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Ben Stein: Scared at 60
The American Spectator ^ | 3/1/2005 | Ben Stein

Posted on 03/03/2005 10:54:41 PM PST by Former Military Chick

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Scared at 60


Published 3/1/2005 12:05:38 AM

Der Tag. It is my 60th birthday. It is also Thanksgiving. It is a beautiful, sunny, clear but cool day. The plan here is to have lunch at the California Yacht Club out at Marina del Rey. This will serve to celebrate my birthday as well as Thanksgiving. We are going in two cars: my 2001 Cadillac DeVille DTS and Tommy's powerful Subaru WRX. Wifey and I are in the Caddy and Tommy and his pals Boris and Vlad are in the WRX.

You know how crazy I am, so the following little drama will probably come as no surprise to you. Tommy yelled at me that he wanted to race along Olympic Boulevard west of Barrington, where the road was wide and deserted. I said it was fine, and we peeled out. I won by the next block. I should say, to be accurate, that Tommy's car did not make a peeling noise because it has four-wheel drive. Mine made a peeling noise. My wife was telling me I was insane.

Tommy wanted to race again. We did. Again, I peeled, and he didnÃ-t. This time he got way ahead of me. Alas, moments later a police cruiser appeared behind him with its lights flashing. The car pulled Tommy over and I followed them. But the police, staring at me intently, motioned to me to stay in my car. They then went over to Tommy. Then they came to me. "We're just giving him a warning, because we know who you are and we like you," said a policeman. "But you should talk to your son. He refuses to admit he did anything wrong."

"Well, it's really my husband's fault," my wife said helpfully. "He's 60 years old and he should know better."

The policeman shrugged and went off.

Tommy was furious. He blamed me. He was sure I had somehow set it up. I tried to point out to him that it was because of me that he didn't get a ticket. He was furious anyway and very rude at dinner.

Well, so much for my one and only 60th birthday dinner (or lunch). It was a sullen, anger-charged affair. I wish some drug company would invent a med that counters the effects of teenage years, just as they have drugs that counter manic depression or PMS feelings. Maybe that's in the offing.

However, then Tommy went out with his pals and seemed a lot more cheerful later. I had a late supper with a friend from Fox News, and the day was not wrecked. But a pattern is developing with Tommy that is worrisome. More about it soon.

In any event, I refuse to let Tommy occupy all of the space in my head. What's more, I try to work with systems and to learn lessons and here are a few I have learned as of my 60th birthday:

1. I am unbelievably lucky:
a. To be an American;
b. To have my wife, the world's finest human;
c. To have never been severely or at least life-threateningly ill;
d. To have never been in combat;
e. To have had loving, caring, prosperous parents;
f. To have an interesting, well-paid career;
g. To have great friends, a great sister, nephew, niece, cousins, and above all, son;
h. Above all, to have learned to love and worship a God of love and understanding.

2. Compared with the huge problems that most people face, I have almost no problems at all.

3. I am a supremely lucky person, but what happens to me is not terribly important, to put it mildly.

4. Almost any "problem" I have can be dealt with by rest, reflection, and conversation with someone who cares about me, usually my shrink, the genius Paul Hyman.

5. There is no medication on this earth as potent in curing my ills as the simple prayer, "Thy will be done."

6. There have probably been about 15 billion people on this earth since the dawn of man, and I am among the most fortunate few hundred thousand, and all of that is an unearned gift of God.

7. Modest application of self-discipline in the area of study, work, and saving yields stupendous returns over time.

8. The amount the government can do to affect my happiness in a free society is tiny.

9. I am blessed beyond measure to be protected by the brave men and women of this country's armed forces and nothing I can do can adequately repay them, but they have my total gratitude and what little acts I can do.

10. The whole purpose of my life on this earth is to do what I think God wants me to do, which is mainly to love and care for my fellow man and woman.

11. Dogs and cats are my best friends and they are a special gift from the Almighty.

12. I make a great many mistakes and always will, and to expect myself not to make them is pure folly.

Anyway, that is a very short version of what I have learned.

Notice I talk a good talk. And in many aspects of my life, I walk a halfway decent walk. But in my life with my son, I am a stone fool.

Last night, Tommy very charmingly sidled up to me as I was reading the Wall Street Journal at our home in Beverly Hills. He said he wanted to know if he and a couple of his friends could drive out to the house in Malibu. "Will you be really, really neat and not do anything dangerous?" I asked him.

"Of course," he said.

"Will you swear to not start a fire or do anything that could endanger our house?" I asked him.

"Of course," he said.
"And will you leave the house as neat as you found it, recalling at all times that it's your house, too?"

"Of course," he said.

"I guess so," I answered. "But stay in touch with me by phone all through the night."

Okay. By one a.m., I had gotten calls from three of his friends wanting to know how to meet him there. One of them was bringing a girl. I tried to reach Tommy to tell him to come home right away. No answer on the house phone. No answer on the cell. I was HYSTERICAL. But I also did not feel very well and did not want to make the one hour trek out there in the middle of the night.

So, I tried to sleep and did sleep off and on through the night. I had visions of the house -- which I love like mad -- going up in a wild conflagration, lost to me forever. I could feel my blood pressure going into stroke and heart attack territory. But I finally fell asleep and next thing I knew, I could hear Tommy coming home. That was at about 11 in the morning.

"Did you burn down the house?"

"No, it's all fine," he said.

"Did you make a mess?"

"No, it's all fine," he said and then fell asleep.

Obviously he had been up all night.

Well, that is my own insanity, allowing him to go out there by himself. Anyway, no calls from the Fire Department so I guess it's cool.

Later in the afternoon -- this afternoon -- I drove out to Malibu with a creepy ESP feeling. Sure enough, the house was a mess. Dirty dishes in the sink with uneaten food on them. Singed newspapers outside the fireplace. That's right. OUTSIDE the fireplace, proving that my fears of a fire were well founded. The beds all unmade and messy. Keys missing. Tons of food missing. Well, the food is fine. It's for eating after all.

But as I, who make the family's living and whose health is never great, went about the house cleaning, I called Tommy to ask how he could have made such a mess. He was surly and refused even the slightest admission of responsibility or apology.

Now, here's the point I was promising to get to. It is one of the basic building blocks of human development to admit one's mistakes and to clean up after oneself. This is something so fundamental that if it's missing, the human never progresses past childhood.

Probably, most of the fault for the Malibu house incident lies with me or mostly me. It was idiotic to think that any 17 year old, and especially Tommy, would behave responsibly in a beach house without his father or mother there. (One adult was there, but he was a pal of Tommy's barely 20, and he obviously did little to help.) So, I claim the lion's share of the guilt. But how I wish Tommy could step up to the plate and admit some responsibility. I had a roommate in freshman and senior year of Columbia who simply could not ever clean up after himself or accept any responsibility. He's almost 60 now, and still a huge -- although likable -- baby.

John Gregory Dunne, a true genius who died far too young this year, said in one of his great books, "Having kids is not a day at the beach." How right he was. (He also said, "You often see beautiful young women with much older men, but never with much older poor men." I live by these words of wisdom. John had a great deal of wisdom and he is missed desperately.)

Wow, it is hard to be a parent. At least for me.

A stunning lunch at Morton's with a beautiful, highly capable woman correspondent for CBS's 60 Minutes. Her name is Lara Logan. She's a South African who started covering the apartheid struggle as a teenager and worked her way to being a CBS correspondent in Iraq and then for a year in Afghanistan. She is phenomenally smart and brave. Recently in Afghanistan her Humvee hit a mine and she was thrown into the air almost 20 feet. She landed on her face, bleeding like crazy, and nevertheless reported on TV very soon thereafter with blood coming out of her mouth.

I met her last night when she and I were both guests on CBS's The Late, Late Show and invited her to lunch. Wifey and Phil DeMuth came along. Lara talked nonstop about how bad things are in Afghanistan, how disorganized the U.S. effort is, how undermanned we are there, and how Rumsfeld (according to her) has a plan to sell out Hamid Karzai and the whole democratic movement there. She also talked at length about how unreliable the Pakistanis are and how we can't trust anyone there. She regaled us with tales of the thousands of young Afghans and Pakistanis at the madrassas getting filled with hate and fiction about the U.S. She had nothing but the highest praise for the U.S. fighting man and woman, but she said the State Department endlessly betrays them.

But that was positively upbeat compared to her assessment of the situation in Iraq, which she sees as basically hopeless. The terrorists are out of control and getting more so.

"I'm passionate about fighting these people," she said (referring to the terrorists and "militants"), "because I don't want my kids growing up wearing burkhas."

"You live in London," I said. "There's not much danger of that there, is there?"

"There are millions of Moslems in Britain," she said. "They want to take over and impose sharia there."

"But that's impossible," I said.

"I don't know," she said. "You cannot believe the inroads the militants are making in South Africa. There are so many Moslem women in Durban now covered head to toe except for their eyes. All around the east coast of Africa there are forests of mosques. These people are on the move."

It all terrified me. I want to be in Sandpoint. I want to be in Priest Lake. I want to be among the hearty, happy people of the great inland Northwest. I hope Mr. Bush takes this seriously. If we are fighting a global war to protect free society, it wonÃ-t be won by tax cuts. If it's war, we need to mobilize for war. It's a choice between a society based on love and a society based on fear and repression. We've got to get our act together. We need to take it all a lot more seriously. I am scared. Of course, I am always scared, but now I'm really scared. I don't want to be beheaded.

I don't get it. How did all this bad stuff come along a few years after we were in "The Golden Age" under Clinton? What happened to "The End of History"?

Mr. Bush, you are far more of a wartime president than you may realize.

We finished our lunch (I had fresh tuna) and I got into my Cadillac and drove home to sit by my swimming pool in the sun under a palm tree with my dogs sniffing around the flagstone decking. How long can such a great life last? Is it later than I dare think? I'll say it again, I am scared.

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer in Beverly Hills and Malibu. His Diary runs every month in the The American Spectator. These excerpts are taken from our February issue.


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TOPICS: Editorial; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: benstein
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To: Hildy

Stealth posting of the word 'panties'.

61 posted on 03/04/2005 3:18:26 PM PST by MHGinTN (If you can read this, you've had life support from someone. Promote life support for others.)
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You are indeed a man with the ability to see good character in a fellow American and patriot.

Thanks for the wonderful comment.

62 posted on 03/04/2005 5:38:38 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Hildy

I suppose we are all human. I also suppose that he was frustrated that I am sure many parents can find agreement with. While it is not typical of his writings he does give insight as a person frustrated and honest.

At least in this fine world we can agree to disagree and I appreciate your comment, not only on this thread but others, Hildy.

63 posted on 03/04/2005 5:40:54 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick

Frustrated, honest, and neurotic.

64 posted on 03/04/2005 8:22:30 PM PST by Palladin (Proud to be a FReeper!)
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To: MinuteGal

I appreciate your delightful and insightful comment. I agree that those who have followed Ben's career (screen and writing) we have been introduced to his family and his son.

It is not easy to be a parent and when someone is willing to put it into writing I feel they are taking a look at themselves and correcting what needs to be corrected.

Again thanks for the comment.

65 posted on 03/04/2005 8:39:54 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Choose Ye This Day

Interesting comment.

He is called Tommy and you think he should now go by Tom. I suppose but there are have been some wonderful folks who have chosen to use their childhoot name, at least with friends and family, Ronnie Reagan.

66 posted on 03/04/2005 8:42:04 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick

I think of Ben every time I drive through Sand Point, Idaho. That's where I dropped my son Nicky, now known as Nicholas, off at AMTRAK to go to highschool in DC.
Is Tommy a Tom yet?
Ben bares his soul every month in AS. He is a very generous man, and God bless him.

67 posted on 03/04/2005 8:52:44 PM PST by GopherIt
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To: over3Owithabrain

You have hit the nail on the head, thank you for your wonderful comment.

68 posted on 03/04/2005 9:13:50 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: over3Owithabrain

I like the things about God and country. I agree that Stein is a good conservative voice.

But since Ben took the time and trouble to bare his parenting skills for all the world to read, it's a bit hard not to comment on them, especially when there are some obvious problems there.

Maybe little Tommy will turn out great, be a Rhodes scolar and run for president someday. Then I will be proven wrong. But if, instead, he winds up with an arrest sheet and frequent tabloid scandals...

69 posted on 03/04/2005 9:32:42 PM PST by Choose Ye This Day (If you wanna taste the water, you gotta come to the river.)
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To: Former Military Chick

If the person is mature and responsible, and they like to use the childhood name, I suppose that's all right.

But if a child is immature and irresponsible, whatever parents can do to help them mature and grow up would be a step in the right direction. Coddling never helps after about age two.

70 posted on 03/04/2005 9:35:13 PM PST by Choose Ye This Day (If you wanna taste the water, you gotta come to the river.)
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To: Choose Ye This Day

I appreciate you taking the time to consider my comment. I actually agree with you on the immature and irresponsible observation you gave in your comment. Thank you.

71 posted on 03/04/2005 9:46:41 PM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick


72 posted on 03/05/2005 3:56:37 AM PST by lainde ( ...We are NOT European, we are American, and we have different principles!")
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To: Little Bill

Sounds like you raised your son the right way!

73 posted on 03/05/2005 5:33:07 AM PST by Tax-chick (Donate to FRIENDS OF SCOUTING and ruin a liberal's day!)
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To: taxesareforever

"but I just cannot understand why people of faith have such a hard time saying "blessed""

I wholeheartedly agree. All good gifts come from God, not from luck!

74 posted on 03/05/2005 5:45:40 AM PST by melbell (A Freudian slip is when you mean one thing, and say your mother)
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To: GeronL; willyboyishere; stainlessbanner; hatfieldmccoy; Yaelle; Choose Ye This Day; Lovergirl; ...
When Mr. Stein has a new article available I always have looked forward to posting it on Free Republic to discuss his views he brought up through his words.

Frankly I felt disappointed this round. Granted Free Republic is a place to exchange thoughts, frustrations to enjoy a healthy debate.

Instead I found some to be quite harsh on Ben's relationship with his son or lack there of. I cannot speak as a parent but the following are my observations; that his son is pretty typical and the incident portrayed may not be the norm. To say that he is not a good parent seems harsh. It is important to offer opinions, criticisms but some of the comments were well to use the term harsh again best describes it. A friend told me after reading this article that she and her husband did not want to see themselves in his words but they did. I wonder if any on the thread felt that way?

Mr. Stein is a very humble and kind man. He represents my conservative values and when I disagree with his writings I say it with well the idea that if he were to read our threads on Free Republic it would have a postive effect. As they say you can bring them in with honey. So many conservatives take a gander at Free Republic.

How does one offer advice for teens? I saw many had and I saw other comments that well seems to write him off, if for no other reason that his article about his relationship with his son. When Mr. Stein is on he is ON. As shown by the previous threads on Free Republic I have added that to the bottom of this comment. Some were better than others but I have to tell you the one on Wal Mart, Reagan, How Was Your Day? (Ben shares of his hosting a military member and family) AWESOME, Christmas Peace (The voice of a true American Patriot - most read) were excellent and worthy of a reread.

Again, I am in good company with those who I ping to Stein's columns and I hope you take away from my comment an honest observation and without malice.

cricket -God Bless Ben Stein. . .the perfect 'imperfect'. maybe Ben could ask Tommy to write what HE is thankful for. . .and include Tommy thougtts in his next article - witih permision, of course. . .might help - couldn't hurt
Cricket, I actually think that is an excellent idea.

sevry - sports
sevry, sports really help to shape our youth and I agree that is an excellent suggestion

MinuteGal Some of us are not at all surprised about the brat's selfishness and loutishness.
I must have missed it but does this one experince a brat make?

cubreporter Tom or Tommy isn't going to be the key. It's how he is being raised and what kinds of responsibilities he is being taught. I think Ben Stein is doing this tongue in cheek, dont you? I bet he has a loving relationship with his son Tom/Tommy and it's nothing like he jokes about.
I actually found your comments insightful and maybe he is doing this tongue and cheek, he is a comdiean?

Choose Ye This Day I do not think it is tongue in cheek. I believe Ben does have a loving relationship with Tommy, but perhaps not a parent-as-authority-deserving-of-respect-and-obedience relationship.
CYTD, exellent suggestion.

TChris -Far too many parents expect their children to be their buddies instead of their children. Be a parent and don't be afraid to piss them off to teach an important lesson. He made the mess, he cleans it up, or he never gets to use the house again. Period.
Actually I get it TChris, there are parents who do not want push their kids away so they move from the discipliarian to the buddy and in the end it hurts both of them. Lesson learned.

Hildy Sounds like Ben Stein is not a very good parent. Kid sounds spoiled and maniuplative.
Hildy, we will have to agree to disagree.

xsmommy my feelings exactly! i cannot respect someone that allows their kids free rein like this. it is astounding to me.
Kids will be kids and parents will be parents. Don't do as I do. Learn from mistakes.

MHGinTN Those for whom Ben would use the term friends are fortunate indeed. This is one very good man ... that's my term for someone with whom I would spend time in conversation and reflection if possible. To put that in perspective, I've said the same of Mel Gibson and don't anticipate ever meeting him face-to-face either.
Thoughtful comment and insightful.

over3Owithabrain Agreed - Stein is a real asset to this country and conservatism. He makes inroads where others cannot. Doesn't make him the perfect dad or always strong when it comes to our War on Terror. But people here need to reread the great things he said about God and country in the article.
I wish there were more of his kind in LA, at least we have Ben.

GopherIt Ben bares his soul every month in AS. He is a very generous man, and God bless him
He is generous and a true patriot. He loves his country, he loves and supports our troops and would give the shirt off his back if it would help another. Like giving a military family a chance to reunite. How many others in LA can you say do that?

02/20/2005 FOX NEWS: Hollywood vs. America (tonight 2/20 9pm EST host John Gibson - Ben Stein will be a guestposted by Former Military Chick

02/19/2005 Ben Stein: One of Them (Tribute to Arthur Miller) posted by Former Military Chick

02/19/2005 Ben Stein: How Was Your Day? (Ben shares of his hosting a military member and family) AWESOMEposted by Former Military Chick

02/15/2005 How Was Your Day? (Meet Corporal John Quinones, of the First Cavalry Division.) [Ben Stein]posted by nickcarraway

02/12/2005 Here is a man who finally realized what the hollywood elitist really are.Ben Stein's Last Column...posted by GodBlessAmericia

01/29/2005 Ben Stein: Wal-Martposted by Former Military Chick

01/29/2005 Ben Stein's Last Columnposted by dvan

01/23/2005 Ben Stein: Tribute to Ronald Reagan (It's Ben need I say more) posted by Former Military Chick

01/23/2005 Ben Stein: Special Deliverance (another amazing essay)posted by Former Military Chick

1/20/2005 Ben Stein: Special Deliverance (another amazing essay)posted by Former Military Chick

12/17/2004 Ben Stein on retirement planningposted by Constitutionalist Conservative

12/16/2004 Ben Stein: Christmas Peace (The voice of a true American Patriot - most read) posted by Former Military Chick

09/13/2004 - How Can Someone Who Lives in Insane Luxury Be a Star in Today's World? (Ben Stein) posted by stainlessbanner

75 posted on 03/05/2005 10:03:46 AM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: Former Military Chick

Good morning...well, I tend to think Mr. Steyn does do this tongue in cheek. Why else would you keep a diary and constantly put things in there that are uncomplimentary to your son whom you love very much?

I think Ben Steyn is a good, kind, loving man and I KNOW he LOVES his dog and I would be quite surprised if this wasn't all just some diary chatter. Besides, he is very funny with that voice of his. I think Tommy will be just fine. He's got a great dad....

76 posted on 03/05/2005 10:17:37 AM PST by cubreporter (I trust and admire Rush. He has done more for this country than he will ever know. God bless him.)
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To: Former Military Chick

First off, let me say I am a big Ben Stein fan and not striving to be contentious. He chose to write about his son in this article, and if indeed it is tongue-in-cheek or humorous or sarcastic or untrue in someway he has done his son and his readers a great disservice. I doubt that is the case, so let's take the story told at face value.

I am the parent of a 19 year old girl, she is a great kid. But no creature on earth, not even Osama Bin Laden, can terrify a parent and fill your heart with dread and your mind with fear like a teenaged child. I don't think one really has to be a parent to appreciate this, just think back on your own teenage years, put yourself in your parent's shoes, unless you were some rare paragon, I think you'll see where I'm coming from!

I cannot approve of drag racing on public streets, anywhere, anytime. Ben certainly set two bad examples for his son here, first off participating, second, having the cop let them off as a favor. What's done is done, there, but I hope that activity is not repeated.

I also think he was very foolish to let the kid go to the beach house alone, and when his worst fears were confirmed his response was inadequate. I can only wonder what the others children's parents thought. And if he wants to blame "hollywood" may I remind him than none other than Angela Lansbury moved her family to Ireland for years, in order to get her kids out of "hollywood".

I say this as a parent who has spent more time that I would have like battling with my girl. She's a great kid, and I HOPE she turns out alright, but as the saying goes, hope is not a plan. She's not grown yet and much effort continues to be spent combatting her laziness, self-regard, tendency to try and get away cheap from her obligations, self-indulgence, and her too well founded belief that she can charm her way through life. In short, she's far too like her father and I can tell you that only my fear of a terrorist sponsored attack of small pox has come close to the frozen fear that contemplating my daughter's potential future has filled my mind with, upon occasion.

I'm 100% sympathetic to his feelings, but you can't let the little brats scare you, that is what they want. I call this, when my daughter does it, "building the wall of hostility", she makes herself so unpleasant you are happy not to deal with her at all. But you can't let them do it, you've got to keep breaching that wall. If I knew Mr. Stein personally I would tell him he should have kicked his son's butt over the beach house escapade.

77 posted on 03/05/2005 10:29:28 AM PST by jocon307 (Vote George Washington for the #1 spot)
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To: Former Military Chick
Ben Stein's article is more revealing than many would realize at first glance.

It's a intimate story told in everyday incidents about his concerns for the world, his family, and the questions that plague a mature person, "Did I do right? Did I do enough? Do I see things correctly and have them in proper perspective?"

A younger person does not ponder these things so deeply.

78 posted on 03/05/2005 10:37:47 AM PST by GVnana (If I had a Buckhead moment would I know it?)
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To: jocon307
First thank you so very much for entertaining a discussion of his article. I so appreciate it as a Ben Stein fan, fellow Freeper just a fellow conservative.

I agree one should not have such feelings as it pertains to one's child. You have offered courageous insight as that of a parent to that of one (Ben) who appears to be frustrated.

I do see where you are coming from, I hope once my husband retires from serving our country we can adopt, it is most difficult to do when you are a military family.

I do not approve of drag racing, UNLESS, it is on a road set aside for such shenanigans and as I mentioned I took my Mom on many moons ago, she in a 280Z and moi, 69 Cougar. Was not the best idea and it never happened again.

Foolish or not eventually we need to let our kids spread their wings. Of course it depends on the teen and the parent and what type of environment the child was raised in.

I was an only child of career parents, nuclear physicist and Air Force Officer and they gave me a lot of responsibility and I honored it. I had so many chances to have wild parties and really got it from my friends but as a kid the only thing that could ruin my relationship with my folks is breaking the trust that they had in me. I assure it was not fun at time be the good kid. I am glad you are sympathetic to his feelings and if he were to take a gander at your comment I feel he would gain insight that is not given with rudeness or anger. That is the best type of criticisms.

I just got to thinking about allowing his son to go to the beach house and I said when do we allow them to try to spread their wings. A few things came to mind. We will hold 13 year olds as adults when it comes to murder. We will send off our kids at 18 to fight for our country. They can vote at 18. They are not SUPPOSED to drink until they are 21. They can drive at 16. Ahh, the driving issue. Now they are saying that our kids are not responsible enough to drive at 16. But can stand trial for murder. OK, that is for another thread but I bring this up as it pertains to a teen's emotional age. It is not easy being a parent and I commend you on a job well done.

Thank you so much for giving an insightful and thoughtful comment. I really enjoy reading such comments.

79 posted on 03/05/2005 10:46:14 AM PST by Former Military Chick
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To: GVgirl

What an insightful observation, then again many of your comments are insightful on Free Republic and I appreciate reading them.

I think that is true he does write about things that happen in everyday life which is what connects him to his reader/fans. Thank you for pointing that out.

80 posted on 03/05/2005 10:49:00 AM PST by Former Military Chick
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