The Agony of Parenting, the Ecstasy of True Friendship - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Agony of Parenting, the Ecstasy of True Friendship

Attached to my local library sits a tiny used bookstore housed in an unassuming 10-by-12 fluorescent-lit room near the front entrance. A cheerful, bespectacled, curly-gray-haired lady eagerly helps her buyers pick out books from the neatly divided and ordered shelves. Some books are brand-new and an unexpected bargain. Some, like the one that jumped out at me, are old. My choice had golden-brown pages, a torn cover, and the intoxicating smell of a weathered tome. The title leapt out at me: The Chosen. It was my favorite book in sixth grade, and I loved it so much that I sought out all of Chaim Potok’s books at the middle-school library and was disappointed to find only one of his other works there.

The Chosen is a perfect book for a brainy, shy pubescent who feels like an outsider and can’t quite make sense of the inhumanity of other 12-year-olds. In pants that were too short due to a dramatic summer growth spurt and tight family finances, I read this book in awe.  It is a coming-of-age story about two young Jewish boys who meet in unfortunate circumstances on opposing baseball teams. Through a spark of malice, they find friendship.

That’s the story I read when I was 12. Now, over 40 years later, reading the book anew, I see much more. Some books diminish upon rereading them. They seemed larger than life as a child but, upon closer inspection, something is lost in the living. The stories shrink and are relegated to childhood memories. Not this book. The Chosen is about friendship, yes, but it is also about the agony of parenting a child, specifically a gifted male child.

Two boys grow up in this story. Two fathers attempt to raise good men in this story. The men choose wildly different paths to bring their sons to maturity. Some of their choices are informed by their religious persuasion. Some are based on the boys themselves.

True friendship is a saving friendship. For young people, especially, friendship can mean the difference between life and death.

I don’t want to give too much away. Instead, I urge you to read the book for yourself. It called to mind a great many modern things. First, too few know the joy of a good book and how someone else’s story, told well, can be a form of friendship. Second, in a world filled with Twitter, Instagram, BeReal, and social media, do children afford themselves these sorts of friendships? I know they do, and I also know parents sometimes need to help them along. Finally, The Chosen brings home the challenges of raising a boy to success in a materialistic and turbulent world without losing his religion, cultural identity, and sense of self. These themes are ageless and beautiful.

A few years back, a friend of one of my kids felt lonely. We didn’t know this when we asked him to help fix my beleaguered electronics, still smoking from a bolt of lightning. He managed to save the machine long enough to back it up. Then the Apple desktop, like every other electronic thing in my house save the shredder, died. In the days he visited, we learned a lot about computers and more about him. He spent long hours with us and shared feelings. He needed friends. A couple of us mothers had a conversation and then we talked to our kids. The kids started playing tabletop role-playing games. The group cemented. Tight friendships formed that remain alive today. Likely a life was saved, and maybe more than one.

C.S. Lewis says in his book The Four Loves:

At home, besides being Peter or Jane, we also bear a general character; husband or wife, brother or sister, chief, colleague or subordinate. Not among Friends. It is an affair of disentangled, or stripped, minds. Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.

To be naked in front of someone and to still be loved; that is a beautiful thing.

Wise parents know the importance of friendship. Lewis says later, in the above passage, that “it has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Here, I disagree with him. True friendship is a saving friendship. For young people, especially, friendship can mean the difference between life and death. St. Augustine writes in his Confessions of the hoodlums he surrounded himself with when he was a selfish 16-year-old. He stole for fun or for no reason at all, in the thrall of a peer group with no values and no purpose. His path was taking him down the road of destruction. We read nearly daily now of children’s dying from one enticing pill at a party. It looks pleasing, but it’s fentanyl and one dose is enough to kill the teen immediately. Good friendships, and bad, can mean the difference between life and death.

Parenting children through these choppy waters is not for the weak or faint-hearted. Much like immigrant parents in America during the turbulence of World War II and its aftermath, parents today must integrate new forces and ones they scarcely comprehend. When Gen X-ers grew up, they lived in a world, technologically, not unlike their parents and their parents before them. Some homes still had party lines for a while and everyone communicated directly, either in person or over a simple phone line, often fought over by the many kids or the parents. Friendships blossomed in person through riding bikes or through the one friend’s junker that became the taxi for everyone else. Life was simpler then. There were rules for dating (only sluts had sex on the first date, and no decent guy expected it) that were clearer and more understandable.

Teens now navigate a world governed by technology, physical distance, and endless “necessary” burdens that make their lives a jumbled, distracted mess. While their emotional milieu is more complex, they have fewer supportive social structures. Most parents don’t take their kids to church, so many children have no spiritual foundation to build their world upon. Most parents work, so they aren’t emotionally available. Listening, after working all day, consumes so much energy. Even more likely, parents are not physically present as often. My next-door neighbor 20 years ago said to make sure and be home with your teens, if you can, because that’s when they really need you. He’s right. Teens, more than any child, need supervision, interaction, and a listening ear just to get them to adulthood intact.

They also need friends.

Outside of spending time with my children, my greatest pleasure comes simply: in time with true friends. As we age, these friendships can sift and sort. People come and go for specific reasons. Maybe friendships formed because your kids were in the same school. Maybe you volunteered at church together. Some become permanent. Some don’t. These friendships are meaningful in the season they occur. But true friendship abides. There is nothing like the friend who knew you when. You grew up together. They know your secrets, your family, your awkward phase, your vulnerabilities. You know it about them. These friendships survive death and divorce, money and want, success and failure. These folks are there for you always, and you, them. It is rare. It can only come with time and love and grace. Like a book, true friendship ages and weathers and becomes better with every reading.

Parents’ influence shrinks some throughout the teen years, but part of our goal should be to give our children the opportunity to have these sorts of friendships and to nurture them. Sometimes that happens without interference. Sometimes it requires direct action. Parenting is not easy.

For all the advances and riches of this world, modern parents too often deprive their children of what matters most: the peace that is borne of faith, the security that comes through discipline, and the solace that flowers in friendship. Is it good parenting if one gives a child everything but nothing of value? Too many children suffer this empty fate.

Jesus had John. David had Jonathan. And in The Chosen, Daniel had Reuven. This world is not meant to be traveled alone. Friendship helps one survive and makes that surviving worth it.

Melissa Mackenzie
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Melissa Mackenzie is Publisher of The American Spectator. Melissa commentates for the BBC and has appeared on Fox. Her work has been featured at The Guardian, PJ Media, and was a front page contributor to RedState. Melissa commutes from Houston, Texas to Alexandria, VA. She lives in Houston with her two sons, one daughter, and two diva rescue cats. You can follow Ms. Mackenzie on Twitter: @MelissaTweets.
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