I say my son is stupid, but my wife says he's lazy

As a high school teacher, I know dumb, and I tell you, my son is the real deal.

Published January 12, 2006 10:54AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

My wife is having fits over the fact that our son dropped out of college after only a few weeks. Her unusually tense behavior has been wrecking our home for two months now. She pouts, can't sleep, bugs me, even threatens to leave. She says she is so disappointed that her son is just a lazy, no-good quitter.

I say he is just too stupid.

And I know stupid. I teach high school. Nineteen years old, our son has never shown any real imagination, wit, curiosity, depth, ingenuity, initiative or sensitivity. He did manage to graduate from high school, but it may have been the letters I sent to all his teachers and principal begging them to pass him. I only wish he were more vivacious, more lively, had more spark in the eye.

Nonetheless, I love him with all my might. But I think my wife has fallen out of love with him. She hates him even. And her near-constant anger -- something fairly new around our home -- is making me think about leaving her. (I said think about leaving.) In our discussions I say stuff like, "Junior is having trouble right now passing his written driver's test. Do you expect him to appreciate and write long research papers on college-level literature, art and music?" She says, "He can at least try!"

Then my wife blames me, says I'm too lazy. I should kick his butt and make him study. And I would if I knew there was something, one iota of curiosity, in the boy. But there isn't, so I gave up.

Our son is very handsome; he even makes some pocket money from modeling for fashion magazines. I think if I encourage this modeling thing he can make friends in the biz, and hopefully find some niche there. But his mother says that's a pipe dream. He'll never have success without college. Fine, I say, but he'll never graduate from college.

Oh, what should we do?

I Love My Dummy

Dear Dummy Lover,

What should you do? Well, what can you do? It sounds as if about all you can do right now is encourage your son's modeling career.

I went to high school with Janice Dickinson. I don't remember her name being called when they handed out the Westinghouse Science Scholarships, but things turned out OK. At least she's got a TV show -- or did have a TV show and then didn't have a TV show and now has a new TV show -- details, details. She never struck me as dumb at all, actually; she was just hard to handle. Still is, apparently, judging from the gossip columns. She also, if I recall, had an original and rather salty way with the mother tongue that was quite refreshing at the time.

Point is, you've got to use what you've got, and if you've got good bones, you'd better use them.

It sounds as if this is really tough on your wife. I wonder what else this is about for her. There's bound to be all kinds of things roiling up in her pretty little head. (She's where the good looks probably come from, right?) You might try asking her, and doing some thinking on your own, to figure it out. I mean, what are her weak spots? What are her vulnerabilities that this could be aggravating? Could it be some kind of social shame that's got her all twisted up? Does she cover up for disappointment with anger? Is this her style of struggling to accept a letdown? Has she been harboring this feeling for a long time that you're too lenient? She probably has all kinds of complicated feelings about her boy.

So do you, obviously.

I think your hard, strange tenderness is just wonderful, by the way; kind of poetic like something in a Raymond Carver story. You've got to admit it's a little unnerving for a father to just flat-out admit his son is as dumb as a sack of hammers. But it's refreshingly realistic, too.

I was in fact very moved by your letter; I talked to my wife about it while we were out walking the dogs in the rain. She said that while one can't hardly discriminate against anybody these days it's still pretty much OK to make fun of dumb people, and she finds that kind of sad. I do too. It's not their fault they're dumb. Like my dad says, 50 percent of the people are below average. And where do we get off thinking we're any better just because we're smart? Teachers are smart, and people in the media are usually smart. But that doesn't give us the right to look down on anybody. We just got lucky.

Models are better looking than we are and they always will be. That doesn't give them the right to look down on us, either. I suspect that some of them do anyway. Maybe that's just because they're dumb.

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