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Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Dad's Point of View: My Son Has a Girlfriend; Now What Do I Do?

My son has his first girlfriend and I am pleased that he is now old and mature enough to enter the dating stage. I’m excited for him. In a funny way, I’m re-living vicariously my long-forgotten feelings of first love and all the nervousness, anxiety, and “What am I going to do?” anxieties I felt at his age. Nonetheless, I need to allow him to have his space, and keep my distance while still making sure that they’re acting appropriately. But I don’t fully know how much to ask, observe, or try and find out. Mostly, I think I need to let him discover for himself.

We’ll start with the back-story, a familiar but sweet teen romance and how “we” got to this stage. I fully believe this is a stage that is nothing less than good, that I’m happy about, and that I didn’t personally experience till after high school. Clearly, this is one of the reasons for the vicarious feelings. I slightly envy his maturity and confidence in pursuing this relationship and it also makes me proud of how he’s handled things.

Will is going to be 16 in November. He’s a good-looking tall boy, at 6’2”, and has dark red wavy hair--the color women spend a fortune trying to duplicate. And he’s quite a talented musician. He’s completely into rock and roll, has a band, plays guitar, bass, and drums, and he sings. When he’s on stage performing, another extremely confident personality emerges and it’s clear that he’s in his element in the world of rock and roll. It seems that there’s nothing better for becoming a babe magnet than being a musician.

During the middle of this summer, Will was introduced to a new group of boys and girls. Next thing I knew, he was hanging out with them regularly and he indicated that he liked one particular girl, Gail. Later, he asked for an early birthday present: to go to the Outside Lands Music Festival in San Francisco. I said, “Yes,” and next thing I knew I was talking to the mothers of the two girls, including Gail’s mom, about joining us.

I was surprised that the parents of 15-year-old girls would even consider allowing them to go on such a trip. The moms, as it turned out, needed less reassurance than I offered, and the next thing I knew, I was chaperoning my son and his two female friends on a three-night trip to San Francisco, two days and nights of which we would be attending a huge music festival.

While I wondered if and when he’d connect with Gail, it ended up happening like a scripted movie, at the very end of our trip. The kids were asleep on the ride home, in the back seat, with my son in the middle of the two girls. I turned the radio to a sixties channel. The Beatles’ song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” came on and I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw Gail,” half asleep, mouthing the words. Looking downward I saw that they were holding hands. A smile crept across my face. A big smile.

Two days later, my son informed me that they’re now “a couple.” It was solidified, for their generation, when each changed their Facebook status to “in a relationship.” I guess that’s in lieu of declaring you’re “going steady,” or “wearing a ring around your neck,” as Elvis, declared in my day.

So, I had “the talk” with Will about being responsible in what they do, understanding the different emotions females attach to intimacy, and to completely respect her wishes, treat her like a lady, and otherwise act like a gentleman to Gail, without losing his edge. It is funny how “lady” and “gentleman” are such unused words these days. They shouldn’t be.

Making our house a place the kids feel comfortable to hang out and treating his friends, girlfriend or otherwise, well without being in their faces is my current objective. It largely seems to have been successful, as Will has invited his new girlfriend over for Friday night dinner. And our home has apparently become the home of choice for his friends, in groups and individually. I don’t think the fact that I make the best popcorn in town or supply pizzas and sodas when they’re here at dinnertime has anything to do with it, do you?

While I’ve been experiencing some vicarious feelings from my youth, being a father to a son who has begun dating and now has a new girlfriend is completely new to me. I would like to become a bit better acquainted with this person my son is spending so much time with: Is Gail a person of character? Can Will expect from her as much as I hope I have taught him to give in a relationship? I want Will and Gail to act responsibly with one another. Yet at the same time, I see the truth in my wife’s suggestion to me: “Back off, honey. Let them discover their own way to have a relationship.”

I know my job is done, for now. If and when he wants to talk to me about any concerns or questions, it’s his choice. While I’m curious about how he is doing, I intend to just sit back and watch, wait, learn, and listen. And, if I’ve done a good job as a dad, he’ll be doing the right thing. I have faith that he will.

Please visit www.brucesallan.com to contact Bruce and to enjoy the various features his new Web site offers, including contact info for advice and coaching, an archive of his columns, general contact info, links to his published work, photo galleries, and reader comments, plus much more. Bruce Sallan was an award-winning television executive and producer for 25 years. Google him if you really want to know more (e.g. his credits). When his boys were quite young, Bruce left show biz to become a full-time Dad. Shortly thereafter his marriage ended and his wife abandoned their children, leaving the State. Bruce found himself a full-time single Dad, in his late forties, as well as a returning single man to the changed world of cyber-dating. It became a classic “sandwich” situation when he also began to care for his ailing parents. He began writing various blogs on the dating sites he used as well as articles for local publications. The goal of his column, A Dad’s Point-of-View, is to primarily focus on parenting and occasionally other issues from the male perspective. Presently, his column is available in over 75 newspapers and Web sites in the U.S. and internationally. Bruce lives in Agoura, California with his second (and last) wife and two boys, who are 15 and 12. Find Bruce on Facebook and add him as your friend. Just be sure to tell him you saw him here.

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