My life has swung full circle. I am now a father, having recently crossed over into an old age (40). My son just just turned 13 and is a full blown teenager. As I look at him now, many things that come to mind. First, I am amazed at how fast he grows; both Mari and I realized a while ago we would soon be looking up at him! Next, I think about how much of us I see in him. Even though I am not his biological father, I see so many traits that remind me of myself. No matter how different he is from me in some aspects, in others I can see my influence. That can blow your mind sometimes, how you can raise a human being and always see parts of yourself in them. He is entering an age where he will hopefully find his true self.
Think about the mindset of a tween/early teenager. One is easily influenced at that time by both your peers and pop culture, still unsure of the person they are to become. It’s like a fresh ball of clay that has started to form but hasn’t taken a real shape. Hormones infiltrate and take over the brain, causing times where there seems to be little or no function. I look at Jackson at those times and wonder what (if anything) is going on in that head? There seems to be very little, mostly because he is tuning us out and thinking that he already knows what we are trying to tell him. However, at other times he can be very sensitive and focused. The wild swings between the two are mind-boggling! There are many more life benchmarks ahead, and Mari and I are both bracing for and trying to figure out how to best manage them as we go.
I recall when I was his age, during the early nineties. Pop culture was dominated by the likes of Milli Vanilli, Boys II Men, and R&B groups of the like, along with shows like Saved by the Bell and Full House. I wasn’t huge on this genre, but was also easily influenced and tried to get on board. I had my Z Cavaricci pants and short sleeve button downs. I rocked a mullet, which should never come back into style. I tried some of the dance moves like the running man and danced to NKOTB. Yeah, I was trying to be that kid.
But I knew that wasn’t who I really was. Then, suddenly and miraculously, Nirvana bust onto the scene in 1991 and instantly turned the music industry on its head. The music was raw, with plenty of angst and anger, highlighted by heavily distorted guitar and pulse-pounding drumbeats. Kurt Cobain screamed more than sang, voice cracking with emotion as he belted his dark and moody lyrics. It was a stark contrast from everything else at the time. Smells Like Teen Spirit hit the charts and spawned a new music genre, grunge. After the release, many other Seattle-based bands came to the forefront in their wake, like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots. That grunge sound really struck a chord with me. The songwriting was more melancholy and real, unlike the boy bands and bubblegum pop that was on the radio.
I was going through a lot at that time, both with my health and my family. My parents were unhappy, seemingly always fighting. They would split up shortly afterwards, which meant we weren’t moving to San Diego to all live together (another story for another day). At the same time I was trying to come to grips with my CF and its progression and its result of regular hospitalizations or tune-ups. While I was hospitalized many times earlier in life, they were primarily related to GI issues and not respiratory in nature. But I was starting to colonize strands of bacteria in my lungs, causing infections to consistently build up in my lungs. I tried to downplay it in my mind, but it affected me. I had to miss large chunks of school, and I was no longer able to successfully hide my CF from other.
Being a tween and early teenager is inherently about your insecurities and attempting to overcome them. This was nearly impossible for me, as I was reminded many times a day in class. Most days I would have productive coughs that made me sounds like I was a chain smoker. It would get the usual looks of disbelief or dread from my classmates, like I was going to infect everyone around me. I would attempt to hide this, either by excusing myself to the bathroom multiple times a day (which probably caused its own suspicions), or trying to “swallow” my coughs (not effective, just swallowing air and causing GI issues). I would also try to “breathe” through it, which took most of my concentration and probably affected my attention in class and probably sounded like a Lamaze class! Anyway I tried, it was nearly impossible to hide. As these issues were more apparent, I shied away from a lot of interactions, especially with girls. I was unable to let anyone get close to me for some time, affecting my growth into a young man I’m sure.
Now I know what you may be thinking. Everyone has issues at that age! And to any given teenager, at the time, those are the most difficult things they could imagine. That is true, and I realized later on that everyone had their own crosses to bear. But that doesn’t help one during that age, with so many changes in your physical, emotional, and mental self. So I try to think about this when looking at my son. That he is dealing with issues different from what I did, but no less challenging or embarrassing in his mind. And even if some of these issues seem trivial and not important, I need to think about it from his perspective. To go back to what it was like to be his age. To the era of grunge. And listening to Nirvana and Smells Like Teen Spirit helps me get there.