As anyone who knows me can attest, I am very protective of my kids. No, I am not a helicopter parent. I’m not that insane, thanks. (No, really, my shrink agreed!) That being said, I’m well aware things are different now, and that kids face perils that we didn’t necessarily have at their age.
So. Let me toss this one out to you, and without cheating by skimming further, be honest with yourself about your own first reaction. Deal?
You have a 17 year old son. He’s outgoing, intelligent, charismatic, hilarious, and a total goof. At times he is more mature than the 25 year old grad students you know, and at times he’s about as “teenage boy” as they come. He is extremely empathetic to people who are sad or lonely, and if he could, he’d save the world from that particular plight. That 17 year old suddenly starts hanging out socially with a 43 year old Judo coach, including going to out of town tournaments and classes, and even spending the night at his house, since they leave really early in the morning for these.
Be honest. If not here, with me, then with yourself. I’m going to hazard a guess and surmise that your response was somewhere between, “Are you fucking kidding me?” and “Oh HELL no!”
Especially when, just a few months ago, I read this article about Kayla Harrison, the Olympic Judo champion who was sexually abused by her coach for years. Now, before you get your hackles up, I did not automatically assume that the Ambassador’s Sensei was a child molester. Come on, people, go back to the top of the post if you need to, and reread where I asserted that I’m not quite that bad. But while I did not assume that my son was in imminent physical or psychological danger, my antennae went up. Coming from a history of sexual abuse myself, and having my own child be abused by a babysitter (she has no memory of it), and having been made mind-and-heart-weary by way too many news stories, it was just . . . bugging me.
But again, let’s be crystal clear here. At no time did I feel that the Ambassador was in danger. At no time did I have any indication that something was wrong. All I had was history, too many stories in the media, and a nagging question.
Why would a 43 year old want to hang out with a 17 year old?
Instead of risking turning into one of those parents, I decided to trust humanity, and simply observe.
The Sensei has now been to our house for meals, video game sessions, and yes, he has spent the night in our guest bed as well. He is a quiet, well spoken, intelligent man with a great smile. Yes, I will be honest with you all – the fact that he passed a state background check helped as well. (He is a long-term substitute teacher in our county school system.) The Ambassador has given me a lot of insight into his Sensei, and the puzzle pieces definitely started to fall into place. At 18, the Sensei had two younger brothers, ages 16 and 13. A family beach trip was planned, but the Sensei had to stay behind for reasons that are unknown, but also unimportant. What is important is that on this trip, Sensei’s younger brothers drowned. To lose your siblings like that would be a grief that would consume most people. When I think of my own crew, and how incredibly close they are, I cannot imagine the despair and depression that the remaining child would face, day after day. So in this friendship, my son finds a mentor, and his mentor finds a younger brother. They are bound by a love for their own siblings, a passion for the beauty and discipline of martial arts, and the fun of anime and gaming. While an unlikely pair, their friendship makes sense in a way that my admittedly guarded mind didn’t think possible. Of course, I’m glad that I was wrong, but not just for the obvious reasons. The Ambassador has struggled mightily in the past several months, with the immaturity and absurdity of the behavior of some of his peers. He has lost friendships that he trusted, and his discouragement was palpable. In this new friendship, he bonds with someone who is more mature than he is, with whom he can just be himself without judgment.
At the end of every day, a parent has got to trust his or her instincts. They will never fail. But at the same time, I’m truly grateful that I was able to stop the knee-jerk suspicion long enough to stop and think rationally, first. Maybe it saved two people from being lonely, which is the worst feeling of all.