Life with my 16 year-old son

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
Font Size:

I have been writing this column called “Purple Nation” since the summer of 2008. My purpose was to write about issues and politics that focused on facts, not ideology, and that offered opportunities for mixed “red state-blue state” or “purple” analysis and solutions.

I’ve written hundreds of columns since then — many of them about serious political and substantive topics. But of all the columns I ever wrote, none received more positive comments that spread on the Internet like a virus, it seemed, than the one I wrote in December 2008, titled: “Life With My 10 Year-Old Son.” Clearly I had struck a chord that transcended politics and ideology — everyone who had children seemed to identify with something in that column. You can find it here.

Now on the occasion of Josh’s 16th birthday last week (March 27th), I thought it was time to write a follow-up.

When Josh was 10, we had many conversations with Josh about school, sports, and lots of things. Now when I ask him how his day was at school, he responds:

“Ok.” (Voice very low, of course.)

“Well what happened at school today? Anything interesting?”

“No.” So much for conversation.

Then again, conversation in today’s teenagers seems to be through the fast movement of thumbs on an iPhone texting, or going to Instagram or Twitter. Almost never over the phone.

Of course other things have changed radically with Josh since he was 10 years old, his voice dropped in tone at the age of 13 and 14, and he shot up in height like a twig. Now taller than his dad, his bedroom door is closed, to be opened only after a knock first.

I remember one night not too long ago when I picked him up from a friend’s house. It was about 10:30 pm. As I drove towards home, I noticed he was texting on his iPhone at a furious pace. Then suddenly, Josh said:

“Dad: you need to take me to the movie theater.”

“Movie theater?” I asked, in consternation, yet amazed that he had actually said a sentence to me. “It’s 10:30 at night. Josh, what are you thinking?”

Long pause.

“Dad, I am not thinking with my head.”

OMG, he said more than one word to me! That was all I could think. OMG. What does a father do in a situation like this?

I decided to trust him. I dropped him off a block from the theater, he came back to the car 45 minutes later, and nothing else was said. For some reason, I was glad this time for the silence.

Then there was the time I heard Josh listening to rappers such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, I asked him, with some sarcasm and irritation in my voice, “Hey Josh — do you really consider this music?”

“Yes,” he said.

“But,” I said, it’s not music — there is no melody, there is no song.”

He went to the Webster’s Dictionary, looked up with satisfaction, and handed it to me. I read the definition of “music”:   “The science or art of ordering tones in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition, having unity and continuity.”

I was aghast. There was no word “melody.”

“That’s rap music, dad. You’re wrong, as usual.”

“Wrong as usual”(!!!). As usual? I used to be the smartest guy around to Josh when he was 10. How did I get to be so dumb?

But I knew there was hope. I remembered what my oldest son, Seth, said to me shortly after he turned 21. “You know, dad,” he said, recalling a cartoon I had told him about, which my dad had told me about, “you have gotten a lot smarter the last few years.”

So what if he thinks I am dumb? I know — as do most parents of teenagers in red states and blue states, indeed all over the world — that in a few years, our children will recognize that we have grown smarter over the years … and they will be right. We will have learned from them too. And that’s the way it ought to be, and always has been.

Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster).