My father used to hang out with my friends and me when I was in high school. It felt very natural, probably because he had been doing much the same with my older brother and his buddies. Eventually, when my younger brother started bringing his pals around, my dad hung out with them too. It wasn't like he was going out to McDonald's with us, or stalking us outside the homecoming dance. He was there in our basement playing ping-pong. He was there when the pizza showed up. He paid for it. That wasn't the reason my friends liked him. They liked him because he was a fun guy. He seemed to have an innate understanding of how teenage boys worked, and didn't make a show of it. Not exactly.
I know that the way I am around my son's friends has a direct relation to the way my of dealing with everyone's favorite dad. To be honest, I would love to be every bit as favorite as my dad was. We don't have a ping-pong table downstairs, our basement is unfinished. The guys play video games down there, and when I go down to see what's happening, they all acknowledge me by briefly looking up from their screens and grunting their familiarity. X-Box is not anywhere close to ping-pong when it comes to generating intimacy. I do buy them pizza.
Ping-pong and pizza aren't really what it's all about. I know that. I know that my father was compensating, way back when. He was trying to connect to what once was, and what he wanted for me. He wanted me to have a close group of friends who would be with me as I grew older. He stayed close to his high school buddies, right up until the end. I want to believe I will be connecting with those friends of mine from the basement as I grow older. When my son is in his fifties, I hope that he can call up those X-Box buddies and invite them to his wedding. The way his dad did. The way my dad did.
It's a tricky balance, being there but not overwhelming. It's not my childhood. My youth is gone. My son is helping me out by letting me have a little sip from his fountain. I can't go back. I don't want to. Being seventeen was a tough place to live. But it's a nice place to visit.