Sometimes the generation gap in my family feels like a canyon.
Case in point: Last Saturday, I took our 13-year-old son to see a Chattanooga Red Wolves soccer game. As the home team walked onto the field, the PA system played Elvis Presley's lyrical ballad: "Can't Help Falling in Love."
"Wow," I said, "I can't believe they are playing Elvis."
"Who the heck is Elvis?" my son asked, taking a swig from his bottle of water.
At first, I was startled by his question. But why?
Do the math. Elvis Presley died 43 years ago. Elvis has been dead longer (43 years) than he was alive (42 years). Expecting our 13-year-old to know about him would be like asking me to list Bing Crosby's greatest hits.
But even though our ages are 48 years apart, I have to remind myself that our younger son is growing up. He'll be 14 in October. His older brother left for college last week, so now he's the "young man" of the house.
Later last Saturday, back home after the game, I could feel him standing on the staircase behind me while I watched TV. When I turned around, I could read his body language. He wanted something.
"What do you need, son?" I said.
"Well, I was wondering something," he said. "I was wondering if I could install the ceiling fan upstairs."
"Yes," I said, impulsively, then immediately regretted it.
A while back, I started trying to say "yes" more, instead of letting "no" be my default answer to our younger son. Sometimes I have to grit my teeth, like when he asked to remove the popcorn ceiling from his bedroom or to install a reclaimed barn-wood accent wall in his bathroom.
Installing the ceiling fan was actually something I needed. Plus, I don't want to short-circuit his instinct to learn.
While I was thinking all this through, he turned to dart back up the stairs before I could change my mind.
"Wait," I said. "Before you get started, do you know what you are doing?"
"Yep," he said. "I watched a video."
My worry took the form of a worst-case-scenario headline: "13-year-old boy electrocuted, father indicted for neglect."
"Wait!" I called out, again. "Don't touch anything until I get there!"
After a short meeting, we decided to work together. First we checked, double-checked and triple-checked the breaker switch to make sure it was turned off. Then he retrieved our halogen work lights from the garage and got a pair of wire strippers.
Then we meticulously followed the brand-specific video for our ceiling fan from Lowe's, paying close attention to disconnecting the old wiring properly and connecting the new.
He worked the ladder, and I was his spotter and parts supplier.
"Flathead screwdriver," he would say, palm out.
"Check," I'd say, placing the tool into his open hand.
"Set screw," he would say.
"Check," I responded.
Slowly but surely, we began to make progress. We dismantled the old fan, and after about 30 minutes had the new fan and light pack installed.
When we were done, he stood back and looked, hands on hips.
"Well," he said, "what do we do now?"
"I'll go flip on the breaker," I said. "And you go in the other room and watch through a crack in the door."
Minutes later, I flipped the switch.
"Success," he shouted from the second floor.
When I got back up the steps, he announced, "This is very satisfying. You can really see what you've done."
"Yep," I said, "Good work."
Sometimes when you are teaching a young pup, even the old dog in the room learns a new trick.
Email Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.