by David Sisler

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Actually this is not a broadcast of the Lone Ranger – you knew that. I was rumbling through some old files recently and came across this column, one I ran during the first year I was in print. Permit me, please, a rerun.

And then a fresh conclusion.

"Dear Mom and Dad, I've thought it over carefully, and I've decided life is just too much of a hassle. Please don't blame yourselves. You've tried really hard, and I know you love me, and I love you. I just want all the feelings to stop. Love, Nancy.

"P.S. I fed Buffie and changed her litter box. Please take good care of her for me."

I first read that suicide note from a 16 year old girl when our first born was an only child. And I kept it, as a reminder.

Rereading that note I think of a cartoon character who wants to have pets. The character is tall, lumbering, and not very bright. He tells how he'd care for them: "I'd love ‘em and hug ‘em and kiss ‘em and squeeze ‘em."

More than 20 years ago I was a high school history teacher. I remember standing in the school's parking lot, talking with Jim, a very self-assured young man.

He said, "I'm an individualist. I want to do my own thing. I want to be left alone. I don't want other people giving me orders. I want to live as an individual."

As he made that declaration I broke out in laughter.

"What's so funny?" he demanded.

"Jim, look at you," I said, barely able to speak. "Your hair style is identical to every boy in this class. You are wearing the same type of shirt, pants, and shoes as every other boy in this school. You all listen to the same music, read the same books, and attend the same movies.

"You even smoke the same brand of cigarettes," I continued, "and drink the same brand of beer, when you think no one is watching. You look like you came out of a cookie cutter and yet you declare that you are an individualist."

He stood silently for a moment and then blurted out, "I just want someone to notice me. Someone to care."

Before I could respond one of Jim's classmates call out, "Come on. We'll be late."

That night those individualists went to the same gymnasium, listened to the same records, performed the same dances, "made-out" with their girl friends in the same dark corners, drag raced on the same country road, and were arrested by the same policeman.

And all of their parents declared, "I just don't understand this younger generation!"

We laugh at these teen-aged antics, and Jim survived his, just as I survived mine. But Nancy didn't. Don't miss the heart-cry of that carbon copy individualist: "I just want someone to notice me. Someone to care."

Nancy did not specify the kind of feelings she wanted to have stop, but I know the kind of feelings she would have wanted to continue. The same feelings Jim wanted. They won't admit it, but most teenagers want someone to hug ‘em and love ‘em and kiss ‘em and squeeze ‘em.

My work day begins at 5:30 a.m. Three days a week I work until 9:00 p.m. Two of those days I work from "open til close." At ten o'clock when I get home and fall into my chair, I'm worn out.

As soon as I am settled, one of my teenagers says, "Daddy, may I sit?" Some nights I'm like Greta Garbo – I want to be alone. But I remember Nancy and Jim and scoot over. And those few minutes are always the best of the day.

I can't live each moment with my kids. I can't protect them from everything. I can't make all of their decisions for them – even though they'd tell you I try. But I can love ‘em and hug ‘em and kiss ‘em and squeeze ‘em.

Sometimes I do it in public, in front of their friends, where I know it will embarrass them. They don't seem to mind too badly, because every night I share my chair with a young man or young woman who asks, "Daddy, may I sit?"

That was 1990. This is 2001. The time when I was a history teacher was more than 30 years ago. I no longer work for that store, nor do I work from "can to can't." But I still frequently fall into my chair, worn out. Our first born arrived at our house more than 30 years ago. She and her sister are married and are well-established in their new homes and their new lives – no grandchildren yet because I am too young to be a grandfather. Their brothers are pursuing their careers, one as a restaurant manager, the other in computer networking.

Life takes us in separate directions, but two days a week we get together. Tuesday is Family Night, a tradition started more than a decade ago. Don't call between 6 and 9 because the answering machine will pick up! On Sunday afternoons the whole family gathers around the dinner table, not because I insist on it – they are too old and too big for Dear Old Dad to do that any more – but because they want to be here (and the girls say, they don't have to cook).

Those two days, those few hours remain among the best of the week.

And on Tuesday nights when we go downstairs to watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, one of the kids will walk over to my chair and say, "Daddy, may I sit."

Almost heaven!


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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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