Coping with Adolescence

Benjamin B. Ferencz

This is not to suggest that we had no problems with our offspring. Inner pain can be very painful. Our children reflected the concerns and frustrations of bright young people throughout the land during the 1960’s. I had difficulty coming to grips with my inability to protect them from dangers that I perceived but which they seemed to embrace. My wife handled such situations much better than I. Perhaps it was because, as the head of the family, I felt a special obligation to try to help them avoid the hazards.

In desperation, my wife and I sought guidance from a leading psychiatrist in Westchester. We were the patients. He heard our tale of woe, and a description of our daughters. “Adolescence,” said the wiseman, “is a time of temporary insanity. Your children will undoubtedly outgrow it. Just be there for them when they want you.” My wife said “I wish I were ten years older.” I consoled her: “Just wait a few months and you will be.” The doctor was right. The girls eventually recovered. I am not sure that I ever did.

In order to expose them to a different culture, I decided to send our two oldest girls to an English boarding school. I sought expert advice and drove all around southern England, jeopardizing my life on the wrong side of the road, until I found the right school for my “little girls.” It was about 20 miles outside of London in a town called Letchworth. The school was named “Saint Christophers.” I advised our kids to use plain stationary when writing to their grandma lest she conclude that I had banished them to a nunnery.

The St. Chris kitchen was strictly vegetarian. I hate vegetables. It was not sadism but consideration that prompted me to accept that healthy diet for my daughters. I figured that eating food that was both British and vegetarian would teach them never again to grumble about Mom’s home cooking. The Headmaster assured me that every meal was followed by savories. I nodded my approval, but I still don’t know what a “savory” is. I do know that during my frequent trips to visit Keri and Robin, they immediately greeted me with, “Did you bring the corned beef sandwiches?”

A little incident will illustrate my point about the joys of having children. After our two eldest daughters had spent a full term in England, their dear mother, who was never enthusiastic about the idea, insisted that they be returned to their mother’s heart and hearth. Shortly thereafter, our daughters, still bristling about the interruption of their perceived holiday abroad, announced that they were going to run away from home. My good wife, their dear mother, bought them each a knapsack, gave them some money, insisted that they tell our family doctor where they were going, and warned them never to hitch-hike. The next night, my wife woke me to announce that our girls were running away. Keri had rigged a rope from the chimney down to the ground and was sliding down the rope. Robin just walked out the front door. Our two daughters, age 15 and 16, had declared their independence.

About a day later, a phone call from Maryland informed us that our girls had been hitchhiking toward Washington seeking “Walden Two,” a hippy-type paradise based on a book by Ralph Waldo Emerson. On the way, our little Goldilockses met not the proverbial wicked wolf in sheep’s clothing, but two watchful policemen in plain clothes. The runaways were promptly escorted to a children’s shelter in Maryland. We were much relieved.

When I was requested to retrieve our lost progeny, I immediately contacted the Judge in charge of the case. I explained that I was a lawyer, and the father of the two young girls, and I wanted to ask him for a favor. He was initially puzzled by whether I was their father or their lawyer but when I explained that I was both, he answered sadly, “What can I do for you?” I asked him how long he could hold our offspring. “We are not running a hotel,” he said. I apologized and said I would gladly reimburse the State for any expenses, but I feared that if our wayward girls were released promptly, they would again run away promptly. The poor man must have had children of his own. ”I understand,” he said, “I can hold them for ten days.” My dear wife, their loving mother, could not wait that long. After a few days, she scooted down to Maryland, but could do nothing until I arrived there ten days later. One of the guards gave her a lecture about the need to discipline children. When she asked if he had any children, he emphatically said, “No way!” The kindly Judge waived any charges against the girls or for their extended maintenance. They never ran away again.