Sunday, November 22, 2009

Learning from those who know

"The more I learn the less I know."

When you’re a teenager, few if anyone can tell you much. After all, there’s little in this world you don’t know. And fortunately for mankind, this knowledge is passed on from generation to generation as my two teenagers remind me weekly how much I don't 'get it'.

I recall one time when I was the ripe old age of 17 telling my dad, ‘I feel like I’ve really got a good grasp on life and know what’s what.’ He just looked at me and didn’t say a word. Looking back his response was brilliant as there was obviously no words needed at that incredibly stupid moment.

One of my favorite Mark Twain muses is the one where he states, ‘When I was 17, my dad was so dumb I could hardly stand to be in the room with him. And in four years time, I was amazed at how much he’d learned’. This certainly applied to me.

Being a teenager with hormones running a muck, fitting in is about as high on the chart as it gets. And what you wear is imperative to this all important aspect of finding your way. No matter whether its school, after school, weekend, evening, athletic, ski, basketball, etc., what’s on your back, legs and feet is not taken lightly. All must fit and be the latest that everyone else is wearing…no trail blazing here as that would be very very ‘un-cool’.

I had returned from a must shopping spree at the University Book Store and procured a pair of white cotton gym shorts with really cool blue University of Washington logo on the front lower part of the right leg. They were the bomb as all the cool guys in PE had a pair and I was not about to be left on the sidelines waiting to be picked for sides without mine. I even bought a pair of matching blue with white logo. I was cool.

They went straight in the wash to give them that 'non new' look. Then straight to the dryer. I couldn’t wait to pack these babies off to school the next day and rock in PE!

When I returned home from gadding about, my mom was busy doing her afternoon ironing. Hot on the board were MY shorts. I looked in dismay and yelled, ‘What on Earth are YOU Doing?’ Ironing my shorts! As she looked incredulously at me and a bit bewildered, she passed the steaming hot iron across the most sacred of sacred, the blue etched on University of Washington logo. What appeared on the face of those shorts after this quick pass was a blue smear splotch. I went ballistic!

The exact words that escaped my mouth are not known. Just that my rampage was such that it brought my dear mother to tears. I felt a bit raunchy for my outburst and ruining my mother’s day, but not enough to keep the verbal assault abated. I stormed off with ruined shorts in hand and the expectation of next day disappointment hanging over head.

That evening as I came in the family room, my dad was in his casual chair with accustomed Seattle Times opened across his lap. We exchanged some pleasantries and how each others day had been. He then asked what had transpired to upset my mother so much. Being filled with righteous behavior, I began to spew out my take on the disaster that had taken place a few hours earlier. I felt I had made a very good case, so much so that Perry Mason himself would have approved. The only cross examination proffered was a question to how much the shorts cost. I promptly told him, five dollars with a sense of indignant pride.

Once the diatribe concluded, my dad calmly leaned forward in his chair, reached in his back pocket, pulled out his wallet and extracted a crumpled up five dollar bill. In hand, he stretched his arm my way and said, ‘Here son, here’s five dollars. Go upstairs and make your mother cry again, and it’s yours. After all, that’s worth five bucks isn’t it?’

In this moment, I realized that even a brilliant teenager was put to the intellectual test. The feeling of being a complete schmuck permeated my adolescent self with nothing left on the table to say…I was completely outmatched and took my life’s learning punishment with shame.

Living your life every day as though you have cancer will most likely keep moments like this from ever occurring. Perhaps, but maybe not. Being all knowing at such an early age might even get in the way. But let’s hope and pray it doesn’t.

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