here for him to collaborate with.
A month ago I asked him if he would watch a PBS Independent Lens special about rap with me. I thought it would be a safe way for us to talk and share more about what he loves, but Homeboy turned me down.
Then last weekend I went to the library. I checked out some books on hip-hop, along with a video called “Where You From” about rural hip-hop artists – two of whom are from Montana. I hid the books, realizing my efforts were starting to smell desperate, then tentatively asked Middle Son if he wanted to watch the video with me during a Saturday afternoon slush storm.
He agreed, and we both got caught up in the stories of three young men, each expressing themselves through rap. We didn’t talk much and I didn’t force it. When the movie was over we watched the extra scenes and then sat there as the credits rolled. “Thanks for watching that with me,” Middle Son finally said before returning to his room. No deep conversations or shared insights, but it felt like enough.
It made me wonder, is parenting teenage boys all about lowering expectations and wants, or is it about hearing more in “Thank you for watching that with me”?