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A parent speaks out in son's column in paper

What makes dads go gray before their time

What makes dads go gray before their time

April 02, 2002|BY ARNOLD S. PLATOU

The tone was indignant and, laying on the floor exhausted from exercise, I had little choice but to listen.

"What do you think of what your son wrote about you?" the assistant instructor of my aerobics class said. It was more statement than question.

"Well," she continued, "have I got a speech to give him!"

Suddenly, lots of people want to discipline my son.

From the newsroom, to the church, to the grocery, everybody, it seems, has an opinion about the article my son, Allan, wrote for a contest sponsored by the Herald-Mail's NEXT section.

The contest asked teens to write in, describing something their parents do that drives them crazy or irritates them. My son's motivation was the $50 prize.

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His English teacher put him onto the contest. In fact, she inspired several students to new literary heights, gathering their parental missiles into a nice, neat folder.

...Which she gave my wife, Ann, who is also a teacher. ...Which Ann gave me to bring into the Herald-Mail to enter in the contest.

Talk about adding insult to injury. "You'd better read Allan's article first," Ann advised me sagely, a smile on her face.

The article, published with seven other "top responses" in the March 19 Next section, was about me.

It revealed to the world that the "most annoying thing that my father does is talking to everyone. ...He'll stop people in the grocery store, converse with the person at a drive-through window or tollbooth, and cashiers at various stores."

Reading on, I began to squirm.

"...Now, this wouldn't bother me so much except he talks about things he doesn't know anything about," the article continued. "He starts the conversation and then, as it progresses, doesn't have a clue what he's talking about. That is if his 'victim' doesn't snub him before he starts his babbling..."

I tried to grin, but I was conflicted. The article was accurate, at least in saying I do like to talk to people. Thirty-two years of journalistic curiosity, plus a genuine interest in sharing with others makes me that way.

What had me twisting on a mental spit was that this trait was now going to be made PUBLIC in a most unflattering way.

Sensing my torment, Ann was surprised.

"He's writing what we've - all of us - joked about for years," she told me kindly. "You're always talking to other people and that's great, but when we're walking out the door at church or the grocery or wherever, suddenly we realize you're back there still talking to someone else."

A hundred "yeah, buts" came crowding to my lips.

"Allan wrote it the way he thought the contest organizers wanted," Ann said softly. "He only wanted people to laugh about what's a joke in our family."

After the article ran, it didn't take long for public reaction to build.

"You aren't that way," a co-worker said firmly. "I don't believe a word he wrote," said another.

That night, the phone rang at home. "I want to talk to that Allan Platou," the woman's voice crackled. "No, better than that, I'll talk to you and you can tell him." Then, she launched into a tirade about the younger generation, and about why would the newspaper ever publish such a thing.

Fortunately, not everyone saw evil. "Does Allan get an allowance this week?" a friend asked by e-mail. "I laughed so hard reading his comments..."

Said a fellow editor, "I thought it was written lovingly." Said a friend, "I thought it was funny. And Arnold, think about it: these days, kids are saying a whole lot worse about their parents. Of all that he might have said, your son picked only this."

I had to agree. Though, still picking myself off the end of Allan's spear, I didn't feel salvation.

As I write this now, there's just one more thing to share:

The morning I saw the article in the paper, I called home. Ann said Allan was still struggling to get up for school.

"Let me talk to our son," I told her. Moments later, his sleepy voice came on the phone. "Yeah?" he said.

"Well, Allan, you could have been a bit more flattering," I told him, trying to sound stern, but to let him know I saw the humor.

"Oh, the article's in!" he said, with what I pictured was a smile spreading over his face. "...Well, Dad, I gotta get ready for school."

And then, as though he'd turned away and come back to the phone, he added, "Love ya."

Love you, too, son.

Arnold S. Platou is a copy editor with the Herald-Mail.

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