Last night,The Boy and I set out for the Second Event of the Septathlon, with changed rules.
The first changed rule was that it'll no longer be limited to just seven events. Instead, we're going to try to do an event a week until we get bored or time ends, whichever comes first. (Note: Just because it will no longer be only seven events is not a good enough reason to change the name. It's not like Septathlon means anything, anyway. All those "old" "Greek" "words" are nothing of the sort; they're random assemblies of sounds foisted on us by scientists and high school teachers.)
The second rule is that Middle's no longer part of this, because she exercised poor judgment and went off to college.
The third rule is that the bets are weekly, and we'll alternate weeks picking activities. With that in mind, we sat down over a dinner of burritos and potato chips (Dinner of Champions) and agreed on last night's Septathlon Second Event and the bet.
The Event: Golf.
The Bet: If I win, The Boy has to watch 2 episodes of Better Off Ted without complaining. If wins, I have to watch the movie Heat.
(I, of course, immediately noted that he had not added "without complaining," which meant that I was allowed to complain if I ended up watching Heat. The Boy then tried to claim that "not complaining" was included in the bet.)
We then finished up dinner and set off on our Golf Event, delayed only briefly by (a) having to load Mr F and Mr Bunches into the other car so that Sweetie could take them for a ride, and (b) having to assure Sweetie that I wasn't suffering a heart attack.
On the former, we ended up sending Sweetie and the Babies! for a ride because when we got ready to leave, they got all excited and thought they were getting to go somewhere, too. We couldn't take them with us, though, because the course we'd chosen, The Waunakee Free Course, is right on a highway, plus there's a water hole there, so it was too likely they'd end up drowned or run over or both. To avoid disappointing them, we had Sweetie take them for a ride in the car while we left.
As to the latter, Sweetie was initially concerned about my health, concerns that were overblown. All I'd said to her was that I'd had, all day, kind of a sharp, stabbing pain in my right side of my chest, one that got worse when I breathed or laughed. Sweetie thought it might be I was having a heart attack, but I pointed out that the heart is on the left side. She then guessed Spleen?, to which I responded: "I don't even know where my spleen is, so that's not the problem, either." Then I manfully shrugged off her worries and hopped into the car, taking a precautionary Pop Tart with me.
I was a little concerned, initially, when we arrived at the golf course, because The Boy has been golfing all summer, and I haven't been on a golf course since last September, when I beat Middle in a stunning come-from-behind victory that netted me a t-shirt. (Teaching the kids the evils of gambling by betting them and then winning = good parenting.) That, together with the Possible Spleen Attack (is that a thing?) made me a little nervous as we got up to the tee for the first shot.
The Boy went first, and borrowed my driver. The course we were on was a Par 3, short, free golf course set up by a developer who had some unbuildable land and who likes golf. No hole is longer than 200 yards, making drivers largely unnecessary. That didn't stop The Boy from using one, and he promptly whacked a shot about 90 degrees to his right, far off target.
"Well," he said, "At least I cleared the water." And he had -- on the 7th hole.
I got off a good shot and the game was underway. By about the third hole, it became apparent to me that The Boy had not been spending the time on the golf course this summer actually golfing, or, if he had been actually golfing, he'd been doing that by trying to invent some new, more aggressive, and more violent, form of golf. He would tee his ball up and then hack at the ground as though the ground presented at least an orange-level threat to him. After about the third such hit, I asked him:
"What were you doing when you golfed this summer?"
He didn't take that the wrong way and answered that he'd mostly been messing around, which seemed to me to confirm what I had secretly suspected -- that golfing hadn't been golfing at all.
The Boy has always, since he turned into a teenager, wanted to just hang out, or go walking around. That used to be the big thing he wanted to do: go walking around.
"Where?" we'd ask him, when he'd come to us and ask if him and his friends could just go walking around.
"Nowhere," he'd say. "Just around."
I never fell for it. When I turned 40, I also turned "suspicious of teenagers," to the point where if I see 2 or more teenagers together, I assume they're up to no good and I check my wallet and consider calling 911. That's true even if they're our teenagers, and it's true even if the teenagers are in an organized group. Attending high school meetings makes my Spider-Sense buzz: whole roomfuls of teenagers, all clearly conspiring to... do something. Smoke cigarettes or shoplift or something. I don't trust them, not a bit.
So when The Boy wanted to go walking around, with no clear plan, what I heard was get into trouble and we never allowed it. He could, and can, only go someplace if there's a clear destination and purpose to it. No walking around, but he can go bowling or go work out at the club.
I got more suspicious of The Boy than usual the day I called home on my way home to tell Sweetie that I needed The Boy to help me that night.
"He's at the health club," she told me, "Working out." As it happened, I also had to drive by the health club, and noticed as I did so that The Boy's car, Bluey, was not in the parking lot. I asked him about it later, wondering why if he was at the club his car wasn't there.
"I had to go to the Bank, first," he said, which would have been a perfectly reasonable explanation from anyone who wasn't a teenager. Coming from The Boy (a teenager), I knew that "had to go to the Bank" meant, probably "went to a wild party and got drunk and also committed crimes and used your credit card."
After all, that's what it meant when I was a teenager. (Don't tell my dad.)
I could never prove that The Boy's trips to the club, or the Bank, or golfing, were, in reality, just hanging around, until last night, when The Boy hacked his way through the first couple of holes and proved to me that not only had his "golfing" over the summer not helped him, it might well have set him... and golf as a sport... back several decades.
I gave him only a few pointers, along the lines of don't splay your feet, you're not a monkey. I had to add that he's not a monkey because I told him to hold his feet parallel, and he said "I can't." To which I said "Of course you can. You're not a monkey." I don't know why I said that. It just seemed to me like if there was any animal in nature that couldn't hold its feet parallel, it would have to be the monkey.
Beyond that, I didn't try to give him pointers because when I golf with people older than me, (my father-in-law or uncle-in-law), or with people better at golf than me (virtually everybody), they're always giving me tips, and I hate it. I don't go out golfing to get better at it. Getting better at things is practicing, and if I wanted to practice, I wouldn't be me. I don't practice at sports that I do for fun -- what's the point? I'm doing it for fun, and practicing isn't fun. If I wanted to be a pro golfer or pro racquetball player or something, I might practice and worry about getting better, but as it is, I just want to go out and hit the ball and have a little fun, and having my father-in-law come and grab my hips and adjust my feet and tell me to pivot this and swivel that isn't fun.
So I never give tips to other people, unless they ask me, and I mostly stuck to that with The Boy, beyond giving him a pointer here or there (along the lines of "That wasn't very good.") I had my own worries, though, what with the Possible Spleen Attack making it a little difficult to swing a club, and what with my concern about The Boy's cavalier attitude towards finding the golf balls he lost here and there.
"I'm not even going to look for that," he'd say, after whacking a shot towards the weeds. Since that was my golf ball, and since golf balls cost money, I considered telling him he had to go look for it. But then I'd watch the violent way he'd swing at an easy chip shot, miss, spin, and toss the club ten feet, and think "I just hope I get out of this alive."
I also had to be concerned about losing, because I did not intend to lose to The Boy. I've never lost a round of golf to any of the kids and didn't intend to start now (even though I really did want to see Heat.) It's not just the principal of the thing. As I've gotten older and softer and less yell-y, I feel like I'm losing the moral authority that follows, naturally, from yelling. Parental yelling is the source of approximately 90% of parental authority: Parents have bigger voices and get to say Don't you yell at me when the kids start yelling back, and then they yell more, and then you get to tack on an extra punishment for yelling at you, punishments being the other 10% of parenting.
I don't yell so much anymore because I'm a relaxed, New Age-y kind of guy and because, to be honest, the Babies! have worn me down so much that I rarely have the energy to yell anymore about anything, so that no matter how angry I get that the ketchup bottle is again lying on its side on the top shelf, instead of standing upright on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, where it belongs, no matter how mad I get about that, I'm too tired from constantly re-pantsing the Babies! to really work up a good head of steam. I don't yell much anymore, which waters down my punishments, in turn, because yelling is how punishments are enforced.
And I know my punishments are watered down, because The Boy flaunts that at me. He's technically being punished right now, for bad grades last spring. His punishment included reading the book Catch-22, and also not going anywhere on school nights until his grades come up. So for the first two weeks of school, he read zero pages of Catch-22, and he went out with friends every night, until last Thursday, when he came and said:
"I know I'm being punished and I'm not supposed to go out on school nights, but can I go next door to hang out for a while?" "Next door" is where his best friend lives. I thought about that and in a very reasonable, non-yell-y, Doctor Spock approved voice told him that would be okay but that from here on out, he was not going to go out on school nights, period, until his grades came up, and that included not even just going next door.
He accepted that, and why not? On Sunday night, I asked Sweetie where he was and she said "I told him it was okay to go next door to watch the football game." When I brought that up to The Boy the next morning, he said:
"What's the big deal? It was only next door."
You can see where some yelling might have enforced that punishment. But I don't have the energy to yell anymore, especially when deep breathing causes Possible Spleen Attacks, so instead, I decided that it was important to cling to my last remaining vestige of parental authority, being better at things than the kids are.
Being better at things is the only other source of parental authority that can be invoked. When you've stopped yelling and stopped punishing and have nothing left, you can still sometimes get kids' respect if you're better at things than they are. I used to be able to invoke this all the time. After all, I had a job that gave me authority over people and that required me to wear a tie, two signs that I was pretty good at something. I was always able to help with their homework. I used to be able to answer their questions, back when their questions were things like "Who makes more money, Brett Favre or Chicago?* (*Actual question The Boy asked me, at age 10.) But then they saw me at the office and noticed that most of my time there is spent not working, but blogging, and their homework got hard, resulting in me saying, more and more, let's look it up on the internet, or, worse, you'll have to go talk to your teacher about that, and my authority eroded more and more, leaving me with just:
I'm better at sports than you are. And that's not even mostly true, since I can't beat them in basketball.
To preserve what's left of my parental authority, I focused, and I fought my way through the first couple of holes (when, improbably, The Boy actually took the lead for a brief time.) My efforts paid off: by hole number 6the contest was largely over, I was firmly in control, and The Boy was talking about packing it in, asking me if I wanted to play the last three holes.
He seemed even more eager to do so after I chipped nearly onto the green, from behind a tree.
This is the shot I'm talking about there.
I landed it just off the green.
I landed it just off the green.
A nicer person, one who wasn't concerned that golf was his only chance to actually retain power in his household, might have agreed to call it quits. I did not, and made him play out the last three holes.
A nicer person, too, might not have said to him, as we teed it up for the 9th hole, "Hey, all you have to do is hit a hole in one and hope I shoot a 21."
But I'm not a nicer person. I'm a parent, and on this night, I was a parent who not only had to preserve his rapidly-dwindling authority, but also had to contend with a Possible Spleen Attack. So I didn't quit, and forged ahead, making him play out the round, turning me into not just a parent, but, more importantly, a parent who won.
By 19 strokes.
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