Dad's no longer able, with a simple twist, to properly adjust the mind-set of the help

WE WERE IN THE basement assembling a workbench when my son and I had a disagreement. I wanted to use a socket wrench to tighten the nuts. The 10-year-old wanted to use a pair of pliers.

Try as I might to convince the kid of the wisdom of doing it my way, he wouldn't buy what I was selling. He had an opinion. He and his teen-age brother have lots of opinions lately. Too many to suit me.


When your kids are little, one of the joys of being a parent is training them to see the world the way you do. When my kids were younger, I would lay out both sides of an issue. I would explain the facts, filtered through my eyes. Then I would &L; conclude with a statement that went something like this: "Not-so-smart people use pliers, but people who really know what is going on use a socket wrench." Then I would sit back and watch my child, on his own, glide toward my view.

Now the gliding days are gone. Now the kids are bigger, 10 and 15 years old. Now they put on the brakes, or reverse course and travel in exactly the opposite direction of what I suggest. Or, worst of all, they demand that this once all-knowing adult justify his opinion.


"Because I said so," the favored parental fallback, doesn't cut it anymore.

At random, I find myself defending ground I thought was secure.

"George Bush wasn't such a bad president," the 15-year-old announced one night as we emerged from the Enoch Pratt Free Library. "Why didn't you like him?"

I was defenseless. Where were my position papers? Where were my well-reasoned arguments? All I could come up with by way of reply was, "Have you been talking about this in school?"

"No," came the reply, he was just thinking about it.

I wanted to tell him to think about another George, Gen. George Custer, the guy he was supposed to be writing a history paper about. The guy whose name was on the books we had just checked out of the library. The kid moved on to other topics.

"Why are there so many empty office buildings downtown?" I was asked.

I told him that in Baltimore and in most American cities, jobs and people have been steadily moving to the suburbs. I said I didn't know how to revitalize America's urban core.


He said he did. Skateboarders love downtown, he said. They enjoy rolling their boards over the sidewalks, steps and interesting architectural surfaces. Rather than prohibiting skateboarding, cities should encourage it. Some of these vacant offices, he said, gesturing to empty buildings lining Charles Street, would make great skate parks. Once again, I didn't know how to respond.

Sometimes my opinion doesn't matter.

At other times I am asked to produce an opinion, and I don't have one at the ready.

Knicks and livers and

What did I think of the New York Knicks basketball team trading Charles Smith, a guy with a normal haircut, to the San Antonio Spurs for J.R. Reid, a guy with dreadlocks?

Why did I give $2 to a panhandler in the Lexington Market who said he wanted to buy some chicken livers? Didn't I know the correct urban behavior was to say "not interested" and keep walking?


Why was the National Football League going to lend money to Cleveland to build a football stadium while Marylanders have to use public funds to build ours?

Am I sticking with my prediction that Kansas Sen. Bob Dole will not be the Republican Party nominee in 1996?

I said that?

Usually I am happy to steer the conversation and the kids in the direction of the workbench. There I feel I am on solid ground.

Use the socket wrench to tighten a nut, I tell the kids. It is easier.

The kids, of course, try the pliers for the first few first attempts before switching to the socket wrench.


There are a few areas left where the old man knows what he is talking about.