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As Long as We Remember...

December 1, 2008

Never Cool

Steven R. Berryman

As usual, family gatherings over the Thanksgiving weekend allowed for more personal interactions. I have three wonderful teenagers and have confirmed that the scrutiny and evaluation that befall parents at this critical juncture are surely unimaginable to anyone not experiencing it first hand.


Saturday my one mistake was to grab the first shirt in my drawer without thought given to the consequences. I headed out with number one son to a driving lesson.


That shirt had the logo from the hit TV series Extreme Makeover – Home Edition. Their production company had been building a free house nearby out of charity, courtesy of Dan Ryan Homes, and SEARS among others.


My wife and daughter volunteered to set up the house, representing SEARS, as my wife is an associate of said company. The free shirt earned in return for their free labor was sadly an XL size, perfect only for me!


Upon wearing this T-shirt, I was assaulted by my 19-year-old daughter, Lisa, who proclaimed: “Dad, you are just looking for attention; you are not cool!”


I was stunned by the audacity of the attack. Even more so, the “cool” thing got me. Usually what I earn is the more generic utility version: “Dad, you were never cool.”


Part of the problem is that being a role model to your children requires avoiding reference to more colorful experiences of the past. When my kids see me now during spare moments, it’s usually while I’m writing a column or a blog on the computer, or reading something related to my self imposed activist roles.


The above occurs only after sending and receiving about 120 emails a day, and commenting to online columns and posts. This is a kind of compulsion, but it only takes time away that most others spend watching pro football contests or American Idol; I do not. And that’s when there isn’t a home owners association meeting!


Teens afford little overt respect for scouting, little league coaching, or other volunteerism.


So, I am easily pigeon holed as a nerd-dad; never been in trouble or had any fun and was certainly never their age.


I don’t want to win the battle just to lose the war on this one. But I am tempted to launch nostalgically into some autobiographical incriminations. Thinking back, there were a number of character building stories I could weave into a conversation:


In High School at C.W. Woodward in Montgomery County, I ran with the chess and tennis geeks, but started occasionally at defensive end for varsity football, this while coaching intramural basketball and reffing girls’ softball.


This weird mix got me ostracized from individual social groups like jocks, freaks, geeks or greasers, but I always had a home with respect in the weight room as a teacher’s aid.


As a non-conformist of my day, I took off a year before college and worked retail for Best Products for a year, easily mingling with ex-hippies and Vietnam vets. They had identified me as counter cultural and one of them.


Having fun but not joining that party for long, I used the last half of the year learning backpacking and hiking from my new friend Mark, a University of Maryland expatriate. He taught me of self-reliance and politics when off the trails.


We climbed mountains from the glaciers of Mount Washington to Roan Mountain, TN. Then there was West Virginia


Mark and I discovered motorcycles and girls together. On my summer before college, we struck out together to be YMCA camp counselors in the Pocono Mountains of East Pennsylvania. The sleepover camp afforded two-week adventures to boys and girls, some on scholarship from inner city New York.


Most of the adventure stories of lore about liaisons with staff to come out of our camp experience will forever be just between me and Mark, but there was that fake oil leak that bought us an extra day off between sessions…


College was not a success for me, as I was fully distracted by now. My electronics and music interest took me to Lycoming College in Pennsylvania for Recording Studios, but I ended up more interested in Astronomy and Economics.


Then there was state and local government. That got my attention. One day the student next to me raised his hand to answer an uppity professorial question and identified himself as a current member of the local school board; its youngest ever.


Ever the odd man, I was the only student I knew that would skip class in order to read The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal from cover to cover!


This all was punctuated by visits to New Jersey to visit an old camp flame; we would take the subway into NYC to see Emerson, Lake, and Palmer at Madison Square Garden.


Can’t remember much else, though.


Alas, the extended gig was not to be, and with the help of my Lambda Chi Alpha brothers, I left college unwillingly after two years. A year later, reportedly they were kicked off of campus anyway for loading their fraternity soda machine with Budweiser. Those dry colleges!


At age 19 and through all my school breaks I had worked for Circuit City selling stereos on commission. This was 1979 by now, and those people were crazy.


The money was great, so it was no problem living away from home for the first time with friends in a group house. Three of us rented a split level in Greenbelt Maryland where we were always looking for adventure and hiding from old girl friends.


With state of the art hi-fi system and a fenced in wooded lot and integral gas grill, we thought we had it made. A stones throw from the University of Maryland, and what was then the Capital Center, we got our fair share of entertainment including concerts by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith (when they were young!), Ted Nugent, and REO Speedwagon.


All good things must come to an end, and eventually I ended up a year later living with a couple of White House advance men working for President Ronald Reagan and rented again, but in Springfield, VA.


Starting then I really can’t tell most of the good stories in detail, but I did work representing consumer electronics factories while traveling the country with an expense account in a private plane.


All of this insanity before age 23.


Don’t know if any of this qualifies as “cool,” but I guess we had had our day.


The rest is history. Don’t tell my kids.


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