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Gary Horton: No, all kids don't all lie

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: September 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.
Updated: September 8, 2010 4:55 a.m.

"Nothing doing," I said. "You're not going to any concerts, and I'm not going to underwrite them."

"But dad, I know you'll like it." "No way - you're not going to concerts with me or anyone else. You're not opening that door."

A bad move by an untrusting dad. What had been a son earnestly reaching out to his dad, needlessly became a hurtful wound and a chasm between us. Jon wanted to bond and communicate. But to untrusting me, concerts equaled sex, drugs and rock ‘n' roll. No way my 16-year-old was going to get involved in any of it.

Jon loved music. But I didn't like or trust his music. I'd never heard of The Cure or Oingo Boingo. Jon loved these guys.

On his 17th Christmas, Jon gave me a pair of tickets to see Oingo Boingo as a father/son trip. We'd take the train together down to Orange County for the concert. It would be fun. He'd show me firsthand the music he loved. We'd get to talk and hang out.

You can imagine his disappointment when his gift was spurned that Christmas. More so when the day of the concert came and went, and I forced the tickets to remain unused in his drawer. Dad was being a jerk, and boy, now I wish I could take those two days back. I was in teenage distrust mode, and my distrust sometimes got the better of me. Jon's 30 now, and there's no way for a do-over to get those days back.

"The first lesson you must learn is that all teenagers lie."

Two weeks back, Signal columnist Steve Lunetta provided this dismal assessment of the SCV's collective offspring, listing the various dismal ways our dismal children dismally lie to their parents.

I read it and was depressed for a day. Yeah, my kids sometimes lied to me. I sometimes lied to my mom. No excuses for any of it. But, (discovered) crimes had just punishment, and we moved on to the better things.

Without doubt, parents must be vigilant. We've got to be honest with ourselves and see our kids' behavior for what it is, not what we hope it to be. We can't sugar coat or look the other way when our kids do wrong.

As Lunetta rightly wrote, parents who don't act when kids act out are begging for big kid problems. Parents must be discerning, firm and resolute in high standards, and willing to punish.

But to set up a relationship default that your kids are all liars? That's not much of a standard for a kid to live up to. Our kids generally live up (or down to) the expectations we set by our teaching and our example. Perhaps it's better to set the default expectation of trust and honor than the expectation that Junior constantly lies, and we've got to search and breathalyze him at every passage through the door.

What do we communicate to our kids when we continually assume the worst of them? Especially when they're acting honorably and appropriately? How deep does the damage go when our kids do right, yet we face them with distrust?

I don't have many regrets as a parent, but one that still haunts me is distrusting Jonathan's motives with that Oingo Boingo concert. Jonathan was as sincere a kid as could have been. Of course there were bumps, like when he was 12, took the keys to our car and drove around block with all his friends. But the dumb stuff didn't define the kid, nor did we let it.

Instead, we communicated that integrity would be the operating default, and with Carrie's close, loving supervision integrity generally stuck.

Still, when Jon entered his teens, I got cold feet and became nervous. I remembered all the dumb and dangerous stuff my buddies and I did, and how many of them made choices that changed their lives for the worse - permanently. I slipped into distrusting mode to an earnest young son. My default setting became negative when the relationship better called for open communication. We grew distant at a time when we could and should have grown closer - and it was my fault.

Jon and I continued a relationship that was OK, but not the one he desired. He went off to California State University, Berkeley and got his undergraduate. He did cool things at school. He co-established a fraternity. One winter vacation, he volunteered in a Salvation Army rescue mission in Philadelphia. He did those kinds of building, constructive things.

Upon graduating, Jon moved to Brooklyn and taught special education in a tough ghetto school. He got his masters in education. He became the union representative at the school. Later, when we needed someone with his educational skills,
Jon came back home to help his dad's company. Good fruits from a good kid. We're close again, and I'm so happy.

Meanwhile, Oingo Boingo has become my most favorite band. I'd hop on a train to go see Oingo Boingo with Jonathan any day. But we can't turn back the clock, and that opportunity won't return. Because, having accomplished a family dynamic of integrity, too often I assumed the worst when my son didn't have it coming.

No, please don't assume your kids always lie - and for goodness' sake don't communicate that to them. Generally, they're pretty darn good. Recognize and reinforce the genuine good and you'll generally be pleased with the results.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesday in The Signal.


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