Nobody's Hero

No one, they say, is a hero to their valet. It's also true that no parent can ever be a hero to a teenage child. Most of us don't have valets. Many, however, have teen-age children. Those who do know what I mean.

When I first became a parent I labored under the illusion that my children and I would be "friends", able to share common experiences, to communicate, to talk things out, to resolve our infrequent differences.

My kids would not only know me as a friend, but at the same time they would see me as a hero of sorts, someone they could admire and aspire to be like. They would be impressed by my skills. I could gain their respect, I felt, if they could only see me at work, on my feet, in a courtroom. That is what I thought back then.

And so, years ago, when my oldest was about 15, a high-school freshman and avid tennis player, I decide to take him to court to watch an evidentiary hearing. I was involved in a high-profile case in which the complainant had been hypnotized. I had moved to bar the to exclude her testimony claiming hypnosis had permanently altered the "true" memory and substituted a false one in its place. The prosecution had its own hypnotist to refute my claims. I had studied the subject. I was loaded for bear. I knew my apples and I was prepared to dazzle the expert, the judge, prosecutor and the news reporters following the case.

The motion hearing will be a terrific opportunity to strut my stuff for my oldest son. I tell Brian to bring along some reading materials for the inevitable dead spots in this otherwise exciting day. On the drive to court I explain the process, the subject matter, what I knew about hypnosis and how I am going to tie the witness in knots, impress the judge and bring my adversary to his knees. I can just tell, or so I thought, my son is already impressed.

We arrive just before court convenes. The state calls its expert and we are underway. Soon I am on my feet examining the State's witness. Thrust. Parry. Learned treatise. Your notes, please, doctor. What, no video or audio recording of the session? An arched eyebrow. A sneer of skepticism. A surgical demolition of my opposition's main witness. Very well, sir, I have no further questions. Recess.

All this in front of my firstborn who I just know is devouring my every word, focusing on every subtle gesture, every change in tone, every nuance. What could be better. I have made my son proud. I am full of myself and I have a right to be.

As the judge leaves the bench I saunter casually out of the well of the court to where Brian is sitting, ready to receive his accolades, ready to be washed in his obvious respect for my skills, his awe at my performance. Not every young man is so lucky to have as proficient a father as my son.

"Well, Brian, what did you think? How did you like it?"

He holds up a copy of TENNIS magazine. "Not bad, Pop. I got to learn how to hit a topspin backhand."

I won't detail my reaction other than saying that only the fellow who keeps trying unsuccessfully to circle the world in a balloon knows as much about deflation as I do.

But years pass. Older children have younger siblings. Lessons learned are often forgotten. Hope springs eternal. Perhaps another child will recognize her father as the hero he is.

So years later in another court I extend an invitation to Mary, then 15, a freshman like her brother had been. Surely she will enjoy seeing her father perform, watching as others hold him in awe as he cleverly and ingeniously injects a ray of innocence into a seemingly ironclad case. She is bound to be impressed. Not every daughter is so lucky to have as skilled a father as Mary.

It is closing argument in a high profile drug case. The prosecution's case is based on a snitch's testimony. He is a person not to be trusted and I am prepared to show that to the jury, using an analogy I inherited from another lawyer.

I explain all this to Mary. I tell her what the case is about, how important it is that the jury have a reasonable doubt about believing the snitch's testimony. I tell her I am going to talk to the jury, to convince them he is unreliable. And she can watch as I perform, a modern-day Houdini. I drag her off to Court.

My turn comes. I rise to speak. I catch Mary out of the corner of my eye. Forgetting all the lessons Brian taught me years earlier, I present my closing argument, conscious of impressing my daughter.

Would you trust this man, a man many times convicted, a man who testifies only because of a promise of leniency? He is the scum of the earth. If you heard a knock on your door at 2:00 am (and I knock twice, loudly, on the podium) on a dark, rainy night; and you answer the door; and you see this man standing there, saying his car has broken down out on the road; and he asks you to let him in. Would you do it? No! No! You would surely hesitate to act. You would doubt you could trust him. If you knew his background, his history of violence and lies, you certainly would have a doubt. Knock. Knock. Let me in. Of course you would say no. You would not endanger your children, your spouse, yourself. Knock. Knock. Let me in. Trust me. The Government says you can trust me. Knock. Knock. You get the idea. The theme was Knock, Knock, and every Knock was a strike on the podium.

Wouldn't you love to be Mary? Wouldn't you love to watch as your father held the jury in the palm of his hand with this clever argument and be able to say, "That's my Dad." Well, that's what I thought. But I wasn't Mary.

"Well, Mary, what did you think? How did it go?"

"Gee, Dad, why did you keep on hitting the podium. You kept on waking me up. I told you I didn't want to be here. Is it ok if I take the bus home?"

I have finally learned my lesson. I have given up all attempts to impress my teenage kids. That is an impossible goal. From now on, like Blanche Dubois, I'm just going to depend on the kindness of strangers even if, it consists of the compliments of sheriffs selling outing tickets and sympathetic court reporters seeking to transcribe depositions.