When I Lived with a Teenager


Note:  This was written over twenty-five years ago. Our relationship has, of course, matured since then



My sixteen-year-old confides in his mother. Tells her things. Like “I’m going to kill Dad. Seriously. Some day I’m going to cream him out of existence”. Yes I have  asked my wife what she says to this but she acts evasive. Laughs. Or puts down her magazine, stares out the window and says ” I can see his point”.

The lad’s changed, this past six months. Either it’s puberty with the bit between its teeth or GCSEs coming on, but he keeps taking my things. Jumpers, ties, socks. My running shoes he can’t keep away from. Even when his own are bone-dry and mine muddied, he borrows. “They’re a perfect fit” he says, daring me to disagree. When he walks you hear his feet flopping about inside them.

“It’s the strain of studying” my wife says. The school sent home a note pointing out that Easter was a great time for GCSE revision. Mornings and afternoons would be best, leaving evenings for “recreation”.  He follows the last bit religiously.

So well does he recreate, his mornings tend to be given over to recovery and his afternoons to planning.

One morning at five minutes to eleven I could contain myself no more. Taking a deep breath I opened his door, peered in and suggested a start should soon be made on the studies, that tempus was fugiting. I’ve never actually heard a bear in labour but the groan that came from the inner gloom sounded the way I  imagined a birth-panged bear might.

Later that day during the News at Ten he returned to that moment. When he is in the grip of an emotion he often addresses me through the TV. Thus, his eyes fastened  on Sir Alastair Burnet: “Do you think you could come into my room some day without busting down the door?”

Softly, I mention that I had put only my head in and that it was eleven o’clock.  This is a mistake. His fingers run through his hair like angry mice and his voice shoots up to squeaky-chalk level. “That scared  me. You could give a person a heart-attack like that. And I was already getting up”.

With my wife’s toe hammering at my ankle, I say that at the time he gave a convincing impression of someone sound asleep. “I was thinking!” he shouts at the Prime Minister of Lithuania. “Try it sometime, why don’t you!”

His room in general is a touchy area – Sikhs probably feel the same way about the Golden Temple. On the wall, posters of cars that he swears can do 80 mph in second gear. A Living World shot of a snake with its mouth gaping. One of  Sinead O’Connor melting the camera lens with her eyes.

Last Christmas his granny, a woman of enormous courage, walked in on him without knocking. “Have you no nice holy pictures up?” she asked, checking the postered wall. We had to frog-march her out to look at the back garden before he became activated.

And the phone has suddenly become deeply important to him. Let it ring, and any living creature that comes between him and it is liable to be ground underfoot or swept to the wall. We know he’s got a male caller when we hear him slagging off teachers and outlining (yet again) a key plot-point from Lethal Weapon. Female caller are identified by long silences, whispers and the occasional warm chuckle. If I phone home and he answers it’s like talking to Paul Robeson with a sore throat.

In the flesh he likes to make the most of his quarter-inch advantage over me. When I explain once more my thinking on some aspects of finance or life, he stands as close as possible, hands on hips, mouth hanging partially open to register his amazement that someone could claim to be human and yet say the things he can now hear me saying.

Food is less an interest than a ravening need. One moment all will be silent. Next, he erupts from his room, storms the kitchen and starts eating cereal. Huge, bulging bowls of it; before he can add the milk he has to hold the mound in place with a cupped hand. Then there’s ice-cream.

The new ice-cream place down the road sells him family-size chocolate-flavour cartons, which he consumes as though they were a test of his burgeoning manhood.

When I suggest that this intake might be a source of zits, he rolls his eyes and demands which of us did biology and which of us didn’t, and was I really standing there claiming that I had a baldy clue (he sniggers when he says that) that I knew what I was talking about?

There is NO, REPEAT NO CONNECTION between ice-cream and zits. “Hello” he says, tapping my forehead. “Anybody home?”

It’s all very tiring – like being occupied by an army of  one. In more philosophical moments, like when he’s away for a week on a school trip, I realise that it’s all part of growing up. All this hassle is just the Oedipus complex at work – or at least the killing-the-father part.

And that’s why the English language invented the word ‘patricide’:  not that it happens very much but that it catches, he confides to his mother, his feelings about me.

At the same time,  shouldn’t sauce for the gosling be sauce for the gander?  You’d think the English language with all its subtlety, complexity and range could come up with a word for what millions of middle-aged men day and daily feel like doing to their teenage sons.

5 Responses to When I Lived with a Teenager

  1. Ciarán Dawson December 21, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    How misery loves company! Go raibh maith agat as an ghá bheag dóchais seo.

  2. Your Son December 21, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
    I called him up just the other day
    I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
    He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
    You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
    But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
    It’s been sure nice talking to you”

    And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
    He’d grown up just like me
    My boy was just like me