By Matt Heet
I don’t remember all the details to the story because I didn’t believe I was in the middle of a critical life lesson at the time. I do remember I had just recently started attending the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou), I was in a Steak N Shake parking lot, and I had just finished having lunch with my dad and a friend of his as they were passing through town. As my dad was getting ready to leave we had a brief conversation, the details I don’t remember, and he handed me some money, the amount I don’t recall (lets just say between $5 and $1 million), but what I do remember was that was the day our relationship changed; not for the better and not for the worse, it just changed.
As I recall that moment every now and again almost 20 years later I understand that my dad passed a symbolic torch; his job as father of a boy was done, and now he was the father of a man (some would claim I am still a boy at 39). As a father now myself (twin 7 year old boys) I can understand what he was trying to teach me a bit better. I am a firm believer that raising a child is the hardest job any of us will have our entire lives. People can be judgmental and when your child makes a mistake the blame gets immediately placed on the parents. However, the most demanding part of the job is looking at someone you love more than anything in the world and having to demand of them actions and attitudes that create friction in the relationship. This is raising a boy.
My dad was never interested in being my friend the first 20 years of my life, or being a friend of my friends. He was doing a job of making sure his son would be prepared for the world ahead, when he was ready. Two stories stick with me to this day. What they both have in common is at the time I had no idea I was being given great advice on how to deal with issues that occur in my career as an educator, and now being a parent as well. One evening a friend of mine came to the house and we were watching television with my dad downstairs. Now before I get to the key moment of this story it is critical to understand that this happened while I was in junior college. As my friend was making some idle conversation he referenced my dad by his first name, probably something a 19 year old in college commonly thinks is acceptable behavior. My dad responded by calmly looking at my friend and saying, “My name is Mr. Heet, and you need to leave my house if you can’t understand that.” To my friend’s credit, his reply, “Yes sir.” To me that conversation was code for “You all think you’re men, but you’re still boys.” And you know what, he was right. We didn’t have careers, families, or any other responsibilities that men have, heck both of us were still living with our parents, nothing more “manly” than that. Lesson: your age doesn’t make you a man, your actions do. In our society we oversimply many things by simply using numbers, and becoming a “man” is one of them. Simply turning 18 doesn’t make any of us an adult; being an adult is in relationship to your actions.
The second story stands out because of my profession and I see this happen all too often; children having poor relationships with their parents and the child either being kicked out of the home or choosing to leave. If you’re a high school teacher you understand this happens far too often in our country, and is actually considered homelessness even if the child finds a new home with a friend. While in high school one of my best friends had a heated argument with a parent which led to my friend leaving his home. As my friend was preparing to sleep outdoors for the evening he contacted me to ask if he could spend the night at my house. I of course said yes, and if my parents questioned it I would tell them the situation and they would understand. I also knew my parent’s would ask because it was a school night, and having friends sleep over was a “non-negotiable”, but the circumstances would surely lead my parents to reconsider. It didn’t take long for my dad to step into action; my friend was absolutely NOT spending the night at our house, but he wasn’t going to sleep outdoors either. My friend was going to sleep at his home; my dad would make sure of it. My dad drove us both back to my friend’s home and we waited in the driveway until my friend was back into his home. Thankfully everything turned out fine for all parties, and my friend and his parents have a great relationship today. Lesson: face your problems, and take responsibility for making YOUR situation better. It’s not someone else’s job to fix you, and running from problems is no solution either.
I could on, but if I want to maintain a blog I can’t put all my stories in one post.
Back to the Steak N Shake parking lot. I was finally doing enough with my life where my dad could see that he was no longer raising a boy, but a man. I had entered a four-year university, declared a major, was living away from my parents, and most importantly; I was doing what I was supposed to do. At 20 years old I was becoming a man; willing to take responsibility for my life, making decisions that would impact my career, and all while having complete freedom of choice. My parents didn’t need to ask to see my report card, I could cook (which is how I got a good-looking wife, remember that young men), I understood proper hygiene, and I know how to take care of my business when it came to making a living.
Raising the boy was complete, raising the man was beginning.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!! I hope this will do for a present because your grandchildren took all my money.