Almost 20 years ago when my son was just five, I had a playset built for him in my backyard. It was a two-story affair with a fort at the bottom, a clubhouse at the top, a circular slide and monkey bars.
It was built by a local carpenter and the construction was such that it probably would have lasted a lifetime.
By the time my son turned 14, the playset was just sitting in the backyard. He no longer used it. Every now and then I would climb the ladder and sit at the top to enjoy the breeze of a cool summer’s evening. I would have liked the playset to remain out back forever except that I was experiencing the dilemma of the responsibility of having a kid’s playset that attracted neighborhood children into my yard uninvited.
My biggest fear became the nagging question of what my liability would be if one of them entered my backyard without my permission and proceeded to get injured.
I could see the lawsuit coming, so one day I took a chainsaw and cut the darn thing into pieces and got rid of it.
Last Tuesday, March 11, I went to a meeting sponsored by Fathers Who Care. The meeting was run by young people and one young person spoke truth to power, saying that many of us who were the major beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Era (born 1945-1980) dropped the ball when it came to rearing our children.
Those children are the ones who birthed the crack baby generation (born 1980-1999) and now the millennial generation (born 2000 and later). If adults are going label our young people as criminals, then we need to take responsibility for having contributed to their delinquency. I completely agreed with that young person’s premise.
Later on, I was speaking on the phone with a friend and told him about the meeting and what the young person said. He immediately disagreed. As it always happens in this type of scenario, he knew of someone who said they had done all they could and still the child turned out bad.
So I asked, did he have firsthand knowledge about the parent “doing all they could?” No. And what does “all they could” consist of? He didn’t know.
The day I took the chainsaw to my son’s playset, he came home upset that I had torn it down. It was his! Of course my first natural instinct was to claim that I had done all I could to keep the playset up. He countered with the fact that I could have put up a “No Trespassing” sign.
I could have gone and spoke with the parents of the children and asked them to talk with their kids about respecting other people’s property. I could have put a lock on my side gate.
Now I know that using an inanimate object in a story about “doing all one could” may not be the perfect metaphor when it comes to parents who profess that premise about their wayward children.
But my point is still valid.
When telling the story about why the playset couldn’t be saved and had to get torn down, I readily claimed that I had done all I could. But we know I didn’t. I took the easy way out. I did what was best for me. And the same can be said of parents who don’t really do “all they can” for their children who are going down the wrong path. They can contact social service agencies. They can seek counseling. They can be attentive parents from the beginning when the child is an infant and not wait until they are a teenager.
In the end, the issue is about taking responsibility. I hadn’t done all I could to keep the playset. I admitted to my son that what I did was easiest for me. I wonder how many parents will admit the same when it comes to how they reared their kids. Some of the best healing in the world comes when we admit where we failed.