He looks.

I know that for sure now.

I may have doubted it before, but his ‘casual’ glances have been increasing in intensity since his last birthday.

Aiden doesn’t think I notice…and he’s gotten increasingly skilled at trying to hide it from me…but, I’m his father. And I can tell. What makes him think that I don’t know him well enough to recognize when his attention is being violently yanked in another direction by the cutest boy in the room? Does he really think I can’t figure out what’s happening here?

I can see the ‘double take’, every single time. And I know why it happens…even if I tried to deny it for the past year or two.

A parent knows his child. We know what’s considered normal behavior, and what is slightly offbeat from the behavior of the kid that we used to carry in our arms all day, every day, and change their diapers. I know that Aiden is thirteen, and I should be giving him enough space to build some sense of independence and self confidence on his own…but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit concerned with this recent turn of events.

It scares me. There…I said it. I’m scared for my baby boy…and there really isn’t anything that I can do about it. In fact, trying to ‘do something about it’ can only cause more harm than good when it comes to his well being. And that’s the most frightening part of all.

How can I be expected to just stand on the sidelines when something so massive is standing in the way of me being a good father to my son? How am I supposed to bite my tongue and wait for him to come to me first when I know that he might be really struggling to figure this thing out all alone?

Then again…what kind of father would I be if I made an effort to approach him and it ended up making Aiden paranoid and ashamed of who he is? What if he’s simply not ready to have anyone else know yet…and I end up putting him on the offensive? I’ve seen the statistics. I’ve watched the news reports and read the internet articles. Young boys who feel ‘out of place’…who are bullied and ridiculed for who they are. Boys who end up in the morgue because nobody takes a few moments to tell them that its ok for them to be gay. Classmates who make fun of them in order to get popular with the other kids. Parents who turn a blind eye in order to avoid having to deal with the stigma of having a gay child. Schools that ignore it. Churches that condemn it. Boys like Aiden…forced to deal with a society of fanatics who want everybody to fit into the same tiny box. A box labeled ‘normality’.

Even if there WAS an official parenting handbook…I think this chapter would only be in the special extended edition.

I brought my son, Aiden, to the mall today to get him some new sneakers and a few outfits for school…but…

…I can’t help but to notice his stare. I wish I could write it off as something random, but it’s not. I know better. I’ve never had a homoerotic feeling in my life, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize a really cute teenage boy when I see one. I can recognize stunning beauty when it proudly struts its way past me. I see it the same way that any screaming teenage fangirl would. You may not catch me crying tears of infatuation for a young Justin Bieber…but I remember looking at his pictures, and easily understanding why someone else would. I see the giddy and almost reckless offering of their hearts to a total stranger when they look at the pretty boys walking by. They can’t help it. People are drawn to beauty. All of the things that they’re attracted to…they pursue it relentlessly. Even if it’s only in a brief fantasy that exists only in their heads. They see that shiny object, and they become obsessed with the sensual glow of it. The magic of its sudden appearance in your life consumes you, and you can’t help but to gaze upon it and dream about what it would be like to possess it for yourself. If only for a little while.

That is the same look that I see in Aiden’s eyes when another attractive boy crosses his vision.

It’s not something that he can control or hide from me. Not for a lack of trying, though. I look at him now, and his focus has been snatched away from the rest of reality as this tall, blond haired, boy walked by us with two of his friends. His longish bangs were lightly tickling the sides of his bright green eyes, his smile revealing a matching set of boyish dimples as he enjoyed a few cheerful moments with his mall buddies. Probably a year or two older than Aiden is, but I don’t think it matters to him at all. Cute is cute, after all.

Aiden is definitely pleased with what he’s seeing.

It’s not that he just looks at this boy, but he completely fixates himself upon him and everything that he’s doing with a subtle hunger. His breath gets short. He can’t pull away, even though the very sight of this boy causes him to tremble and shake in his presence. Aiden suddenly begins to use his hands to stroke and tease his dark blond hair, fix his clothes, just so he can look his best and possibly throw his own attractive gifts out there on the playing field. He wants to be noticed. He wants this boy to turn his smile away from his friends and shoot it in his direction instead. Yes…I remember the awkward self consciousness of a teenager constantly coming into conflict with my furious desire for something more ‘adult’ than anything that I was probably prepared for. A strange sensation…but one that I admit to remembering fondly.

I can almost see the chills running up and down his spine as he drinks in the stunning good looks of his new desired target. He begins to fidget slightly. It’s like he starts to feel uncomfortable in his own skin…and after the initial sucker punch of falling for a random heartthrob in the mall passes, he begins to peek at me out of the corner of his eye to see if I’m watching. He gauges how much he should hide by how closely I’m paying attention to his chaotic affections. I’m not exactly sure how to feel about that. I mean…

…Am I the bad guy here?

I don’t want my son to feel bad about having feelings for other boys. I never expected that he’d turn out to be gay, but I would never punish him for it if he decided that he wanted to go down that path for the rest of his life. I’d be ok with that…even if I’m a bit confused by it. I mean, Aiden has NEVER had a problem getting the attention of all of the prettiest girls in the neighborhood. I remember taking him to his soccer games a few years back, and he had practically gathered a mini cheering squad of young girls who came out just to see his bare legs and silky navy blue shorts run up and down the field for an hour or two on a Saturday morning. My, how they would giggle and blush and wave at him from the bleachers. I don’t think Aiden ever really noticed it for what it was…or cared, for that matter. If anything, he seemed slightly confused by the idea that girls he barely knew from school would pay him any attention at all. But he was just a little boy in my mind. Girls were supposed to be ‘icky’ at that age, right?

There was a set of twin girls that lived across the street from us, Lisa and Laura, that Aiden seemed to like being around. I remember thinking, “Oh God…here we go! We’ve started with the girls already!” But then…Aiden came home from their house earlier than expected one day and went straight to his room without saying a word. That wasn’t like him at all, so I knocked lightly and peeked in to make sure everything was alright.

Aiden had the most adorable pouty look on his little face! Hahaha! He had fired up his video game system and started taking his frustrations out on the digital characters by beating up everybody in sight. “You ok, buddy?” I asked.

“It’s so stupid…” He mumbled. Then he paused the game and he’s like, “I don’t think I wanna go over there anymore.”

Confused, I asked, “To Lisa and Laura’s? What happened? I thought they were your friends.”

“So did I!” He grumbled. “I just wanted to go over and play for a while, but now all they wanna do is KISS!” My heart stopped for a moment when he said that, but I tried not to let my sense of alarm show on my face.

“They want to kiss you?”

“ALL THE TIME!!!” He said. “I don’t WANNA kiss! I just wanted to have some fun. Girls are so darn weird sometimes!” A flash of nostalgia washed over me and I started to giggle softly to myself. “It’s NOT funny! I had to leave to keep them from actually holding me down and forcing me to kiss! There were taking TURNS, Dad! They’ve both gone totally crazy!”

I held back my laughter as best as I could. Aiden seemed really frustrated, so I tried to give him some man to man advice. “You know…girls, they…they mature a little bit faster than we do. And you’re a good looking boy, so it can seem…a little aggressive right now. But, trust me…a few years from now, you’ll understand things a bit better. When you’re ready…the roles will be reversed, and you might find yourself pressuring them instead while they keep telling you no.”

“I don’t see THAT happening any time soon.” He sulked.

“Well, you just remember to be a gentleman at all costs. Alright? That’s the most important thing.” I told him.

But Aiden just stood up with a grunt and turned his game off. “Whatever. Ugh! They got their girly, scented lotion and perfumey stuff all over me! I’m gonna go take a shower! This stuff stinks of flowers and strawberries!” And I laughed out loud as he grabbed some undies and his bathrobe and stomped is way past me to get himself cleaned up. Ha! Yeah…back then, I figured I still had some time with my little boy before he turned to the dark side.

Not as much time as I thought, though.

I ask him, “Where do you want to start? Shoes? Pants? A couple of cool shirts?”

Aiden cringes. I almost forgot…he’s a teenager now. The utter audacity of me, speaking to my child in public about what I’m ultimately going to end up spending money on for his benefit.

“I don’t know…” He said with a touch of aggravation. “Just let me look around for a bit, ok?”

I’ve learned to just toss my hands in the air and give up. I don’t even take it personally anymore. “Suit yourself.” I said. “Hey, some of these look pretty cool, right? You’re a button down shirt kinda guy…” Aiden seems almost offended, but tries not to let me see him roll his eyes. “Sorry. Sorry. I’ll back off. Just come get me when you need me.” What else can I do? He’s in ‘predator’ mode

I stand aside and wait to see if my son goes back to shopping for himself…but his eyes keep wandering back to the boy in question. I think he’s trying to be inconspicuous…but it’s a skill that he hasn’t become well practiced with in his life so far. I watch as the other boy and his friends go to a certain rack of shirts, and Aiden attempts to slowly approach the same rack to get a better look at him. Sure, he pretends to be looking at the shirts, but his eyes glance up every few seconds. It’s almost as if I can see him falling in love right in front of me.

I try not to stare myself, but the whole process is somewhat fascinating to me. Aiden is actually pretty determined in his approach. He’s trying to connect his gaze to the other boy, but the other boy is too distracted by his friends to really catch on. Then…a brief moment of eye contact, and I see Aiden smile at him. The boy smiles back, but only briefly. Still, it’s enough to cause Aiden to swoon with instant infatuation, a blush creeping up into his cheeks as his nervous jitters increase to the point of him accidentally dropping a few t-shirts to the floor. He picks them up quickly, and the other boy hardly noticed, but Aiden was so embarrassed that his blushed transformed from a boyish pink to ‘criminal indictment’ red red.

I can’t interfere. I have to keep my distance. Its not my game to play. Aiden has to figure this part of his life out on his own. But I’m SO tempted to rush in and try to be his ‘wing man’ so I could at least get him the confidence to talk to this boy! Hey, I was in college once. I could come up with something that could possibly get a short conversation going, you know?

But…no. I’ll stay out of it. Aiden’s already mortified by the fact that he’s in the mall with his dad, even though I’m his ride home.

This goes on for a few minutes longer…and I wonder if Aiden’s thoughts are just appreciative of the boys stunning good looks…or if he’s having an actual emotional reaction. Or maybe…if he’s even sexually aroused by him. He seems to be so lost in his obsession. Aiden surveys him from head to toe. And, a couple of times, he looks directly at his crotch. God…I wish I hadn’t noticed that.

That’s when one of the boy’s friends says, Are you guys hungry? I’m starving. I need food.”

“I’m in. Let’s go.” The beautiful stranger says, his voice causing Aiden to melt to the point where I thought his knees might have given way if he hadn’t been quick enough to catch himself.

And, all too soon, the teens put the clothes back on the rack and got together to walk back out into the mall and head towards the food court for some grub.

To say that Aiden looked disappointed would be an understatement. It was almost like a little kid who was playing with a beautiful butterfly and suddenly had it fly away on him. It’s not like he was going to burst into tears or anything, but it was heartbreaking to watch, regardless. It made me wonder if this is what he had in store for him throughout the rest of his formative years? Boys that he wants, and desperately wishes that he could have…but may never have the courage to talk to. May never have them be on the same wavelength, or share his attraction. An imaginary romance of epic proportions…reduced to a single smile and a few lackluster stares across a shirt rack in the mall.

I wish I could spare him that agony. But I can’t. If it were up to me, I’d have him go back to school and have girls chase him with ‘Disney Princess’ fantasies of what it would be like to have Aiden give them their happily ever after. But…sometimes life takes a more challenging path. And sometimes…that path hurts.

But, when the tough times come…I’ll be there. For better or for worse. And I’ll do everything I can to understand. Because I LOVE my son, no matter what. I just hope he soon learns what that means when it comes to our relationship. Even when it comes to cute boys in the mall.

I give him a few seconds to sulk over losing sight of his temporary sweetheart, and then I walk over to him. I have an urge to hug him or put a hand on his shoulder or something…hehehe, but I’m experienced enough with young teen backlash to know that shit is not going to fly with him at all. So I keep my hands to myself, and I ask, “You find anything you like?” Double entendres rock.

He peeked at me, a brief hesitation before saying, “I dunno. Some of this stuff is cool, I guess.”

With a grin, I said, “Well…you know, I was feeling a bit hungry, actually. Do you want to go to the food court? Maybe grab some burgers or something?”

Looking out into the hallway, and thinking about maybe continuing this fantasy courtship for a little while longer, Aiden’s eyebrows lifted and his voice was surprisingly pleasant as he said, “Yeah. Sure. That sounds cool. I think I’m hungry too.”

Hahaha, is it weird that I was a bit choked up over the fact that this was about as friendly and agreeable as he’s been with me all day?

He had two shirts in his hand and asked, “Can I get these two? And maybe come back later. You know…after we eat?”

My heart swelled, and I took the shirts from him, letting him know, “You can have anything that you want in this world, Aiden. Anything that makes you happy. Just make sure it fits you, ok? That’s the most important thing. Having your choices be a comfortable fit for you, and no one else.”

Maybe it was a lame attempt at having a moment with him, but I wouldn’t take back a single word. Even when Aiden gave me a weird look and said, “Geez, Dad…they’re just t-shirts. Get a hold of yourself.” Walking away to give me the ‘opportunity’ to pay for them at the register before buying him lunch.

Hehehe, just t-shirts…

…Are they, though?

“Dad? C’mon! Let’s go…” He said. In a sweet way, of course. He’s just excited to get back to his boy watching for the moment.

“I’ll be there in a minute. Go ahead. I’ll meet you over there.”

“OK!!!” He said, and he practically dashed out of there before I could even smile fully. Well, that was an easy ‘sell’, wasn’t it?

I suppose that’s what the whole double take thing is about, isn’t it?

Enjoy yourself, kid. Enjoy.

Published May 12, 2019