My thirteen-year-old son, Nicholai, is out on his first date. There's no "danger" of any romantic potential, but I'm very pleased for him to have this opportunity to be a gentleman. He's taken some of the typical peer-driven teasing over the whole thing, which developed rather randomly and altogether innocently, but I can tell that he is pleased, too, and that he's serious enough about it. We've chatted about some of the basics, especially the proper way to treat a lady. He may have been a bit shy about the conversation, but he was also listening carefully and taking mental notes. This is a good thing, and I'm not only pleased by the opportunity, but proud of my son. I've noticed in him, as in some of our other young homeschooling friends, that there is at least less of the awkwardness and shyness that often accompany the social interactions of adolescent boys and girls. Contrary to the popular rhetoric, homeschoolers actually do socialize with other people; not only with their own families, nor simply with their immediate peers, but with other children of all ages, and with adults, generally with ease and poise.
The date in question has come about due to Nicholai's announcement on a Higher Things chat list that he was anxious to see the new Narnia movie, Prince Caspian. One of his friends from church, a young lady on the edge of seventeen, responded that she'd be glad to see the movie with him. Teasing ensued from various segments of the peanut gallery, including the remarks of several young men who were, evidently, endearingly envious of the prospect. I was careful not to make too much of these developments (which was less difficult for me than it might have been, due to the fact that I was in Siberia when all of this transpired). My dear wife tipped me off to the exchange, and I simply replied that it seemed very sweet to me. I shared the same sentiment with the young lady upon my return from Russia, and pretty much left it at that. I was actually quite hopeful that it would work out for Nicholai to go to the movie with her.
It reminded me of a similar situation that I enjoyed back in high school. That was a long time ago, and I haven't thought of it in more than a while, but I recalled it fondly this past week. I was a little older than Nicholai is now; maybe I had just turned 16, or it was thereabouts. One of my closest friends was an upperclassman, Paul, who played the trombone alongside me in band. Even though he was two or three years older than me, he was always kind to me, and he often looked out for me when other older students were giving me a hard time about something or other. It doesn't pertain directly to the story at hand, but I should mention that I had a massive crush on his younger sister, who was in my own grade. I harbored aspirations for her through most of high school, though there was never even the remotest possibility that she would ever have been interested in dating me. She was a good friend, honestly, despite the fact that people delighted in teasing me about her, and teasing her about my crush on her. In looking back, I'm grateful that she was a good egg about it, and she never was cold or cruel to me. Teenage boys have particularly fragile egos when it comes to teenage girls, and she managed to leave mine intact. But dating was not really in the cards I was dealt, not until the Lord brought me to McCook, Nebraska, where at last I met the wonderful woman who would become my wife. Amazing how these things all work themselves out. In the meanwhile, I was quite the geek, or dork, or nerd, or whatever the term was back then.
Anyway, Paul had a steady girlfriend, who was also in the band, and she was in the grade between the two of us. They were a serious item for years, and there was no doubting their relationship, nor their commitment to each other. I am chagrined to say that her name escapes me at the moment, which is all the more ironic given the story I'm attempting to narrate. Let's call her Lisa, since that's the best I can do for now. She wanted to see a movie that was playing — leastwise, that's what I was told at the time; it may have been a friendly pretense. "Lisa" wanted to see this movie, but Paul either couldn't take her to see it, or he didn't care to see it, and he asked me if I would take her. In retrospect, I've thought that he was probably just giving me the opportunity to go out on a date; that would have been typical of his thoughtful friendship.
I don't remember what the movie was, but I do remember feeling both quite proud and incredibly nervous to be escorting this "older woman," my good friend's girlfriend, on a date. I had taken a girl friend in gradeschool putt-putt golfing and to the swimming pool, but never "out on the town," so to speak. It was great, because I got to be a gentleman without any of the stress or anxiety of romance, nor any of the temptations that frequently occur in dating. There was simply no question or hint of those things, but I was free to be courteous, respectful and polite, which was nice. Young ladies do like to be treated like ladies, even by those who are not prospective suitors. This goes directly to the reasons for which I am so pleased that my Nicholai has been given the chance to be a gentleman today. It's good training for the future, for the way he will want to treat his future spouse, but also for the way he should treat his Mom and his sisters, and really any woman, including any of his sisters in Christ.
The one particular thing that I do remember from my date with Lisa was horribly embarrassing at the time, yet it was a good learning experience, I suppose. I took her to Wendy's following the movie, and we got a little late-night snack, probably french fries and frostees. I know for a fact that we also got a couple soft drinks, because, on my way to the table, I managed to tip one of those soft drinks off the tray I was carrying and all over the floor. Thankfully not all over Lisa! But I was utterly and absolutely mortified, and momentarily certain that my life was going to end, as far as any meaningful joy or happiness was concerned. It didn't, of course. But that mishap did teach me to be extra careful when taking a date out to eat. I've also tended to avoid Wendy's for the most part, although that was entirely circumstantial to the spill. I specifically shared this bit of wisdom with Nicholai earlier today, so that he could also learn from my experience and hopefully spare himself the same embarrassment. It could have been worse, I pointed out to him, but he shouldn't feel the need to compete. Actually, I encouraged him to get a drink for his date today, but I cautioned him to carry it very carefully!
I can't resist interjecting that, when DoRena and Zachary were still quite young, it seemed that whenever I would take them to a movie, without fail, one or the other (or both) of them would spill whatever beverage I bought. Which was especially disturbing back in the days before free refills. Oh, the trials and tribulations of growing up!
Well, as I've been thinking about Nicholai's date today, I've considered how seldom it is that young men and young women have the privilege and pleasure of interacting with each other apart from all the tensions of potential romance, and the politics of dancing (one of my favorite phrases, from an old pop record back in the 80s when I was a lad), and the "battle of the sexes," just to speak comprehensively and somewhat euphemistically. There's so much baggage involved in all of this, one can hardly manage it all. So, opportunities for a young man to be a gentleman — a real gentleman, simply for the sake of being nice and treating a girl like a lady — without any hidden or unspoken agendas, but only because it's a decent thing to do, and every young lady ought to be so treated — such opportunities are, in my estimation, a precious thing.
I hope that all of my sons have that sort of chance, and that, in any case, they will always be looking for ways to be gentlemen. I try to set a good example, and to be a good role model for them, in the way I treat my wife, and in the way I treat any other woman or young lady I may interact with. It seems a good rule of thumb to me, that one ought to regard and treat any woman like one's mother, and any young lady like one's sister. St. Paul says that in 1 Timothy 5:2. So do I also hope and pray that young men will treat my daughters with special respect, as ladies, and not for the sake of anything other than Christian courtesy. I would like to believe that my daughters, in turn, will demonstrate the same kindness and consideration toward younger boys that I have observed and appreciated in the young ladies among our Emmaus youth. The wholesome friendships that I see cultivated in that group — between the boys and girls, both younger and older, and really with one and all — are among the many joys for which I regularly give thanks.