Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Tough Choices

“It’s your choice,” I said to my 17 year old son as we finished driving the long way home so we could conclude our conversation, “suck it up or sell the puppy.”

One week before, we had achieved the impossible. Since early childhood, he had been listening to stories of dogs I had as a boy and how much I loved them. “A boy and his dog,” I would say, “there is no greater love.” For a decade and a half we had presented this maxim to the boss and she always said, “Cats are fine. Dogs are not.” So we had cats. Still do. Then came the week of the father-son suck-it-up-or-sell drive-time chat.

She had finally said yes! We found the perfect puppy. We brought it home. We arranged my son’s room so he could train and entertain a puppy. And then the week from hell began.

The puppy whined. It bit. It peed. It barked. It pooed. It chewed on things. It attacked pant legs. All the things that had been endearing to me when I was a boy were driving my son insane. His gentle nature would not allow him to be firm with the puppy. He even grimaced when I played with her because of how rough I was. But then he would say, “You’re so good with dogs.” I could see something was up. He needed to toughen up and roughen up or she was going to eat him for breakfast – for the rest of his life.

Five days after getting the puppy, as we drove, he said, “Dad I can’t do it. I need to be more firm with her but I feel mean when I try. You can do it because you are more relaxed. I am stressed around her and I can’t relax and be in charge of her.”

“You mean, in control,” I said. “You can’t control her.”

“Exactly!” he said. “She doesn’t do what I say. I know she can’t understand yet and I need to train her but I don’t think I can get that far. I worry about her all the time. When I’m at school, when I’m trying to sleep. Every noise she makes and everything she does – I feel like I need to be there watching and making things safe for her.”

“She’s a dog,” I said. “Not a baby. She can spend hours on her own and be just fine when you get home from school or wake up in the morning.”

“I know,” he said, wiping his eyes. “I just have a lot of work to do on myself before I can work on her.” He often says insightful things like this. 17 years of living with him and I’m still not completely used to it.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know I like learning things about my character,” he said. “And I like working on it.”
I nodded my head. Everyone in our family knows this well. Never have I heard of another teenager calling a family meeting and saying, “I need your help. I know there are things about my character than I need to work on but I can’t see them because I’m not watching from the outside. What can I work on? What needs to change? Be honest, I can take it.” And so we were.

He’s been that way since he first learned to say, “No.”

And now, he had realised something that only a dog could teach him. He has an overwhelming need to be in control of anyone or anything for which he is responsible.

“Well son, you’ve got a choice to make,” I said. “And I’m not making it for you. Raising this puppy would be one way to work on your control issues. Or recognise, this is not a required relationship. We can find a home for the puppy where she is a better fit.”

He nodded, quietly.

“So, it’s your choice,” I said as we drove up the driveway, “Suck it up or sell the puppy. What’s it gonna be?”

And to his credit, he chose to sell the puppy. Not an easy choice, believe me!

As we watched the puppy and her new family drive down the driveway, my son said, “Dad, I have learned so much about myself. I would never have known how much I struggle with control if I hadn’t had the puppy. Now that I know this about myself, I can think about it, work on it, plan for it and conquer it when it resurfaces.”

And I know he will.

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For more parently pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

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