Table for two
June 7, 2012
The local Outback Steakhouse is Nirvana to the steak-and-potato sort, of which I am a card carrying member.
It is also a favorite for teenagers on their first date, like the couple who was seated in the booth beside ours last week. Bad for them, maybe, but good for us. It’s not often that regular folks like my wife and I get both a dinner and a movie at the same time.
Sixteenish boy and very nervous, trying in vain to impress his classy date and not doing very well at it:
“Sit me first,” she said.
“Okay,” he answered.
“Do I look nice?”
“Tell me I look nice.”
“You look nice.”
“You look nice.”
“That’ll do,” she says. (He breaths a sigh of relief. This is much harder than he thought it would be.) “Now, I order first, then you. Don’t order for me, though. Some ladies like that. I don’t. Did you bring enough money to pay for my food?”
Silence. Then his confession: “I thought you’d pay for your own.”
“No,” came the exasperated answer. “NO. You pay. Always.”
“Sit up straight. Don’t fidget. Look me in the eyes. Smile.”
“You’re going to pray, right?” his date asked.
“Um. I dunno. Should I?”
And on it went.
I felt sorry for that young man, I really did. He thought dating would be natural. Take a girl out, have some fun, maybe dinner or a movie, and then drive her home. No fuss, no muss. How hard could it be?
From the small beads of sweat on his forehead, plenty hard. His date was demanding. She offered little in the way of praise and much in the way of criticism. He was confused, frightened, and unsure of himself. All because of her. Why had he agreed to take her out in the first place? he wondered. And even asked. But she merely smiled and winked and said it was the only way he’d ever be allowed to take anyone else out ever.
He knew she was right, and so did I. She had all the power, you see. She’d had it for about sixteen years now.
Because his date, this unimpressed, hard, stringent lady, was his mother.
I manage to get the backstory when her son excused himself to the bathroom. Presumably to flush himself down the toilet, which also happened to be right where his evening is headed.
He’s a good boy, according to his mother. Always has been. And she wanted to keep him that way, too. But he’d gotten to that age when children began to feel a little too sure of themselves. Their world brightened and grews bigger, and they were under the impression that they were growing brighter and bigger right along with it. It was easy to get muddled and begin thinking they were in charge. That it was all about them.
So, mother and father decided that before they would allow their son to start dating, he would do a trial run with mom. It’s important that he knows how to treat a lady, she said. And it’s important to know how to spot one, too.
“Understand?” she asked.
We pass onto our children what we consider to be the necessities of crafting a good life—the attributes of honesty and hard work, the values of education and faith. But too often what’s left out is the most basic necessity of them all: how to behave when mom and dad aren’t around.
Too many of us mourn the fact that today’s younger generation is so over-the-top rude. Too few of us take the time to consider the fact that much of the fault is our own. It was nice to see a parent put forth just as much effort to ensure her child got into the right life than she would to ensure her child got into the right college.
Education can get you far in life. Good manners can get you farther.
Still, I couldn’t help but express my empathy for the young man.
“This has to be the longest night of his life,” I said.
“Oh, don’t feel sorry for him,” she smiled. “Feel sorry for his sister. She’s fifteen, and her first date is next year. With her father.”
The Billy Coffey Collection