Defiance and Discipline

Dearest Rachel –

You know that I never liked being the disciplinarian in the family. I would get frustrated when Daniel wouldn’t – for whatever reason – comply with our requests (I got particularly upset about homework, as I had always wanted to get it out of the way when I was a student, and could not understand why he refused to work on anything until the last minute). From there, I would get angry, and as Dr. Banner would say, “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Heck, I didn’t like me when I was angry.

And so I generally left the discipline up to you. You were the one who, as a procrastinator yourself by nature, understood where he was coming from. Not to mention, you had the stamina to stay up late nights helping him with his assignments and whatnot.

I really don’t know which of you caused the other to stay up later, in fact. I think, as the years wore on, you would both joke about how each of you was a bad influence on the other in terms of staying up and sleeping in. I know I was only a morning person out of necessity, but you two had this ability to make me look like an absolute lark.

To be sure, we never suffered the problems of dealing with the stereotypical defiant teenager. For all his staying up late, Daniel never stayed out late, partying with… less reputable… friends. Of course, part of that could probably be attributed to the social awkwardness of being on the spectrum – to say nothing of the fact that (like us in our own high school days) he was not one of the ‘cool kids’ who would have participated in certain activities of dubious morality.

Personally, I’d also like to credit a television show we would watch and enjoy together – indeed, we even spent the better part of our vacation on the island last year rewatching the old episodes again – World’s Dumbest. As much fun as it was to watch the idiots on camera making the stupidest judgement calls in criminal instigation, vehicular manipulation, violent confrontation, and just plain overindulgent miscalculation – not to mention the running commentary about the onscreen shenanigans by the collection of washed-up celebrities who by and large knew a thing or two about having made similar such bad judgement in their past life at the relative top – it was still a fantastic assembly of cautionary tales. D’ya see this fool being this stupid? Yeah, don’t be like that. I’d go so far as to say that D.A.R.E. got it all wrong. Forget “just say no;” they should have gone with “here’s what you look like when you don’t say no.” You don’t even have to focus on the horrific crashes that result from driving drunk (to take a relatively common example): show a guy acting like a slobbering moron when he’s pulled over for a field sobriety test. Even the ‘cool kids’ can see how uncool this guy looks at that point. It need only boil down to “don’t be that guy.” Message received.

So the worst we ever had to deal with was that he really wasn’t keen on doing his homework on time, and you were so understanding, I let you deal with him rather than blow up in his face.

But these days… things are starting to get… strange.

I don’t know when it was that he started listening to these preachers and ‘prophets’ on YouTube and its competitors (since some of them wouldn’t necessarily be allowed there, given the perspectives they offer are… how to put it… not in line with the mainstream narrative). I know when I would express skepticism of some of the claims he would tell me about, he would tell me that he had talked to you before the accident about some of them, to which you would respond with “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

And honestly, it’s the best response I can come up with, and since it’s a reiteration of what he recalls you saying, he’s okay with my doubts. After all, he’s convinced that by the end of June, everything is going to be falling into place. Look, I’m not fond with how things are going in the wider world right now, myself. But things don’t just change overnight, and he does not seem to grasp that – or isn’t willing to. At least invoking your name and opinion somehow lends credibility to my position – for now.

The problem is, it’s one thing to have an opinion about how things are and should be, and another entirely to act as if your opinions are reality. Sunday saw us at a local steakhouse favored by both Mom and Dad, in celebration of Mother’s Day. All well and good, but for whatever reason, Daniel decides to walk into the restaurant sans facemask – not even pulling up the collar of his turtleneck in some semblance of a gaiter, all in quiet defiance of the signs posted on the door requiring a mask for entry. His attitude is basically “I’ll be taking it off once we’re seated; it doesn’t make any difference; and these rules are inconsistent, arbitrary, and only a matter of time from being completely overturned.” All of which may very well be so, but that’s hardly the point right now. And I’m at a loss what to do about him; I’m not about to make a scene, but I let him know my displeasure, along with offering him a clean mask that I’d already had in the car for such an occasion, which he takes – and stuffs in his pocket.

At this point, even Dad notices what’s going on; and again, I try to keep things subdued, but I can’t get him to budge. Neither can Dad, in his office as Poppa – Daniel just nods politely at what we’re telling him, and does nothing. He knows we’re going to be seated in a moment or two, and sees no reason to put it on at this point.

Again, I kind of agree with him about the ‘now do this, now do that’ nature of the mask rules these days, but now isn’t the time to play the part of La Resistance. I try to invoke 1 Corinthians 8, where those of us who might ‘know better’ are instructed to go along with more restrictive rules from time to time in order to not cause those around us to stumble, but it’s no use. By this time, we have been seated – ironically, in the same little anteroom where we had held Dad’s eightieth birthday party only two and a half years ago, the last time we were here, before everything fell apart – and we’re all taking our masks off to eat and drink.

He’s “won,” or so he thinks. He’s proven his point, that he won’t get thrown out of a crowded restaurant (which it is – it’s as busy as I’ve ever seen the place, post- or even pre-pandemic). But I think he’s lost some respect in Poppa’s eyes, and I’m not pleased with him, either. So – and he may not realize it – it’s a Pyrrhic victory on his part.

I have no idea how to tell him this, and I see no reason to belabor the point once the meal’s over and we’re all heading our separate ways. As before, would it benefit either of us to argue things out at this point? I don’t see it, and our relationship isn’t as friendly as yours and his was to begin with – I really don’t want to strain this any further. Besides, at twenty-seven, he’s supposed to be old enough to make his own decisions (although I suppose I could invoke the “my roof, my rules” principle, but again, strain the relationship further, and I’m loathe to do that). So here I am, telling you instead. I don’t know if it’s the right call – in fact, it probably isn’t – but it’s where I am.

We’d always approached parenthood with the understanding that our child was like a wet bar of soap. Hold it too loosely, and the soap might slide out of your hand. But squeeze it too tightly, and it would shoot out across the shower stall. We were always concerned about the possibility that we might be squeezing the soap. But now I’m wondering if I’m letting it drop, instead – and what, if anything, can be done to reverse this trend.

And as always, I wish you were here. He’d listen to you… I think.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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