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Commentary: Drunk Teen, Angry Dad


Parenting is the toughest job you'll ever love. And among the toughest situations for parents is controlling themselves when a teenager stumbles home, cursing and drunk.

BRIAN DOYLE: Unbelievably drunk. Oh, God - unbelievably drunk and arrogantly, flagrantly vulgar.

SIEGEL: Brian Doyle is a writer in Portland, Ore. He spent years doing what we do as parents - protecting his children from harm - but that night, Doyle found himself clenching his fists at his own son.

DOYLE: It was the basement of what you ever expected in family life, you know. And he's a great guy, but, you know, he can be also, you know, lazy, reckless, careless and devious. And it was a culmination of everything. He'd done so poorly in school, and he cheated on some big exams. And he shoved his mother so hard that she went flying across the room. And I was behind her as she came and banged up against the stove, as I remember.

And I remember taking a step forward and cocking my fist, and then some - I've had seven back surgeries, so some, I think, deep physical paranoia stopped me. And then his brother stepped in and took care of business and walked him off. And then his mother, who's a wonderful woman, went down and stayed with him for another hour to make sure he didn't throw up and die of strangulation - blah, blah, blah - you know.

And then I think I went down and folded laundry for a while. Oh, you know, when you're really ready to pop a gasket, go do the laundry. Stomping out of the house doesn't do anything. Don't drive. It's a bad idea. Don't cook. Try not to be around flame or dishes when you're really upset (laughter). If I was young and strong and mammalian like I used to be, I would've clocked him, and that would've been awful. I would've broken his nose, you know. And how horrifying that would be to smash the face of the boy I saw emerge into this world from the woman I love.

You never forget the things that you screwed up in as a parent. You never forget them. My father - I read - I sent this piece to my father about scaring one of my children. My father, in his 80s at the time, called me up and tears. I punched your brother. I punched your brother. I never forgave myself. And, of course, my brother didn't remember it, but my father never forgot. My father - 85 years old, ex-Army lieutenant, great guy - unbelievably great guy, the greatest dad ever - and here he is crying on the telephone about something that happened 50 years before that, you know. I mean, man, you never forget. I've been rude to my kids. I've been grumpy with them. I've failed to see what they wanted to do for the weight of what I wanted them to do. And I'm resolved now to try to say to my kids every day, I love you, and I'm proud of you, even if I'm totally not proud of you.

SIEGEL: That's Brian Doyle. He's editor of Portland Magazine and the author of several books. He told this story as part of a collaboration between NPR and The New York Times Motherlode blog. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.