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  • I had dropped over to Deborah’s to say hi. Though she was my ex-wife, her home with Jan was always open to me and we enjoyed a friendship with a lifetime guarantee. She was warming up some tacos in a frying pan for dinner with the boys. Zac walked in the front door and she interrupted his progress toward his bedroom, saying “hey Zac, Dad’s here. Come in and join us.” Zac entered the kitchen and we made some small talk, the three of us all standing around the stove while Deborah cooked.

    Suddenly, she looked at Zac and asked, “Are you stoned?”

    He rolled his eyes. “No Mom. I’m not stoned.”

    A moment passed, the three of us exchanging looks.

    “You’re stoned Zac.” she declared. “Look me in the eyes and tell me you’re not stoned.”

    Zac looked directly at her and said clearly, “I am not stoned, Mom. Okay?”

    Another awkward silence. I said, “Look Deborah, he says he’s not stoned. We need to trust what he –

    Deborah lifted the frying pan and threw it down at the floor. It ricocheted off the edge of the stove on its way down and tacos flew and plummeted to the floor. The crash resounded in the drum taut kitchen. “You ARE stoned.” she yelled as Zac and I were, for the moment, riveted on the pan on the floor.

    Zac looked up at her. “Okay, you’re right! I am stoned.” Then he added. “I get stoned at least once a day.”

    In one dramatic, metallic bang, Deborah, our Zen Master with a gong, ended a couple of years of denial on my part, even as she launched a new chapter in Zac’s life.

    You’d be right to wonder how a loving Dad could be so clueless? How did it come to this? The last three years of high school the boys learned to fly under the radar at school, doing just enough schoolwork to get by and yet spend a lot of class-time toking up on a path running behind the building. It seems that I packed my parental radar into the same box with the tie dye t-shirts and sweatpants that they eschewed after middle school.

    As Zac and his twin brother Alex got immersed in the dramas of high school – its social-identity silos; its new level of academic pressure and competition; the arrival of a vast and powerful army of hormones quartered right inside what used to be their unassuming bodies; the unfamiliar calls to romance and heartbreak; and then the glorious discovery of pot and its liberation from all things too serious……. they felt these were not things I would understand. Even if I was a Dad they still loved; even if they knew I’d been a hippie (and at the dinner table one night, asked me what drugs had been the most fun, generating a very awkward, indirect response); even if they were confounded by the overwhelming power of the waves they were surfing……in their eyes, I was no longer the iconic Dad with all the answers. I came from another generation. I was more like a friendly Martian they lived with than someone to confide in or seek advice from. It was the same for me when I was in high school. My parents wouldn’t-couldn’t understand the dramas, so I stored them inside like bees in a jar.

    With the thunder of frying pan against floor, Deborah had knocked down walls like Joshua’s horns did at the Battle of Jericho. We were parents again and Zac was the same beautiful boy who used to squeeze his thighs round my sides like a vice grip when he was held as a toddler. We were needed once again – re-installed in the parent-son equation.

    That weekend Zac and I drove up to Point Reyes national park and hiked for two days. We talked as we hadn’t in a few years - his words cascading through the forest like raindrops washing the leaves. He shared his dramas, his mushroom trips, his alienation from school studies, his heartbreak. I shared back. We slept at a hostel on a bunk bed and he woke me in the middle of the night to stop my snoring. It wasn’t me though and we shared a midnight laugh as the snoring roared on. We finished the night on some couches in the lounge.

    In the following weeks, as he wound up his high school career, we studied alternatives to college. Zac applied and got accepted into Habitat for Humanity. He said he would stop getting high as soon as he began their program, but that he just couldn’t stop while he was in Palo Alto. We dropped him off at his new home in Phoenix City, Alabama where he’d share a house with four young men in their 20’s for the next year as they learned to build houses. That first morning at work, in the stifling southern heat and humidity, I watched him hammer a metal fence post into the ground. I admit I wondered if he’d last. Back home, we held our breath, worried that he might look for an Alabama dealer as soon as loneliness set in.

    Zac discovered he had an amazing work ethic. He also became a big fan of Southern rock bands. He jammed with his roommates. He learned to cook some. He gave up pot the whole year. He discovered a pleasure in reading. Toward the end of the year, he’d been appointed the project leader. He then went to college and 4 years later, graduated Phi Beta Kappa in Philosophy. After Hurricane Katrina, he became the site manager for all of Habitat’s building projects in New Orleans.

    I see a luminous line – a sort of re-actuated umbilical line - leading from that frying pan on Deborah’s kitchen floor to the constructive man that Zac became. Love isn’t always delivered in hugs and chocolate cakes. It can be shot out like a cannon ball, carried on the courage of a piercing scream, or echoed in the crash of a frying pan – sacrificing a few tacos for truth and love.
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