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My son turned 13 today and I didn’t write a post called “13” because I was blocked. I still am. But here’s the thing. Writer’s block always contains the seeds of its own demise. It can block you from what you want to write about but it can’t block you from writing about writer’s block itself. When writer’s block blocks your subject, it becomes the subject. So fuck you, writer’s block. I win.

When I tried to write about my son turning 13, I couldn’t do it. I’ve read all kinds of arguments about the way we should or shouldn’t write about our kids, about what’s off limits, about parent blogs messing up kids’ lives by making them use hard drugs and become porn stars but I’ve never paid it much mind. I just write what I want. There’s so many rules right outside the door. What good’s a blog if you can’t light things on fire?

Nonetheless, my son becoming a teenager resisted articulation. I was blocked. It refused to be said.

I waded through clichés about how HARD it’s going to be, being a teen. And it is. The breach between being a boy and a man can swallow you whole. But it felt wrong to dwell on all that so I tried to invoke the joy of adolescence because it’s in there. Remember? Do you remember your teenaged friends? The extent to which adolescence was hard created a kind of super fondness for the people who helped you through it. I remember Dan Parker and Bryan Rypstra like old war buddies.

And for all the awkwardness, ignorance, and confusion that accompanied the gruesome mutation into a sexual being, it was pretty damn cool too: those jolting new waves of desire without clearly defined aims. Stacie Scott’s ass was just different somehow. I wanted to—arghhh—do something to her, you know? New feelings, new thoughts, and—good God—so many forms of new actions that created secrets and guilt and the certainty that I was mad but wondrous. My God this shocking body. That poor cat.

I remember writing Kerri Wolf love letters. I remember waiting to give them to her, nervous to sweating. I remember kissing in the basement like we were starving to death with our ears trained to the possibility of footsteps on the stairs. That wasn’t so bad. It was strange and beautiful; it wanted to be poetry.

So turning 13 and beyond was both terrible and wonderful but the fact remains that all these ideas recoiled when I tried to address them in relation to my son’s 13th birthday. And it’s only here, in this 7th paragraph (again, fuck you writer’s block), where my block begins to find its logic. It is precisely this unsaying that defines my son’s movement into teen life. This inability to speak about him, his resistance to being said, the fact of his emerging own life apart from our relation creates the substance of the block.

He’s stepping into the light of being the main character in a story that evades the reach of my narrative. He’s not my character to write anymore. He needs to be partially released to his friends and the perplexity of girls (or boys).


Happy 13th, birthday, J. I ran full throttle as you toddled toward the street and I said no no no when you tried to play with knives. But now, instead of so actively protecting you, I have to allow you to erect a wall—this writer’s block—between us, so you can thrash around alone (sometimes), and forge your way into becoming who you are. But I’m not worried one drop. You’re such a delightful boy, full of jokes and sparkle, and I know I’m going to love the man you become.

When I made your birthday card, after I decorated the front and wrote “Happy Birthday” inside, I paused, wanting to write the truest, most honest thing I could muster. So I wrote “I love being your dad”.

I love being your dad.

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  • Response
    Response: Beautiful Writing
    It was WRITING. The kind of writing that has a voice and personality so strong that it doesn’t matter if you’ve read the author’s previous work, or if you know the family or the circumstances.

Reader Comments (62)

As a mom to a soon to be 13 year old, this moved me. I'm not sure how to accomplish the letting go. As usual, your writing is perfection. Thank you for sharing it with us.

July 31, 2011 at 9:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterDeidre

What a beautiful blog post, it filled my eyes with tears and put a smile on my mouth. Congratulations to both you and your son, I hope he'll have a wonderful time being a teenager.

August 1, 2011 at 3:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterEva

What a beautiful post, your son sounds like a lovely young man. Congratulations.
Also, you ask, "What good’s a blog if you can’t light things on fire?" I think the answer would be "no good at all".

August 1, 2011 at 9:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterTazer

Just so exact! I was at that table with you as you wrote that card. I saw carefully crafted letters and words, glitter and marker with little negative space. Took me a moment to fall back to my seat and realize where I was as I read this.

August 2, 2011 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrian

Happy birthday to your brand new teenager. Too bad pagers aren't in use anymore because it was always fun to rhyme those two.

August 2, 2011 at 2:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterHolmes

My son is going to turn two in October. I'm in the phase of chasing him as he toddles toward the street with fearless abandon. You're beautiful essay brought tears to this dad's eyes. Kudos to you and happy bleated birthday to J.

August 3, 2011 at 7:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterRickO

Aw, BHJ, I love this, so much, especially those last few paragraphs. So good and right.

August 3, 2011 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJo

My oldest is 13. So far this is my favorite age. You said it all just right in your post -- that they are becoming their own narrative. It's a beautiful thing.

August 5, 2011 at 5:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterSlow Panic

As the parent of an almost-13 year old, I can completely relate with all aspects of your post. Your words echo my sentiment with regard to parenting, life and all that stuff in between.

August 5, 2011 at 9:35 AM | Unregistered CommenterLisa

What? How did I miss this? I just got a bonus BHJ post.

"What good’s a blog if you can’t light things on fire?" ... INDEEDY. I refuse to get writers block. If I thought too hard about my blog I would never write there again. When I feel creeped by it I just blast an Eminem song, and borrow some of his anger. Fuck you, world. Works a treat.

You are such a sweetheart. He is lucky to have you for a dad.

August 12, 2011 at 2:04 AM | Unregistered Commenteredenland

Got here going down the rabbit hole. don't remember who told me, but I remember all that about being a teenager. My niece turned 13, and I told her, If I had a girl, I'd want her to be just like you. This post excited that memory as well. You sound like a terrific father. Many never know when to let go.

August 20, 2011 at 7:52 AM | Unregistered Commenterscyllacat

I stumbled upon this post today and it made me cry. My oldest is a 9-year-old boy and he's pulling away from me, just a little bit. But I can feel it. And I remind myself that this is what's supposed to happen, that everything I do as a parent is designed to push him further and further away. That's my job. Ugh.

In any event, well said. Very touching. Will make me go forward with a little more tenderness today. Thank you.

October 10, 2012 at 12:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterHadley

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