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September 2011

Look Son, No Hands

By Claire Yezbak Fadden

With a controller in one hand and a spindly book of directions in the other, I’d spent the better part of Saturday morning failing to unlock the secrets of motion-controlled video games. Touted as a great way to infuse aerobic exercise into our daily routine, I’d bought the system for my husband, Nick’s birthday so we could bowl, river raft or score a goal in the comfort of our home.

I pushed every button and highlighted every TV screen option. No luck. Nick tried to help, but we both grew up in the generation that thought Pong and Space Invaders were futuristic. As I coached, Nick stood in front of the system’s motion-detector, resembling an amateur airman flagging down planes. He swung his right arm up, then his left arm out. He might have gotten a bit of a workout, but none of his gyrations got the console to perform.

As a last resort, we hollered upstairs for our son Seth’s help. Several minutes later, he joined us in the family room and surveyed the situation. “You and dad are going to have to learn how to operate these things by yourselves,” he said. “I’m not going to live here forever, you know.” He shrugged, then left to play basketball with his friends.

“What do we do now?” my mate asked, keenly aware we’d become techno-dependent on the sole teen in the house. Unlike his boomer parents, our Generation “Z”er (aka the Net Generation) takes mass technology for granted. Seth grew up alongside cell phones, touch screens and YouTube. He and his pals never loaded a roll of film into a camera.
Nick and I aren’t computer helpless but in Seth’s eyes, perhaps we were hopeless. Sure, it may take a few attempts before I download a ringtone, but just last week I helped Nick activate a sports alert app on his smartphone. We’ve programmed the DVR, updated our Netflix queue and paid bills online, so why did this rejection leave us feeling like we were being tough-loved into the 21st century?

I thought parents gave the self-reliance lecture, encouraging their children to spread their wings and fly. When had the tables turned? Somewhere during Seth’s childhood, the “teach a man to fish” mantra we espoused stuck. Now Nick and I were faced with a new truth: Seth would no longer be our shortcut to unravel electronic enigmas like why my text message keyboard switched to Japanese. After years of generously serving as our personal tech support, our youngest was yanking the training wheels off our virtual bike and forcing us to pedal ourselves into the digital revolution.

I’m sure it hurt his heart to nix us from his unlimited knowledge of webcams and portable flash drives, but it was for our own good. Perhaps he saw a future filled with hapless, dependent parents relying on him for lifelong tech support. It was time he let us go and choose our own gamertags.

I re-read the Quick Setup Guide, more committed than ever to getting the game to work. I’ll show him, I thought. I couldn’t let any of our three children think they were the products of techno-newbies from the generation responsible for platform shoes, audiocassettes and Shake-a-Pudd’n. No integrated circuit would defeat these two college-educated adults.

Reality set in 45 minutes later, when Nick picked up the house phone, dialed customer support and handed me the receiver. The technician—probably close to Seth’s age—didn’t make a single “tsk” sound, and even though I couldn’t see him, I’m pretty sure there weren’t any eye rolls on the other end of the line. In fact, once the system was operating, he asked what else he could help with. I fought the urge to have him walk me through setting up a wireless computer network.

Seth popped into the family room a few hours later, put his hands on his hips and nodded at the TV screen. “I knew you could do it,” he grinned, then positioned himself to beat us in several games of volleyball.

Although he jettisoned his folks on the computer high seas, I’m not one to hold a grudge. In years to come, Seth can count on me for help when a college roommate leaves an ink pen in the washing machine, dying his laundry cornflower blue. I’ll generously offer my advice on how to unstick a garbage disposal and where to find the best deal on paper plates. I’ll even share my popular cheesy-meatloaf recipe. Only now, when he calls, I won’t be so eager to answer on the first ring.

Claire Yezbak Fadden, an award-winning columnist and freelance writer, is the mother of three sons. Contact her at or @claireflaire.