On Having a 13-Year-Old Son


I walk down the long, dark hall to his
room, the door barely cracked open, the line of light
like a sunrise. I push the door open and see him
on his bed, headphones on, his head moving
to the bass. He flips the page of the book he is reading.

He does not see me.

Thirteen is the continental
divide, the place where two rain drops falling
side by side can end up in opposite
oceans. It is Matchbox cars and a
laptop, Elmo with baby brother and hesitant
conversations with young ladies. Thirteen
is to have the soul of a child lost in the body
of an almost-man, like a hand in
a too-big glove.

I look at the top of his head and remember
the first time I saw that head crowning, dark hair still
wet from his mother’s womb. So much anticipation, waiting
for the first sight of that face. That face. Screaming,
he came. That is the way of the world.

I move to nudge him, to say good-night. Instead,
I look at him, his long body stretching the entire length
of the bed, his shoulders widening. Beneath the curve
of the blanket I see the form of a strong back. I wonder
what it is to be a father, what it is that joins us
to our sons, what strange awkwardness in seeing ourselves
right there
becoming men in ways large and small, doing things
we remember
doing things we
try to forget.

Thirteen is the heat of summer, the sweltering
waves rising from melting macadam. It is the
condensation on the outside of the glass,
the ring left behind on the table. It’s the season
the creeps in through the screens, heavy
and warm, with thunderstorms on the horizon.

I back out of the room quietly. Tonight I will leave him
to find his way. I will not ask him about his music
or what he is reading. I will not try to create an artificial
crossing. Tonight. Step by step I back out of the room,
until I am pushing
the door closed softly. But

just then

he senses me. Turns his head. Smiles his boyish grin
the grin that is all 13-year-olds and yet only him,
the grin that gaps at the back where his last baby
teeth have fled.

“Good night, Dad,” he says, extra loud because of
the head phones. I almost say
Turn down your music,
but I do not. I only smile
and close the door.

Good night. Yes. That is what we call it. I leave
the door cracked open, that line of light
a sunset.

5 Replies to “On Having a 13-Year-Old Son”

  1. You’re amazing, Mr. Shawn. Purely delightful read. You’re able to stir and connect feelings. I’m looking forward to having a 13-year-old, thanks to you.

  2. As an 80 year old it’s difficult for me to remember my 13 year old year. I do know from my own chronology that it must have been a time of adjustment for me. As an only child I was just getting used to being in a tiny tobacco town in eastern NC. where my parents had moved from Pa. to begin a new medical practice. As a son who was always told he never measured up I was constantly seeking approval and, in spite of years if therapy, still do at times. I wish I had a Dad that looked in on me as you do with your boy, and who could affirm me just as I was as well as allowing me to listen to “my” music. Thanks shawn! I’m certain your words kick up memories for many sons who hear your words.

  3. My oldest is thirteen. It is so . . . I don’t know. It is changing motherhood for me and there aren’t any words for it, at least not words I can find. You seem to have found them beautifully. I look at him and see the last thirteen years all smashed up into one bewilderingly tall child that I swear grows and broadens every night and I love it and hate it all at once. Being a mother is the most bitterly sweet thing I have ever known.

  4. Thank you for this. It made me cry. Like Erin above….it is bittersweet. My son is 16. It can be hard to let go, but God has great things in store, I know.

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