The phone rang just after ten thirty that night. We were awake, watching television. Caller ID told us that it was our son. Since we had been making and receiving calls from our son most of the day, primarily to share in his first long-distance birthday, we expected an additional update as the day wound down. We didn't expect to hear these words: bad news. His godparents were in the room with us, and they flinched right along with us. What was the nature of this bad news? The movie we were watching was paused and our collective focus shifted to the voice on the other end of the line.
What was the nature of this bad news? We waited in silence as my wife took it in for us. "Speeding ticket," she whispered as she continued to listen to the circumstances. Once it was clear that no one had been injured and though the citation had been issued and there was no way it could have been bypassed on account of being his birthday and all. I reached over an turned on the speaker phone. "Nobody was drinking, right?" This was the most forced rhetorical question that I could have asked, but I felt a parent's obligation to ask the obvious.
What I hoped was the obvious.
He was taking this great big turn into adulthood, and we had already been impressed by his openness and honesty. This was not a fault of his, nor was it in question. It was also part of the way we had raised ourselves, as a family. There was also the simple matter of accounting which led me to understand that my own teenage years had their share of missteps and misdemeanors. I was a good kid, and I took some chances and got some speeding tickets. To the tune of losing my license for nine months. That was in high school. Before I ever started drinking. And all the lessons I learned came at a price over the next ten years. Those were the lessons I hoped to impart to my son before he ever ran afoul of the law. Or anything else. I had hoped that all my experience would pave the way for him to avoid the scrapes and bumps I had encountered along the way. I was relieved to hear that the bad news would result in a fine. And a crushing blow to his birthday enthusiasms.
Somewhere in there, I felt some quiet satisfaction. Not because of the path my son was on, but because he chose to share it with his parents. That's something else we had in common. Back in those days when I was stumbling through adolescence, when I messed up, when I got pulled over, the phone call I made right after I got my bad news was the one that would share it with my parents. They weren't overjoyed or quick to pave over my wrong turns, but they were there for me. That's what I hoped to do for my son. In that weird, parental way, I couldn't be more proud.