Once, on the eve of a Champions League football final, my son Shaun called me at work and asked if his junior-college friends could catch the 3am game at our home. “Sure,” I said. I was on the late shift and was planning to watch the 2.30am game after work. Company would be good, I thought.
A few hours later, my wife Pee Ing called. In a panicky voice, she said she had gone into Shaun’s room where his friends had dumped their bags before heading to the family room to play XBox. “Matt, they have a bottle of Chivas Regal in the room,” she said.
She had asked Shaun about it and he said “his friends” were planning to drink it during the game.
“Matt. They are all small boys,” she added and handed the phone over to Shaun to explain the situation. Before he could say a word, I said: “Shaun, tell your friends, ‘No booze’.” “But Dad, some of them are 18 years old already,” he said.
“Shaun, Milo, soya bean, or double- or triple-shot coffee, but that is where I draw the line,” I insisted. Their parents have put them in my charge and these are the rules, I told him.
I came back and half-expected the boys to have gone home. But there they were looking all saintly and playing XBox. I scrutinised each face. I could not pick out the Chivas Regal man.
Just a few days later, a friend with whom I was chatting about this incident told me I had overreacted. The world is different today, he said. The greater exposure to what is happening in the rest of the world has changed our youth. “You have to keep up with the times,” he said. “That line you drew, you need to draw it somewhere lower”, he said.
Where one draws the line, I feel, has never been more confusing for parents. Just a month or so ago, this topic came up for discussion over dinner with some parents of teens. They were all struggling with it. One of them complained about their son who had pierced his ears. The son insisted that it was his life, the mother said, and he would live with whatever decisions he made.
Another parent also had to deal with the mutilated-ear problem. The parents of this teen had made it clear that they objected to it.The mother, a teacher, had also reminded the boy that his school did not allow boys to wear earrings. But he decided that it was his life and his ear and got it pierced.
That weekend, his family ostracised him. They gave him the silent treatment for disobeying and he capitulated. He apologised, gave up his ear-stud and all was forgiven.
But the discussion that night left us with no clear answers as to where one should draw the line for many issues.
One good rule of thumb, I thought, was if it is morally wrong, then it should not be permitted. That meant making a distinction between what is wrong and what I would prefer my kids not to do. I don’t like the way teens wear their pants at the crotch, but if it is not indecent, I don’t object. I ridicule them for wearing it that way but I try not to say “No”.
But the more we parents talked about it that night, the less certain we were of the boundaries, what should be permissible and what, not.
My kids know it is not easy and I have explained to them why I sometimes appear inconsistent. Why is it that I might allow them to streak their hair a dark red but not colour their whole head red, and why a dark brown-black dye is okay but green, yellow, blue and Mohawks are out.
But we have a clear understanding that so long as they are teenagers, I have the final say and the power to overrule them. I let them reason and present their case, but at the end of it, it’s my call.
My children have tried the “it is my life, I will face the consequences” but that doesn’t cut any ice with me. Maybe it is because I have read one too many testimonies where youngsters have blamed their parents for not correcting them when they made a wrong turn in their lives. Maybe it is because I myself have been violently jerked back onto the right course when I went astray.
I know I didn’t like it then but I look back and thank my parents for it.
Well, Shaun and his friends appeared to have had a good time even without the alcohol.
That morning, my wife cooked the boys a breakfast of rosti, eggs and sausages – stuff which they should be filling themselves with at this age. They ate with relish.
They were all in their school uniform, ready for another day of school. They looked every bit the bookwormish students I imagined them to be. They were good kids. They said “Goodbye, uncle, aunty” and left with their bags and files.
Looking at them, no one would guess that in one of their bags was a bottle of Chivas.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 16-01-2012.