Friday, March 24, 2006

The Butterfly Effect

It is rare that I ever find myself searching for meaning anymore. That is not to say that I always know what it’s all about – that is a rare occurrence indeed. It’s just that on some level, I don’t feel as though I am on this futile quest for meaning. Does this mean that I have found it? I don’t know, however, the sense of purpose that was until recently missing in my life is now present most of the time.

It is not always a pleasant feeling. As the cliché goes, ignorance is bliss. At least it can be. There are situations that life presents me with that demand some action – I not only know that, but usually I know what that action is. Sometimes it is doing nothing. Sometimes it is doing what I genuinely don’t want to do… I know the short-term effect may not be pretty and the long-term outcome is never guaranteed. Alas, enlightenment is not always all it’s cracked up to be.

So it is today that I am presented with a problem that demands action. There will be a showdown with my unemployed, 18 year-old, high school dropout son. I have been encouraging, nudging, coercing, even bribing him to do something. I have led him to water, but I can’t make him drink. There are overtones of my own aimlessness at his age and it is my sincerest desire that he not go through what I did. However, he inherited much from his father and there may be little I can do.

He had a bad day yesterday. He let yet another golden opportunity slip through his fingers and we had words about that. He was involved in an accident that caved in the left side his 1969 Chevy Impala. His car was one of a very few things he really cared about. He and I spent many hours and a lot of dollars making it a much more than an automobile. It is probably going to be totaled and fault has yet to be determined. Even if he is not found to be at fault, the car cannot be replaced and the pay off will not equal the money invested, never mind the blood.

He is not one to believe in… well, let’s just call them “signs.” I wasn’t either at his age. I just thought I had bad luck. The point here is that if he had spent his day doing what he had agreed to do – take the GED test in preparation to enter an auto tech school – that’s where he would have been, not on the road. Because he couldn’t bring himself to put forth the effort required to do it – for whatever reason – he found himself in a situation I assume he could have done without. Cause and effect? Crime and punishment? No, but in the realm of reality and what if, the outcome would have been different.

It took me a very, very long time to realize that I was the master of my fate. When I finally accepted this and learned to work with it, things in my life took a dramatic turn for the better. My hope is that perhaps my boy might be able to see this at 18 rather than 38 or 40… that through my experience he can gain some wisdom. In the meantime, he has some very big hurdles to cross and so do I. Today I will be making some new rules and demands that neither one of us will like.

He called me moments after the wreck happened; he had not even driven off the road yet. He was confused and a little freaked out and he needed his dad. Despite our conflict that morning, there was no question as to my response. I arrived just as the information was being exchanged. Judging by the damage, it’s amazing no one was hurt. As the moment was coming to an end and everyone was going their separate ways, I asked him if he was ready to hear what he did not want to. He turned to me with a forlorn look and nodded. I told him if he were doing what he was "supposed" to be doing, he wouldn’t have been there.

This is where the “what ifs” start. I don’t want to hear it. Here’s the thing: I fully concede that the outcome could have ranged anywhere from the moon falling out of the sky to him striking gold in my driveway had he or anyone else been somewhere else. It’s the butterfly effect argument. “If a butterfly flaps his wings at a specific time in a specific place, the chain reaction resulting from the disturbed air of that flap will radically alter the future.” There is only one fact. If he had been taking the test, he would not have been in that intersection. Fact! Anything else is nothing but pure speculation.

One doesn’t have to believe in anything beyond the here and now to accept the fact that there would have been a different outcome. I hope that maybe whatever was obstructing his motivation to do something positive now pales in comparison to the actual outcome of that decision. It was, once upon a time, nearly impossible for me to make that link. Today, the evidence is overwhelming.


scaredofu said...

Mr. Althouse! WOW! I understand your ideas that your son learned from you. I didn't learn from my mom and I know from your blog you took the long way to discovery just like me. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes but I will be praying, sending good thoughts, and hoping that all goes well for your family. Good luck!

Bar L. said...

Glad your son wasn't hurt. I think every life lesson I've learned has been the hard way. One very positive thing your son has going for him: a wise father.

As usual, Mike...this is a great post.

neal said...

I never learned from my father either. I had to learn my lessons through the school of hard knocks. I think I turned out about the way he would have wanted me to but it just took about 20 years longer than if I had listened to him in the first place.

I feel for you and wish you the best with the situation you are now facing.

I have noticed that it seems like every generation of youth become more and more hard headed when it comes to taking advice from their parents. My son is/has been diagnosed as a mathematical genius but he suffers also from a lack of motivation and inspiration. He is just 'good' at math but it does not excite or inspire him. He is also a very talented artist and I have told him to try and develop that further instead of just drawing Dragonball Z characters. He so far has shown no interest in that either. He has no clue as to what he wants to do with his life although through his straigh A average at school or his art skills the whole world is open to him. I hope with all my heart that he will find some motivation and initiative to do something with the skills he has and not waste his life. I don't want him ending up like me, breaking his back every day for $11 an hour.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I don't envy you the place you are in at this time...And I guess it was ever had to find your own way and however long that took, YOU had to do it yourself...and I would dare say this is true for your son as well...and in his own time, I believe, too...I know that is painful cause it sounds like you'd like to save him from the possibly long hard journey but...
I'm glad he wasn't hurt in that accident...(I couldn't help but think of your accident that you shared about on Cyberkittens blog...)
Well...I have nothing of true enlightment to say except I "hear" you, dear Mike, and hope for the best for your son.

mckay said...

he's safe. that's a good thing. we can't control our children's destiny. we can provide the vision and show them the path, then they must start their own journey. this is his journey. he's on it now.

i tell my now-4 year old (birthday was yesterday) each day he gets to makes choices. it doesn't stop, the choices, just change.

hang in there, dad.

Ellen said...

I remember being too smart for my parents at 18 as well. I never did get into any trouble, but still felt I had a better angle on the world, and they lived in the past. It wasn't until I was on my own, that I had a newer respect for their position. And then I lost my Mom when I was 21. I was devestated, because we just started to get along. I found I really missed her after I had my son, and she wasn't around to give me advise on how to handle a baby.

Somehow, 18 is the "smart" age... they have now evolved into being adults (legally), but still lack real world experience... and just don't know it, do they? We didn't either at that age.

No matter what, you are a good Dad, it's just frustrating.... and I know this because my son is 19 going on 30. They don't listen any better at 19. I blogged about how I had given him a lesson in economics when he graduated high school... what I didn't write about was the last sentence I said to him, which was:
Here's the door, honey, if you have a better offer out there, go for it.
Complaints became much less after that. He is understanding things a little better from my perspective, as well as learning to pay his own way through college.... his first real experience of *welcome to the real world".

Good luck!... and I'm glad to hear that he didn't suffer any injuries other than a wounded ego.

Snaggle Tooth said...

He's young. He still has time to learn it right, Dad, (good thing), even if he doesn't believe you know better what's best for him to do!

All he needs to know is "cause n effect." Each of his own actions or inactions has a consequence! Period. (End of lecture).

I had to kick out my 21 yr-old free-loader who refused to pay the major bills she ran up, although she had income, after months of my being on her case. When she had to pay to survive, she sure learned fast!
Then two weeks later I happened to be at the location where she had an auto-accident at that same time, and she was so relieved to see me there, "prodical daughter" in an instant! No more car and she needed rides to work, but ever since she's lived elsewhere, we've gotten along great!

There is always hope, but it may take a little while longer... Best of luck to you both!

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

I understand exactly what you mean.

It seems, as we age, and become more stable (I use this term loosely), the path actually becomes narrower rather than wider.

That being said, although meaning may not be of such importance, thinking, as you can see from the title of my blog, is never-ending...

blair said...

It's hard to watch your child make mistakes, perhaps the same mistakes we did. I try not to think shoulda, coulda, woulda. If he was doing this he wouldn't of been doing that. Of course, that is true, but the fact is he wasn't doing what he was supposed to and now he has to deal with it! Life is a series of lessons. Some harder than others. Sometimes it takes us years and years before we start to learn from those lessons. Many just keep repeating the same behavior over and over again. I know I did. It took me a long time. I know it's painful, but he has to take this leap himself. It wasn't until I had children of my own that I woke up. I discovered what it felt like to worry about someone other than myself. I realized the responsibility of a parent. And I finally realized that no matter how much I battled with my mother growing up, that she only wanted the best for me.

Mike, I'm not sure when it will happen, but your son will get there. Have faith.


Michael K. Althouse said...

scaredofu ~ Thank you. Part of my dilemma is that no one could tell me up from down either. I had to find out (as it turned out) the hard way. So far, only comparatively minor calamities with my kid.

bar bar a ~ You’re too kind! Too bad wisdom isn’t genetically transferable. Even if it were, I’m not sure the slow-growing variety I was blessed with is preferable.

neal ~ I hesitate to use the words “learn” and “listen” when it comes to these types of skills in regards to passing from one generation to the next. Sure, they are an accurate assessment, but it was never, for me, a formalized student teacher relationship and I don’t remember a great deal of talking and listening. It’s more of an example following paradigm and I’m not sure if that can be especially enhanced.

ooloth ~ hearing me and understanding is enlightenment enough and I thank you.

mckay ~ Agreed, and I can’t save him from himself. Not without his cooperation at least. Thanks for stopping by!

ellen ~ he is learning some of those lessons school can’t teach – that’s for sure. Unfortunately, much of his aimlessness was modeled for him by me, this re-awakened, motivated version of me is a relatively new thing – for both of us.

snaggle tooth ~ I have faith that things will get better and I thank you for the reaffirmation. The meantime is now, however. Someday we’ll get to look back and smile – but some day won’t be tomorrow.

bfc ~ indeed, the road does become narrower. Odd, you say some things that are strangely familiar…

blair ~ ya, it took me a long time too and one of the things that drives me is a sincere desire to do what I can so that others don’t have to. This desire is, of course, only compounded when it comes to my children. Thanks for the encouragement.

Helene said...

oh Mike.. I really feel your pain. My 13 year old is on the same path as your 18 year old. I actually have him seeing a shrink and it is helping both of us(he has a session then my spouse and I meet and discuss how to parent a child like him). I found out that you cant tell them to do anything that you cant enforce. They are totally in charge of their own lives (yes even at 13). That is a tough nut to swallow. There have to be consequences but they are in charge... not us.

It sounds like you handled the situation well... who knows what your son 'heard' from your conversation, but he couldnt miss the message "no matter what you did I am here for you if you need me." That was loud and clear.

You can only lead him and there is a fine line between aiding and enabling. It sounds like you are doing what you can now to be there for him. Just remember he is only 18. It will take him years before he will know what he wants and really values. Your job is to be the Dad... not perfect... not all knowing... just the Dad.

Good luck!

Saur♥Kraut said...

Glad your son's OK. I think the way to look at is that there may be luck, or it may be coincidence, but beings successful is how you deal with the circumstances. That means taking charge when possible and solving them when it's achievable.

Jinsane said...

WOW - what a story! I am so sorry about your son. I'm only 33, but I still feel guilt over all the worry and frustration I put my parents through - hopefully he will see that soon. It's always easy to put the blame find out what your weaknesses are and change them. I really hope that he sees the light soon. He has a great father!

The Zombieslayer said...

Don't worry. People mature at different ages. I matured very late and drove my parents up the wall. They were worried up until my late 20s that I'll be broke my entire life and wandering aimlessly. Funny how in a few years, things changed dramatically.

I really hope your son takes the auto school seriously. If one thing I learned about today's economics, very few jobs are safe. Mine isn't safe. An auto mechanic's and a nurse's is. That's pretty much it, besides a gov't job.