Straight Talk: Son needs Dad’s guidance — and fast

By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: I separated from my wife last year after much unhappiness. Our youngest, “Jon”, age 16, is living with his mother because she allows a no-rules environment — plus, he blames me for the divorce. Last year his grades sank, he got a minor-in-possession ticket for pot, he was involved in petty theft, and without asking, “borrowed” a family friend’s car. I am worried sick. My ex obstructs me at every turn in providing him guidance and I’m the bad guy for being upset. What do you and your panelists suggest? ~ “Richard,” Sacramento Colin, 19, Los Angeles: Battling with your ex just means Jon suffers. Work around her. You can find ways to be with your son. Put him on the spot and ask him what kind of person he wants to be. Pose this same question to your wife. Best way to get them both to listen: admit your past mistakes. Gregg, 21, Los Angeles: Best thing that helped me with my father was going to counseling. Getting in a room and talking with him made me able to live with him. Push for and create as much time with your son as possible. Time with you is less time for trouble. Find out what positive activities he likes and treat him to them. Christina, 20, Marysville: I have seen these situations. He needs a parent who will discipline him, teach him morals, and prove that you care. Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: I took sides with whoever gave the most leeway — and got in a lot of trouble. Eventually I realized I needed to shape up and emulate someone with a successful mindset. My dad was right there getting me into shape physically, mentally and emotionally. You are his main positive influence. You get a big high five for having the cojones to step up when everyone else is letting him down. Standing up to him shows you care and causes a conflict of interest in his brain between his current lifestyle and what he knows is better. Of the guys who graduated with me, the pot addicts split pretty much in half, some setting up for jobs or college, and the others — well, they must’ve lacked positive role models like yourself. I’d like to sugarcoat this, but they didn’t go down a good road. Make sure to be a great (stern) father through every inch of his journey. Even if he continues negative behavior, don’t give up! Eventually, his “buddies” will disappear (drugs, jail, etc.) and he will need you. Dear Richard: You son is in huge trouble. He needs to become your top priority — not just in hand-wringing. It’s man-up time. Consider his meltdown your opportunity for finding your male power. Colin is correct that apologizing/admitting mistakes is the number one way to open doors to communication and respect. Drop any need to be “right” and focus on action. Gregg is correct that family counseling can help you get there. Don’t rag your son about it yet. Find a good one and go first. (I suggest a rehab counselor; divorce being when many kids start using.) Christina’s point about proving that you care is huge. He needs proof in action that you didn’t divorce him. I am so grateful for Brandon equating a great father with a stern father. Kids really do want that faithful sternness to lean on — many enter the military for this reason. Get your backbone on and barge into your son’s life. Flood him with text, email, phone, and face-to-face time. Be tireless in your devotion and he will respond. ~ Lauren To ask a question or to join in, visit or write PO Box 1974, Sebastopol, CA 95473.