When I first became a father, I was determined to raise a son who loved cars, sports, and the great outdoors—just like his dear old dad. When he was younger, Alex frequently went fishing and hiking in the woods with me. I taught him how to play baseball, basketball, and football. He enjoyed cruising in my old jalopies and playing with my worn out Hotwheels that I’d kept since my own childhood. My plan to raise a perfect clone of myself was going along quite smoothly—or so I thought.
At some point, it became painfully clear to me that Alex couldn’t care less about sports. Although he still takes occasional strolls in the woods, it has been years since he and I have gone fishing together. And when he became old enough to try for his driver’s license, he put it off for months due to a complete lack of interest in driving. Instead of becoming my clone, Alex became my polar opposite—or so I thought.
Upon further reflection, Alex and I are more alike than he would ever care to admit. We are both huge Star Wars fans. We share a similar, often warped, sense of humor. Also, Alex obviously inherited his father’s devilish good looks. (Let’s just ignore the fact that he now stands eight full inches taller than me.)
Alex is seventeen years old and well on his way to becoming a man. His own man. A good man. A better man than me. He is a thoughtful big brother to Truman and Tiana. He tells his mother and me that he loves us. He helps out around the house without complaining. He does well in school. He has informed opinions about politics and morality. He is infinitely more mature than I was at his age.
When I was seventeen, I started abusing alcohol. I had a strained relationship with both of my parents. I engaged in risky behaviors and routinely lied to my mom and dad in order to cover my tracks. My grades started slipping. I began to care more about being popular than being a good person. I treated my younger brother—who would eventually attend schools such as Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford—like a worthless nuisance rather than the brilliant and kind person he is. At seventeen, I truly was the polar opposite of seventeen year-old Alex.
Alex and his circle of friends are good kids. I’ve had numerous conversations with well-meaning people about how my son spends so much of his time online. The general sentiment is that it isn’t healthy for a kid to be inside playing video games so much when he could be enjoying the outdoors, playing sports, or hanging out with his friends. As I said, Alex gave those outdoor and athletic pursuits a fair try only to realize he didn’t enjoy them. And when he was younger, it was difficult for him to meet up with other kids due to the fact that he always lived outside of town, miles from his friends’ homes. Hopping on a bike and riding to a buddy’s house was never an option during his childhood, but putting on a headset and playing video games online with his buddies was and still is.
When Alex and his friends go online to play video games like “Star Wars Battlefront II,” their parents are usually sitting in the next room. Sometimes we overhear inappropriate language as the boys trash talk one another. Sometimes we have to say “no” to requests to purchase games like “Grand Theft Auto” that no child should ever be allowed to play. And sometimes we have to tell our kids to sign off and go to bed or do their homework. But when they are playing video games online with their friends, they are safe and sound in their own homes. They are not getting drunk and making reckless choices behind the wheel of an automobile. They are not doing drugs, knocking over mailboxes, or spray-painting water towers. Personally, I am glad my son and his friends are gamers.
I’m extremely proud of the young man Alex is becoming. I’m actually relieved that neither he nor his siblings are my clones. As any Star Wars fan will tell you, having your own clones will lead to nothing but trouble.