by STEVE WINSTON
Reprinted from my blog on fiftyisthenewfifty.com
“Just wait,” my friend Tom Wilmer, who’s raised three daughters, said on the phone. “Just wait until she tells you to die.”
“Too late, Tom,” I said. “She’s already done it.”
It happened back in November, 2010, two months after Alyssa had turned 16 … and three months after I had taken her on a long business trip with me to French Canada.
She didn’t want to have to stay with me and my second wife anymore on weekends. And her fits of violent temper and foul language were driving me crazy.
On this particular weekend, she wanted me to take her to a friend’s house to spend the rest of the weekend. And I was only too happy to do it.
As I pulled up to her friend’s house, she jumped out of the car, and, as she was slamming the door, said to me, “I’ll see you at your funeral!”
This incident capped what had seemed to me a year-long spiral (for her) into a violent-rage machine, where she could be wonderfully happy one minute and a cursing maniac (at me) the next.
That incident was pretty much the last I saw of Alyssa for some months. She was done coming to my house. And I didn’t feel it was wise to speak with her for a while, because of her rage at me. How much rage? Well, even after I had surgery a few weeks after this incident, she never called to find out how I was doing.
I decided to respect her rage, and to give her space. She was 16 now, and filled with surging hormones and deep anger. So I gave her the space I thought she needed … and I gave myself the space I felt I needed from her.
I knew she had issues with me that had been simmering for years. Alyssa’s mother and I got divorced when she was six years old, and Liss had had a lot of trouble understanding why her daddy wasn’t going to be living with her anymore. In fact, it still brings tears to my eyes when I think of a voice-mail she had left at my office a few weeks after we had told her and her older sister Jessica that Daddy was leaving.
“Now I understand, Daddy,” her little voice had said on the voice-mail. “You’re still my Daddy. You just won’t be living with me anymore. But you’re still my Daddy.”
A few months after her remark about seeing me at my funeral, I began calling her, just to make light conversation for a few minutes. And after another month or two, I took her out for lunch. There were one or two tense moments, but it went OK. Then a month later, I took her out again. In another month, I began seeing her every two weeks instead of every month.
Over the past six months, it’s been wonderful. We’ve gone to football games, basketball games, the circus, out to dinner; she even sat next to me – right in front of her friends! – at one of her high school’s football games.
Now, we can talk for hours, non-stop … and it’s usually Liss who’s doing the talking. In fact, last month I met up with my ex-wife and Alyssa in Gainesville, Fla., for Jessica’s graduation from the University of Florida. Alyssa wanted to drive home with me. So we spent six solid hours talking (mostly her), about pretty much everything under the sun … the Miami Hurricanes, World War II, the Middle East, her school grades, problems with Iran, her sister, her mother, her boyfriend Dylan. It was, for me, truly wonderful. And I literally bathed in it.
Is Alyssa totally over her rage? No. She’s still seventeen. In fact, when we had all gone out for lunch after Jessica’s graduation ceremony, she had a bad fit of temper, first at her mother, and then at me for defending her mother. But things are certainly so much better. We’ve been together several times since then. And it’s been wonderful.
On the way to Miami for the circus last Saturday (she had decided that she no longer cared that the circus wasn’t considered “cool,” and she had asked me to take her.), she had told me about some problems she was having with obsessive behavior. One of the behaviors made me laugh. A year ago, she would have blown into a full-scale rage, and called me every name in the book.
This time, however, she said very calmly, “I don’t think you should laugh at me when I’m telling you this about myself.”
And I told her she was right, and I apologized.
I’m hardly a model parent. But I have learned a few things about raising a teenager when you’re an “older” parent…
1) Don’t feed into the rage. One of you has to remain calm. And it has to be you!
2) Recognize the feelings. You don’t have to agree with them. But you do have to recognize them.
3) When your own blood starts to boil, and you start to answer back, ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
4) Smile when you feel like killing.
5) Always be willing to apologize.
6) And realize that a teenager is always right! There’s generally nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. And any attempt to do so is probably going to fall on deaf ears (as well as, possibly, a vile mouth!).
7) Keep saying to yourself, “This may not be personal. It could just be about teenage angst or hormones.”
7) The louder and more agitated they get, the more you have to love them.
I really wish I learned these rules a lot earlier. But this is definitely one area where “late” is definitely better than “never.”
Steve Winston (www.stevewinston.com) has written/contributed to 17 books, and his articles appear in major media all over the world. In pursuit of “The Story,” he’s been shot at in Northern Ireland, been a cowboy in Arizona, trained with a rebel militia in the jungle, jumped into an alligator pit in the Everglades, flown World War II fighter planes in aerial “combat,” climbed 15,000-foot peaks, rafted Class V rapids in Canada, trekked glaciers in Alaska, explored ice caves in the Alps, and been thrown out of a party given by Queen Elizabeth for the British Olympic team.