The payoffs of parenting worth the wait

| Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Spectator
Jeremiah M. Murphy

Kevin Woster asked me to write a monthly column for the Journal about, among other things, parenting. I thought “What I know about parenting would fit on the back of a matchbook cover.”

Remember matchbooks? Lighters? Cigarettes? Do they make that stuff any more?.

Everyone carried matches not so long ago. They needed a good supply of matches because they had so much smoking to do – at schools, hospitals, athletic events, offices, restaurants. People smoked everywhere. That’s the way it seemed anyway.

No more. That’s changed.

Four years ago I saw how much it has changed. I was sitting in the bleachers at St. Thomas More High School with our son Hunter. Hunter, the oldest Murphy kid, was a freshman at STM. He and I were attending orientation with other parents and students.

Hunter did not suffer my presence well. He’d reached that point in life where the presence of his parents had become a burden.

We listened attentively (OK, I may have dozed at points – it was August in a crowded high school gym for crying in the night.) as administrators and teachers explained the rules and procedures and expectations for high school students.

One thing stands out about that assembly - I vividly remember Principal Sullivan’s diatribe against gum chewing. He was a regular Carrie Nation on the subject. He elevated gum-chewing to the level of Deadly Sin - right there between greed and lust.

I expected the gum chewing sermon to be followed by a smoking lecture. That was a highlight of any discussion of the rules in my high school days – “No Smoking!” It was a rule that got a lot of attention because it was often broken. My high school had a whole routine for smokers. Get caught smoking in school and you paid a fine and your parents got a letter. Get caught again, pay a bigger fine, another letter to your parents. And so on.

“Here it comes,” I thought, “the smoking lecture”. But, remarkably, nothing.

Finally, as the principal fired one more shot across the bow of the gum chewers, I leaned over to Hunter and I stage whispered “What about smoking? Is it OK to smoke in school?”

“Dad! Shhh!”

“I’m going to ask Sullivan. What’s the drill here; do I raise my hand or what?”

“Dad, seriously, knock it off!”

“Well then you ask him.” I whispered “Ask him if it’s OK to chew gum if you’re doing it to break a smoking habit.”

“Dad . . .”

“No, no, wait! Ask him if it’s OK to smoke if you’re trying to break a gum-chewing habit. C’mon!”


I gave up. Clearly I was torturing the poor kid. I had drawn unwanted attention to him. Worse, I had blown his cover. It was apparent to people near us that he had a parent and his parent was talking to him and that . . . aargh!!

So, that day, I learned that, in the 27 years since I was in high school, the smoking habits of teenagers had changed while my proclivity to play the class clown in a high school assembly had not changed at all.

That was almost four years ago.

This past May, four school years after that freshman orientation, Hunter stood at the front of an STM assembly. The Bishop, administrators, teachers, parents, students, family and friends had gathered for the graduation of the STM Class of 2007. Hunter spoke to us.

He had changed. He still didn’t want his Dad to draw goofy attention to him, but he was proud to draw the best kind of attention to himself. He spoke as his class representative with conviction and intelligence. He spoke with wit and with passion.

Earlier in that graduation assembly he got up from his seat and walked back to Kaia and me. He gave his Mom a flower and a hug and gave me a big handshake. He’d changed from the fourteen year old who wanted to show no public connection with his parents to an eighteen year old who was happy to acknowledge us.

So I know this about parenting – it pays dividends. The changes above and many other changes in Hunter have been my privilege to experience as a parent.

I’m looking forward to the changes to come.

(Originally published in the August 19th, 2007 Rapid City Journal)