This is an excerpt from my new memoir, “Rock, Meet Window: A Father-Son Story.”
Buy it at your local book store, or on Amazon.com
I was always a horrible student: distracted, antsy, disruptive. Maybe I was bored, but mostly I remember thinking school was stupid. After trying everything else, Mom and Dad bought a collection of VHS tapes called “Where There’s a Will, There’s an A.” When I finished rolling my eyes, I watched the first tape to appease them, and then said, “I know exactly how to get an A. It’s the will that’s the problem.” This caught Dad off guard and I saw him smile. I think he took a little pride in my recalcitrance, but he knew that at that time a good education, at least on paper, was the only ticket to being a successfully recalcitrant adult.
Without any desire of my own to excel in school, Mom and Dad decided to force the issue by instituting a three-hour solitary study period in my room every day after school. Aware of how absurd this was, I followed only 50 percent of the rule. I hated missing out on all the after-school fun, like watching Barry Barker bite his arm until it bled, or avoiding Jimmy Fisher’s Trans Am as it sped down “bus alley,” but I was generally a good kid and tried to do as my parents asked. So I would come home, sit in my room for three hours, and stare at the wall. I found that more interesting than congruent triangles. It wasn’t long before I started getting a little too brave.
I was in my room playing Atari with the sound off when Dad walked in. I knew I was in trouble, and I fumbled pathetically to hide the evidence, resulting in something out of a hackneyed Disney sitcom where I was reading a book upside down with a joystick in my hand. I might have even started singing just to throw him off.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing in here?” he asked.
“Were you playing video games?”
“No? What’s the joystick for?”
“Just one word answers, eh?”
This went on for long enough that he started preaching about how lucky I was to be allowed to go to school and other nonsense parents say despite promising themselves they never will.
I looked right through him.
“Are you even listening to me?” he asked.
He paused. Then in a soft, confused, and earnest voice, asked, “Why?”
“Because it’s bullshit.”
My answer hovered there for what felt like a full minute but was probably no more than a couple of seconds. I was waiting for some kind of punishment and assumed he was taking his time to weigh his disciplinary options. But to my surprise (and his), he laughed. He laughed hard—hard enough that I feared it was more of a maniacal laugh driven by insanity rather than amusement.
Years later, Dad said his reaction came from a realization that I was right: he was full of shit. The study-time rule was ridiculous, as was his defense of it, and I’d called him on it.
I was now a man in his eyes, and though I would continue to be an idiot for another couple of decades, he spoke to me as an adult from that point forward.