Every family has a time to switch tables and parents must answer for their children. I came recently when my wife and I were staying with our eldest son in Los Angeles — our first visit in several years and also the longest since he moved West in 2014 A whole week under his roof!
“Dad, don’t let the water run while I brush my teeth,” Nathaniel advised on our first night. Ditto when I wash my hands. Okay, I think this is California, where drought is a concern. But I was also arrested for pulling extra tissues to clean the kitchen counter and was instructed to use dish towels, which seemed unhygienic.
Many other decrees followed. Not letting my cramped walking shoes sit out, and do I even need such an ugly shoe? Don’t wear a collar when walking the dog in the morning — it’ll warm up when we get to the park. Why drink so much seltzer? One hand sanitizer pump is enough. Here’s how you should fold the southwest rug onto the backseat when you use it as a push-up cushion. And do you have to shower before we drive to Topanga?
At first, I wondered how I had raised such a tyrant. Then I recalled how often I threw the golden rule of parenting to Nathaniel and his siblings when they were kids. “One day you will have a home of your own and be able to live the way you want,” I like to say. “Until then, you’ll have to do as we ask.” An obnoxious decree, but it sent juices in the dishwasher or sweater to the floor. Now it is payback time.
Growing up, I vividly remember my father’s orders, how he would always fix my collar or come into my room at dusk to close the shutters. Or told me to move a cup of water away from the toaster because an electric arc could cause a fire.
And so I smile at Nathaniel’s in-house eateries, but with a little subversion, such as sneaking a separate roll of tissues into the pantry, or moving one of his favorite photos. he walks a few inches.
There are perks of playing beta to Nathaniel’s alpha. He cleaned the dishes after dinner, thinking he would do a better job than my wife and I. He also arranged our daily outings, including an inspirational trip to the Autry Museum of the American West in Griffith Park. And he’s willing to drive around, leaving me alone in the Los Angeles traffic, even though it means riding a motion sickness shotgun.
Our role reversal revealed another side to my eldest son, giving me hope in his future parenting abilities. Yesterday afternoon, we were walking along El Matador Beach in Malibu and hit a long stretch of rock — the end of the line I think. Nathaniel didn’t hear that and lured me across from one big rock to another, patiently telling me where to place my aching feet and hands as the waves hit. I was terrified, but after a few hundred yards we reached a new sandbar.
“You did it! I’m really proud,” he beamed, as if I had just learned to ride a bicycle. Only then did I know for sure that my son would become a father, too.
Mr. Ripp runs a press relations firm in New York.
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Appears in print January 11, 2022.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-week-under-my-sons-roof-and-rules-father-cleaning-parenting-age-california-11641847245 A week under my son’s roof — and the rules