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Father's Thoughts on Sons Growing Up

August 24, 1987|DON MARSH | Don Marsh is a writer in La Jolla. and

LA JOLLA — I always thought that of my two boys, one would be outgoing, gregarious, effervescent, self-confident and a big hit with the girls.

And the other would be a lot like me.

I still hold with that assessment, but after five years in the parent game I'm beginning to realize that all this time I've had the two of them mixed up. And I'm trying to figure out just where I went wrong. After all, a father isn't supposed to make a mistake like that. Not when there are so many others just waiting to happen.

In the beginning, it seemed only natural to presume that the younger one, who came to this planet equipped with the deluxe package--blond hair, blue eyes and a drop-dead gorgeous smile--would be the one to make the girls drop their Barbie dolls and run in his direction. The Robert Redford of the post-diaper set.

Not Bad, So Far

Mind you, he's not doing all that badly so far. He has the usual complement of friends, is making reasonable progress in preschool and, in general, gives new meaning to the words "easy-going." His mother's and my only real complaint is that he shows an everyday inclination to make a sprint through life always looking for the next party. He was born without a serious bone in his body and, to this day, is resistant to any suggestions that he acquire some. (A moment ago, he was running around the house wearing just a pair of underpants. He was wearing them over his head.)

And that's not such a bad thing, I guess. It's just that I always thought this "southern California boy" trait, although not always endearing to parents, teachers and other adults with whom he comes in contact, would stand him very well in dealings with members of the opposite sex.

But to my complete surprise, it is the other son, serious and sensitive, overly so at times, who has broken out of the gate early.

Take the other night, when three young ladies--not young girls, young ladies --rang the doorbell just about supper time. I opened the door to find three Madonna "wanna bes" in full uniform: stretch pants, silk blouse and spike heels.

Surely they were looking for the 16-year-old across the street. But no, it was my 5-year-old son they came to see, asking ever so sweetly if "Christopher could come out and play."

The next sound to be heard was the "whoosh" of great acceleration as Christopher, in a near-sonic burst of speed, came hurtling down several flights of stairs, his little size 8s seeming never to touch the ground, to greet his newfound girlfriends. And off they went, hand-in-hand.

Meanwhile, his brother, Zachary, my early odds-on candidate for lifetime membership in "Heartbreaker's Anonymous," was content to sit and watch another resident of his bug farm die. No discernible interest in girls here. Not the two-legged variety, anyway. At least not yet.

Time for Thought

This experience left me with a combination of thoughts as encouraging as they were chilling: (A), despite my earlier misgivings about my first-born's somewhat introspective nature, he seems well on the way to spending his next 12 to 15 years living under our roof following all the natural callings and pursuits of a boy's journey into manhood, and will do so apparently with great fervor; but (B), we're going to have to live through it all, too.

If you're a more experienced parent than I am, and almost everyone is, then perhaps you can explain this sudden phenomenon to me. Just how is it that a little boy--and I'm sure it happens to little girls, too--can, in an instant, make that logarithmic progression from playmate to boyfriend? Is it something in the water? Or do these things just happen naturally overnight?

And lastly, what can a parent do, beyond reaching for the industrial-strength Excedrin every time the doorbell rings, to combat that dual wave of anxiety and wistfulness that washes over when seeing your child make that first step from little boy to man?

Maybe there is some good news here, after all. Maybe what all this just means is that, in this age of shallowness and "Lite" living, where whiteness of teeth matters more than density of gray matter, the good old-fashioned virtues of calm, caring and sensitivity, even as expressed by a child just beginning to acquaint himself with these human properties, can indeed win the hearts of the fair young damsels in quicker fashion and with more lasting effect than the quick-smile artists could ever hope to.

Charm and good looks losing out to intellect and emotion. Leaving me with just two quick thoughts: Why didn't I have just a little more of either when I was growing up; and boy, is his younger brother going to be upset when he hears about this.

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