I Hope My Son Inherits My Luck

August 6, 2012  |  Fatherhood

In the backseat, Z and his best buddy Kirby (my godson) are comparing the nutritional information of their respective snacks. I’m guessing the school year finished out with some kind of healthy eating program because all I’ve heard since June is “Is there a lot of fat in that?” and “How much sugar does that have?” It’s a great that they’re learning about nutrition but it’s also weird to hear a couple of six year olds bemoan the lack of potassium in Pirate Booty. It’s on the verge of being a grownup conversation and I’d rather hear them talking about Ninjago and Super Mario Kart.

They are both bearing down on their seventh birthday and seven is starting to feel like an invisible dividing line between “little boy” and plain old “boy.”

As I consider this looming change in age bracket, I suddenly think about a guy that I went to high school named Micah. I haven’t thought about this guy in 20 years, Micah wasn’t someone I was very close to. We knew each other like everyone in a small high school does, and we hung out from time to time. As far as I know Micah was entirely uninterested in the sodium content of kid snacks, so why he comes to mind right now is a mystery. What I do remember about Micah is that, like the two little boys in the backseat, he was fun loving, mischievous and endlessly energetic. He had a ‘life of the party’ vibe about him – the kind of guy you liked to have around because you were never entirely sure what he might do next. One night, after a number of drinks, we convinced Micah that a parked car thought he was a sissy and he went after it with a baseball bat. I’m not proud of that kind of behavior but it was the stuff of legend back in the day.

I wouldn’t say I was a “bad kid” by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s plenty that I look back on with regret and a shake of the head. There were a couple of teen years where things could have easily gone either way; a run-in with the police, a willingness to do and try things just because I knew I shouldn’t. In that time, I said and did things that could have had profoundly negative consequences but, for some reason that still isn’t clear to me, didn’t. When I think back, it seems like the most absurd, undeserved, run of obscenely good luck one person can possibly have. I made a number of really bad bets and none of them ever cost me a dime.

Micah didn’t end up having my good fortune. A few years after graduation someone told me that, after a night of drinking, Micah’s jeep drifted over the center divider and slammed into another car. A woman died, Micah went to jail and more than a couple of lives went sideways over one incredibly bad choice. I never heard another word about the guy – I never even knew for sure if the story was true – but it wasn’t hard to imagine. In fact it’s hard to imagine that it didn’t happen exactly like that.

In my rearview mirror, the nutrition debate rages on with predictable little boy passion. When I look at them both, I really don’t worry that one day they’ll turn up at school with a gun, join a cult, or lose their sense of decency and compassion. I’m not concerned that neglect or abuse will drive them to act out. From home to church to school they are both surrounded by good, hard working role models and have a vast support system of adults who love them.

What keeps me awake at night these days isn’t that these two perfect little men will turn out to be “bad kids” but rather that they’ll be just like me — young and unbearably foolish – but not nearly as lucky; that the laws of probability will make them answer for their missteps in a way I never had to.

In the backseat, the boys have reached a consensus on the fact that fast food, while delicious, isn’t particularly good for you. They’ve moved on to whether or not gluten free pizza is as good as regular pizza – a conundrum for the ages. I’m thinking about Micah and I’m grateful that for the time being, this is the biggest problem the three of us have.


3 Comments


  1. I feel exactly the same way. I like you was not a “bad kid” not even close, but I took unnecessary risks that at worst became near misses. I pray that my little man has inherited his fathers caution, and for the times when that fails, my luck.

  2. Yep. I was the kind of kid who couldn’t understand why you had to bring a note when you were sick from school. You weren’t there, you were sick. Duh. So Straight A kind of dumb–with lots of enthusiasm. And I started living away from home at 16. But what I remember very clearly is my mother’s voice in the back of my head. Many times when I was at a crossroads that was starting to go a bad way, when I didn’t know how to pick the right thing for myself, I could just keep it simple: ‘my mom would kill me.’ She had a long list of sometimes unfair and misguided admonitions. But she did get through to me that there was right and wrong, and that self-respect was an actual thing and worth looking after. I’m sure she had no idea I was listening or ever gave her words another thought, which is why I keep parenting away on the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of the good will come from 20 percent of the parenting. And luck.

  3. Wow, what an incredibly engaging writing style JD! When I grow up, I want to write just like you!

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