“You’re going to get shot at your coffee meeting,” my oldest son, Ben, texts me.
“Maybe,” I reply.
He’s been following my dialogue with a stranger on Twitter. I fired off a snarky comment about a local news story that was getting national attention, and this guy challenged my knowledge of the situation.
“This is my hometown,” I shot back at him. “I know everyone.”
He immediately returned my volley (like any dehumanized bot). “Mine too, big deal.”
At that point, I had him. He couldn’t be a local—I just knew it!—so I called his bluff.
Anxiety and depression haunt most families. We try to exorcise the demons with therapy, prayer, prescription drugs, physical activity … you name it. However, the numbers don’t lie. Things are getting worse, and our kids are suffering the fallout.
Anxiety is now the most common form of mental illness in the US, affecting 10% of young teens. That number swells to 30% by the age of eighteen, until we find upwards of 40% of adults suffering from anxiety.
Anxiety and depression often hang out together, and our technologically advanced, postmodern lifestyles (including our warped online realities and social media melodrama) only seem to be dragging our kids deeper into this mental/emotional hurricane.
My family is rich with the world’s beauty. Among my loved ones, you’ll find that Native America, Europe (East and West), Asia, Africa, Central and South America are all well represented. And I LOVE that.
That’s why I was taken aback when Lin-Manuel Miranda called me out for my racism. He didn’t realize it (he wouldn’t know me from any other subway stranger), but that’s exactly what he did.
The worst part? He was right.
I was thirteen-years-old the first time I got thrown out of a Dairy Queen.
The manager came charging out from behind the counter like an angry drill sergeant. He glared at Andy and me with an iron jaw and then threw a stiff thumb over his shoulder toward the door.
“Out!” he hissed.
“What!” Andy demanded (although it came out Wh-Wh-Wh-What!). “What about them?” He motioned toward the trio of octogenarians—a balding, silver fox and his two blue-haired lady friends—seated two booths behind us. They were stifling laughs with handfuls of tattered napkins.
“Close your eyes,” I told my teenage recovery group. “Imagine yourself twenty years from now.” I gave them time to conjure up images. “You bump into somebody from this group, and they ask, ‘So, what do you do?’”
I let the question hang in the air.
“What’s your answer?”
As they opened their eyes, I saw a few glints of hope, but mostly just doubt and anxiety. Some of them had already lost the ability to dream, and that’s tragic. In all of them, however, I recognized a familiar fear—the horror of failure—twisted up with self-loathing for not measuring up to society’s standard of success.
When I meet with teens in addiction recovery, they know the first question I’m going to ask. I always reserve a portion of our time together for one seemingly insignificant inquiry:
“What’s something that made you laugh?”
This past week, a couple of girls had a uniquely silly experience, and one of them made a point to take note of it. “We have to remember this to tell Bert when he asks for something funny!” she’d told her friend. And they had.
Both girls were laughing so hard, it took several minutes of gasping and happy-tear wiping to tell their funny story.
(From Bert’s practical parenting side …)
Decades prior to devising the X-Plan, I was fighting a different battle as a greenhorn stay-at-home Dad. Long before I was worrying about my teenagers surviving an unpredictable world, I was locked in another epic battle.
The Footwear Fracas. The Stocking Struggle. The Battle of the Booties.
Are you exhausted from worrying about someone? Weighed down from constantly carrying them in your heart?
Okay, friends. Huddle up.
My friends, I owe you an apology.
I am deeply sorry for my reaction to this most recent shooting. Even more, I need to offer something else: not an excuse (I, too, am sick of excuses) but an explanation … if you’re willing to listen.
I am broken.
After 2017’s Las Vegas shooting, my 20-year-old son texted me: “If your generation doesn’t do something about this, we never will. You guys still freak out every time there’s a shooting, but this is normalcy for us.”
His words shot me down.