How My Dad Stopped Being Stupid: Insights from a Father of Three Teenagers

There’s something about having teenagers that is the great equalizer.

File Under: Advice

The older teens become, the stupider parents sometimes feel.

There’s something about having teenagers that is the great equalizer. Teenagers, halfway between childhood and adulthood, have more knowledge and sometimes less wisdom. As they struggle to with their newfound knowledge and relatively greater life experience, they sometimes overreach and appear to “know it all.” In the process, their expansive knowledge pushes back against their parents’ life experience. Parents, it appears, are stupider and stupider.

I have come to realize that if parents are increasingly “stupid” — which they’re not — then my father, who sometimes seemed to know less and less, must not have been as clueless as I sometimes thought. I have new appreciation for my father, and the havoc raising teens must have brought into his life. In retrospect, I see that for most of those times that I once thought my dad was clueless, he probably wasn’t.

Parenting is about raising kids to healthy maturity in spite of our lack of knowledge and their growing sense that they know more or better.

Letting teens fully run their own lives would be like letting a day-old deer run free in the forest. She may be beautiful and look competent. She might have great fun in the forest. But, with hunters and predators around, she might just end up endangering herself.

Sleep, for the parents of teenagers, comes in fits and starts. Either parents are awake or dozing fitfully until their teen comes home safely from a night out with the car, or they are woken up as these night owls move noisily around the house.

Increasingly trying to do it on their own or their own way, teenagers push back against their parents and trumpet their newfound knowledge. The message: teen is smart; parent is stupid.

It is very frustrating for parents to be thought of as stupid when they are not. It is even harder for parents to push through being thought of as stupid and still raise these wonderful yet indignant children toward adulthood.

Parents love their teens, but may not always like them.

As I once overheard parents of teens whisper to each other, “This part of parenthood isn’t so much fun!”

On this Father’s day, with this newfound understanding, I write my dad:

Dear Daddy,

Thank you for not killing me when I was a teenager. Thank you for not giving up on me even when I was a royal pain in the butt. Thank you for loving me even through those times when I probably was very hard to like. Sometimes it amazes me that humans just don’t eat their young. I apologize for any times I called you a mean name, thought you were clueless, or projected a sense that I was way smarter than you. I now know that you weren’t really stupid.

Happy Fathers Day. I love you.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes

Rabbi Paul Kipnes, MAJE, a popular lecturer on raising spiritually balanced, emotionally whole children, is leader of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California. A former camp director and North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) regional advisor, Rabbi Kipnes and his wife Michelle November, MSSW co-wrote Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals, and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness (Jewish Lights Publishing).