On middle school and men

August 15, 2014 

Doesn’t seem possible, but it’s back-to-school time again. Discussions around the dinner table recently have centered on school supplies, new clothes and class schedules. The word pre-algebra came up. It’s been a very long time, but I do remember my pre-algebra days. Mostly, I remember asking myself the question, “what idiot decided to put letters in a math problem?” over and over. I had many crushes in middle school. Math wasn’t one of them.

Middle school? Oh my God, I have a kid in middle school, a middle school boy, no less. There is no such fearsome creature in all of nature than a pubescent middle school boy. It often goes uncommented on, but after just a few years teaching middle school, many an educator has been lost to PTSD, or Pre Teen Student Disorder. Some, even years removed from the middle school classroom, continue to involuntarily convulse at the slightest hint of Axe body spray.

I’m the parent of a middle school boy. Let that sink in, America. My role as a parent, as a father, other than serving a brief biological function in the very beginning, has been largely ceremonial thus far. Beyond opening the pickle jar, killing spiders and checking for the occasional boogie man, my parenting skills have gone relatively untested. I do believe that’s about to change.

Fathers of middle school boys, I’m speaking to you now. We either already have, or soon will be, called upon to have some serious discussions, and at this point, it’s crucial to understand that we can no longer get away with saying, “go ask your mother.” No, it falls to us now.

In this electronic age, dads, if we didn’t know the answer to a question before now, we could Google it. Failing that, we could resort to the methods of our fathers, and simply make the answer up on the spot. The Internet isn’t going to cut it now, and making up an answer is out of the question.

It gets worse, fathers of the world. Beyond the pre-algebra, and the nature of some of the discussions we are going to lead, our mission is made difficult with age. It’s a scientific fact that every year our boys get older, we fathers get proportionally less smart. In a cruel similarity to the phenomenon that men hit their peak decades earlier than women, dads suddenly become dumb at the exact moment teenagers get smart.

Dads, I think we’re up for the challenge. It’s like confronting a bear in the wild in that if you turn and run, you’re toast. We simply have to talk loud, make big gestures with our hands, and stand our ground. In the end, the bear will walk away, probably confused, with more questions than answers, and silently cursing the fact that it didn’t eat us. But it will walk away.

There is one inescapable fact, men. We will have to actually talk to our sons. So far, there really hasn’t been any issue that we couldn’t solve by locking eyes on our prey in the parental stare of death, or using patented tension-diffusing techniques like a wedgie, Wet Willie, or a burping contest. Of course, flatulence on demand has always been a crowd pleaser as well.

Authentic, man-to-man conversations will be required. Which, as we all know, is a skill in which all men excel. So, really, this is a piece of cake, a piece of awkward, is-this-really-happening cake. Good luck, men. After this, pre-algebra will seem easy.

Bill Filer is a Harrisonville resident.

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