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Loss of Great Expectations

I grew up as Austin royalty. My father was the first allergist in the allergy capital of the world. His father, Grandear, was one of the first pediatricians in Austin. I am (Google me) one of the original digital innovators in Austin. (Dell.com, DMW – Dell Multimedia Works, Motorola’s Highend Hideaway, all as the founder of SicolaMartin Interactive, a splinter off the traditional PRINT agency.) My son will be the first graduate of UT Dallas in our family history. We’re all so proud.

What I’m getting at here, about the boom town of tech (the Silicon Hills) is this:

I am from here. My family is from here. Native Austinite, Bitch. 3rd generation.

Dear South By Southwest attendees:

You have just arrived in Austin, welcome. Please don’t move here. We’ve got enough like you. The traffic is terrible. Barton Springs is closed all the time due to fecal coli. I hear San Antonio is a good value for the investment.

All that was preamble, sorry for my vanity. My son is staying with me while he wraps up his last semester in CS. Computer Science. He’s a coder. If you’d ask him what kind of CS does he’ll say, “I’m a full-stack developer.” To someone in the business that’s a red flag, to the general public that sounds impressive.

Telling a business friend about my son and his progress toward graduation. “Oh, what’s his platform?”

“He’s a full-stack developer.”

“Yeah, but what does he do? Is he front-end or back-end?”

“Um,” I paused, thinking. “Both?”

“Okay, just send me his resume and portfolio of code projects and I will see if it matches up with anything I hear about.”

“Thank you.”

+++

I tried to have the discussion with my son about this last summer, but he was in a bad place. A really bad place. I was happy to have a place for him to be fed and comfortable. It was not a comfortable summer. And his trajectory back to finish his last year at college was tenuous. We were somewhere between concerned and preparing for an intervention and budgeting for rehab of some sort. We weren’t exactly sure from what. What we were sure of, he was non-functioning. It appeared to be drugs of some sort. It was also unchecked behavior. Computing into the dawn. Sleeping until dark arrives again. Repeat.

It’s fine for them, I guess. (It was not fine, actually.) But it is hell on the people around them. We struggled through the waves of doubt and despair with him. He finally drove out of Austin the weekend before the first day of his final year of classes. Despite all encouragements, he had not yet found an apartment in Dallas. And, he’d recruited a mentally challenged “roommate” that he met in the online gaming world. Aaron was like a little bird. Never been away from home. Had been living in his mom’s house with 5 other kids, since he graduated from high school. He worked at a Shell station during the day and played a game online at night.

The game is Team Fortress 2. I’m not sure if Aaron is still playing. My son gave up gaming when his entrepreneurial venture (based on TF2) collapsed. He still talks about it as his failure, his mistake. I try to encourage him.

“We talk about failing faster in entrepreneurship. Get the idea up and running. Blow everything you have to get launched, and if it goes you will know quickly. If the business idea begins faltering, push harder. When it comes apart. Put energy and effort into shutting down a losing idea. Fail Faster.

We’re now in the early weeks of February. He has two classes to complete his degree. He is back to living in my house. It’s better than the summer. It’s still terrifying. He’s added a lock to his bedroom door. We had to discuss why it was not okay for him to simply lock his door every time he went into his room.

I know this is about me, not about him. It’s about my fear. My irrational fear about a son with a bit of depression and loads of ammo for his AR and Glock. Maybe it would be healthier if he didn’t feel the need to be locking his door all the time.

“Why do you need to lock it?”

“Habit.”

“Okay, but that’s not a good reason. Are you feeling under threat here?”

“Absolutely not. I unless you mean always and by everything.”

“No, I’m asking if you feel safe here, in my house?”

“Of course.”

“So why would you need to lock your door? It is just the two of us.”

“I don’t know, Dad, bad roommate experiences?”

“You guys kept your doors locked in your house together?”

“Certainly. Roommates are fucks.”

“Okay, but it’s not okay here.”

“I just don’t understand,” he said, beginning to rachet up the tone. “I mean, I don’t have much experience like this, granted, but I’m used to locking my door. At Mom’s house, everyone goes to their rooms and locks the door. It’s just what we’ve done.”

“Not here. It’s disrespectful. It makes me feel like I’m running a youth hostel. There you get a lock on the door so other guests won’t steal from you.”

“Why does it matter, seriously?”

“I’ll try to give you an example from last night. You were supposed to join us for the Super Bowl. I even made sure your gun mentor was going to be in attendance. He was. You never showed up. I texted you about the web traffic since our signal glitched.”

“Not online,” you said. “Okay. Don’t you want to come say hello to Bill?”

Silence. Blackness descends. 20 minutes later, I knocked gently on the door. “You okay in there?” No answer. No worries, he always walks around with his Airpods in at full volume. I try the door. Locked.

“Breathe,” I say in my inside voice. “He’s okay. Probably passed out right after the internet update.”

I was able to let go of the moment and return to my friends and the game. We had a ball. I was aching for my son to miss such a moment with “tha boys.”

Last night, the next night, I’m having a bit of trouble drifting off. Out my bedroom window I can see the screen porch with rich blue LED lights glowing. It’s where he likes to smoke cigarettes. “Not in the house.” My rule. I can’t see him. He’s probably not there. I imagine him. Sitting in the old man’s rocking chair, blue lights, airpods tearing through his mind with toxic language, beats from hell, and some non-semblance of music, in my humble opinion. I can see him. He’s not there.

I also see my dad. Sitting over in the corner of his highrise apartment. I was trying to sleep. 3rd grader in my dad’s bed on a Saturday night. “A sleepover!!” Charlie Pride’s The Most Beautiful Girl in the World is playing. Dad is singing and crying. The music is low. I can’t quite hear him singing. Mom said he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He did have ONE SONG he could play on the baby grand piano that sat in our lakefront living room from kindergarten to 3rd grade.

And all the times I can imagine my dad wishing he knew how to reach out to me. How to show me a bit of his heart. Even from that comfy chair, singing about losing his wife, he was really losing me. I was his pride and prejudice. I was the reason he “tried again” with “your mom.” How do you fucking say that to a 7-year-old kid? Fk dad!

In the discussion about the door to my son’s room, “It’s fine if you’re doing something in there that is private. Totally fine. I lock my door occasionally too.”

“Too much info, dad.”

“But it’s not okay, in my house, my safe house, for you to simply lock your door every time you go into your room. Heck, that’s why I leave my bedroom door open, so we might have an incidental conversation. I want those to happen. I want you here in my house. I want you to feel safe.”

“Thank you, dad. For the space. I really appreciate…”

“Do you feel safe in my house?”

“Of course.”

“Don’t say of course if it’s not true. Are you threatened by something here?”

“This is going nowhere, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Do you feel safe, dammit?”

“Yes, Dad, it’s just habit, my roommates, my anxiety, my OCD, I don’t know…”

“Okay,” I say, resigned. “Just leave the door unlocked, please. In my house. If you need a moment of privacy, cool. If your girlfriend is over, cool. In general, when I knock on the door and don’t get an answer I would like to be able to look in and see if you are sleeping or rocking out. That’s a pretty simple request.”

“Fine. It’s just…”

“I’m not an Air BnB. I’m your family. This is a safe house on a safe street in a safe neighborhood.”

“Understood, Boss.”

“Don’t call me boss, ever. It’s demeaning.”

“Oh shit! You’re pissed.”

“Not ‘boss’ please.”

“Okay, Father.”

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