Posted in Family

Coach Dad & The Wicked Stepma–The Joys(?) of Parenting Teens

Aww... Is there anything sweeter than little-kid shoes?

Just a handful of years ago, I was a newly-single mom with two little kids, and the after-school heap of things by the door consisted of Tinkerbell backpacks and Toy Story notebooks, and those cute little shoes that are so adorable they can make you want to have more babies.

Fast-forward (past the wedding which made me a joyful Mom of seven) to this morning, when I completed my (near-daily) ritual of tripping over a pair of Mens’-size-fifteen sneakers by the door.  Twice.

Evidently I’m no more capable of training myself to avoid this obstacle than I am of training the oversized feet that occupy these sneakers to walk as far as the boys’ bedroom before shedding them…  Truth be told, though, I haven’t made a pointed effort at the latter–a wise parent knows to pick the “battles” that are worthwhile, and in the case of a sixteen-year-old navigating the world and testing his independence, we have bigger fish to fry.

Three of our Seven: Elena Grace, Christian, & Kapena, picnicking at the State Park where I worked last summer

Don’t get me wrong–Kapena is a good kid.  He holds down an after-school job, captains the Defense of his football team, and maintains straight As at school. He’s the kind of kid who doesn’t hesitate to kiss his Dad on the mouth (a bit of Hawai’ian culture there) on the sidelines of his football field in front of his teammates and coaches and girlfriend.  His name–a Hawai’ian word meaning leader–suits him admirably, and he displays compassion and maturity and manners and self-awareness, characteristic of someone well beyond his own chronological years.  Still… He’s a teenage boy.  (Insert both a grin and a grimace here…)

Every school-morning our house is redolent with the mixed aromas of the crepes or pancakes Dad cooks up to fuel Kapena for the day, the heavy haze of “Axe” cologne carried out of the kids’ bathroom on a cloud of shower-steam, and the strong pot of coffee to be poured into travel-mugs for the drive to school.  The drive itself is a ritual of dad-and-son bonding time, a daily quarter-hour of man-to-man chat about whatever’s up in the kiddo’s life…  But when it comes to the heavier topics, those tend to arrive by text chat.  Evidently a teenager finds it an easier approach to broach a difficult subject by SMS than in person–and for whatever reason, those topics tend to ring in on my phone.

courtesy of

Yesterday brought one of those–the kind of message signaling that it’s time to kick into high-gear Mom-Mode.

As I wrote a while back (Wicked Stepma, Advice Columnist), the “Wicked Stepma” label is my own joke about myself, but Kapena actually doesn’t use the “step” designation. (Except in moments when Dad embarrasses him–popping out in a Hawai’ian mu’umu’u, for instance–in which case Kapena groans and tells his friends, “That’s NOT my Dad. He’s just the guy who’s married to my Stepmom.”)

In fact, his references to me as his Mom have been pretty pointed since last year when his abusive other mother beat him bloody, and lost her remaining share of custody after the Protection Order we filed.  One of the things I’ve learned about victims of abuse (not only Kapena, but his six-foot-five ex-Marine brother Kawika, and my own husband Keoni–all of whom suffered for years at the hands of the same controlling and poisonous Abuser) is that there’s some serious “reprogramming” to be done when they have the opportunity to adjust to life in a safer environment.

One of those adjustments has definitely been the ability to converse.  I remember the early days of his acclimation to me as a household-adult, when he would cautiously venture a perfectly reasonable request (like a few hours at a friend’s house after school) accompanied by all the cringing body-language of a frequently-kicked puppy.  “Sure,” I answered repeatedly, to his reasonable requests–prompting a curious question from him after the first few repetitions.  “Really? You’re sure? Because you’ve said ‘yes’ every time I’ve asked something, and that’s just weird to me.”  Even weirder (he told me later) was my response: “Honey, I WILL say ‘no’–when there’s a reason to say no.  And I will share the reasons, and I will listen to what you have to say, and Dad and I will stand by the ‘no’ when we think it’s important.  But if there’s not a reason to say ‘no,’ I’ll say ‘yes.’ So why don’t you grab my car keys and we’ll go sign you up for that driving permit I just said ‘yes’ to.”

There have been occasions when I’ve reminded him of that conversation, in response to his pleading for a reversal of the (fairly rare) NO–and evidently that reminder is his signal to cease begging. “OK, I understand,” is his standard response at that point–not happily, but resignedly–and, these days, without the residual haunted manner of the kicked puppy. But parenting isn’t always so cut-and-dried as a simple parental ‘no,’ and (to bring my meandering digression back to the Present) yesterday’s conversation-by-text was an example of a trickier matter.

Kapena celebrating a win last season

Football is Kapena’s Passion.  Well ahead even of the cute little cheerleader girlfriend.  And he’s good—we’re talking scouts-and-scholarships-good, and this was only his Sophomore season.  His teammates call him “the Flyin’ Hawai’ian” (a rather catchier title than his Dad’s football-nickname of “Twinkletoes,” bestowed back in the day for the same reason).  He just signed up for a Spring League to keep him in practice for the “real” season, and he’s looking for ways to work on building strength. 

Enter: The Lure of The Quick Fix.

One of his friends has been taking a  so-called sports supplement, and “he’s getting huge,” Kapena texted enthusiastically–and he wants to try it out for himself.

Enter: Blaring Mom-Alert Sirens in my head.

I’m grateful that he’s initiating this conversation rather than keeping his deliberations private; and I’m grateful, too, that on some level he clearly has some hesitations of his own (as evidenced by the fact that this IS a texting-conversation, which he generally reserves for the “tough topics” he doesn’t want to launch face-to-face).  Still, he clearly WANTS us to endorse this scheme, and he’s bringing the full sales pitch to bear.

It’s all-natural… It’ll boost my own body’s natural production of testosterone, so it’s not like taking steroids…  It’s legal, and it doesn’t show up as a banned substance on drug-testing for sports… My friend has been taking it, and he’s getting HUGE, and no bad stuff happening…  I bet it will help me grow taller…  They sell it at the Health Food store, so it can’t be bad for you… I already researched it on, and they recommend it…

da Flyin' Hawai'ian

It doesn’t take much research on his proposed “supplement” to confirm what my biology background already told me: this is Not a Good Idea.

However.  This is also not a topic where saying-no-with-reasons will necessarily close the matter.

I’m not an “ostrich parent”–I don’t bury my head in the sand, and I know the real-world score. If Kapena made the decision to go forward with this supplement he’s so excited about, he COULD.  It’s legal, it’s accessible, and he has his own money.  (I’ve helped him with the life-lesson stuff of setting up his own bank account and direct deposit from his job, and we’ve had some budget-lesson sessions, but–another aspect of the life-lesson stuff–the money he earns is entirely in his own control, to blow or to budget as he decides.)  I could tell him “No” right now–but that wouldn’t be the most effective parenting-choice on my part.

Enter: New Tactic. Let The Biologist field this one instead of The Mom.  No statements that carry a value-judgment, just discussion of Physiology….

Let’s see, some things to consider… Physiologically speaking, boosting your own testosterone-production isn’t  different from taking manufactured testosterone–and actually, for all intents and purposes testosterone IS the steroid in “Steroids.”  So we pretty much are talking about steroids here, even though they’re legal. (and the “Health” store) endorse them because they sell them, so let’s look deeper.

At sixteen, your body is pretty much at max testosterone-production already; even the endorsers of “testosterone boosters” are endorsing them primarily for over-thirties, so it’s hard to say how effective the “boost” would be as far as muscle building. One of the things I’d really want you to think about is testosterone’s function in young adults–specifically, it’s one of the influences that hardens the growth plates at the end of your bones as you reach adulthood so you stop growing.

team captains... including our #35

I knew that one would give him pause–he’s keenly hoping to reach something like his brother’s six-foot-five stature, and if those enormous shoes over which I so regularly trip are any indication, he may have the genes to do so. Realizing that excessive testosterone could stunt his growth–that, in fact, ending pubescent growth is one of the things testosterone DOES–may just be the kicker on his decision.  And I haven’t issued any ultimatums or orders, so the conversation is still “on.” Though at this point there’s a lo-o-ong silence in it.

And then, finally: “Maybe it’s not such a good idea.”  Now it’s Mom’s turn to talk.  Let’s think about some other approaches to punch up your game.  We have a great resource right here at home, after all–Dad played high school football with some Greats like Mosi Tatupu and Keith Uperesa, got recruited out of Hawai’i to play for Arizona State (might have had Pro possibilities until the injury that killed his scholarship), and went on to hold a nineteenth-in-the-nation ranking in Competetive Drug-Free Powerlifting.  How about if we bring Coach Dad in on this?

Since yesterday’s conversation, the two of them have applied at the YMCA for a low-income family membership so they can start on a workout regime, Keoni is busily building the weight-lifting program, and the pair of them are researching a different category of supplements along the lines of proteins instead of hormones.

As for the two of us, we take a deep breath, say a prayer together, and keep on Parenting–because tomorrow there will be something else.  With luck it will be one of the simpler Mom-Jobs like killing a spider in his bathtub (he’s terrified of them) or dyeing a load of athletic socks pink because the team is supporting Breast Cancer Awareness… But just in case–if you’ll excuse me–I’m going to go ice my texting-thumb now.


I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

35 thoughts on “Coach Dad & The Wicked Stepma–The Joys(?) of Parenting Teens

  1. Sounds like you have a great kid. I thought this was going to be more like my life where I am the one who is always called on to say, “no,” which can get very frustrating, but it wasn’t. My sons have friends taking steroids (that’s what my sons call them – not sure if it’s accurate) – I think I will bookmark this and do a little reading to the boys.


  2. Great post, Kana! I am impressed. Remain calm, think things through and parent… rather than dictate. I love it! I never had children and I can only imagine how gratifying and love-filled it must be when a sticky situation works out so well.


  3. Wow, Kana! I wish I were half as adroit as you are. ;-) My 12.5 year old is all about lawyering me. If I say “no” and give him reasons, he then wants to “discuss” every single point with me and explain how they do not make sense. Even though they do. Argh. I still try to keep the lines of discussion open with him because I need him to understand how the world works–even if he disagrees with it.


    1. I have one of those too! Ten-year-old Christian, whom I fully expect to enroll in Law School a decade from now. :) Even when he was little, I had to be very careful in phrasing parental instructions because he would treat them literally and could DISSECT anything to his advantage! I expect his Teens will be an entirely different experience… ;)


  4. You are the perfect example of positive parental evolution. It’s so great that your kids have you in their lives. What they learn from you they will teach to theirs and the world just gets better and better! Thanks for sharing:)


  5. Gosh, this is an important post. So many folks don’t understand the role abuse plays in emotional programing. Thank God you have undone that one, and your stepson talks to you. This is invaluable. What a great kid. What a great mom you clearly are.


  6. Completely entertaining, rivetting, informative, insightful, inspiration post here today, Kana. Actually, I think you have shown some of your best writing skills here today. I also really like the way you posted your photos and little drawings! I agree with Kathryn above, that this is a very important post. It should be very helpful to other parents of teens involved in sports. Also, the methodology of your biologist-not-Mom reasonable arguments set such a good example for all parents dealing with any offspring’s issues.


    1. I’m blushing ;)
      I wish someone would say that to MY ex, who campaigned (unsuccessfully, let’s note) to terminate my parental rights entirely… He & his girlfriend have been telling the kids they’re “not mine” anymore, that Keoni and I are a “fucking waste”… Nice, right? But that’s a whole other post–and the kids are wiser than that…


  7. This was a great post for lots of reasons … that whole idea of picking your battles is one that every parent must learn sooner or later, and hopefully not the hard way. Otherwise, it turns into full blown war, and every decision becomes another battle. Who wants to be THAT kind of parent?

    Also loved the reference to the word “step”. In my story, I was raising my husband’s son from another marriage. We we lucky enough to get full custody when he was nine. We had fought and fought but kept losing in court, until the day we had “extenuating circumstances” in our favor (she went to prison). He finally came to live with us permanently. Within a year I had legally adopted him so that if something happened to my husband, there would be no chance he would be returned to his (then abusive and addicted) mother. During the entire scope of the time he lived under our roof for those ten or twelve years, I never once used the word “step” to describe him. He was not my step anything. He was just my son. I still bristle when MY OWN FAMILY MEMBERS (sisters, brothers) insist on making the step distinction when talking about him to me. They get an earful every time. You would think they would know better by now. These days he’s 41, and he’s still just my son. Not my step son, just my son, thanks.

    Especially loved what you said about wearing whichever hat is the appropriate hat when discussing IMPORTANT MATTERS. Thank God I was in my teenage parenting years BEFORE text messaging was the preferred method of communication, or I would have been screwed. My texting skills suck, big time. Ours always seemed to be late night talks that often lasted until the sun came up – many heavy and weighty subjects were discussed in those wee hours of the morning. I was glad they were still willing to have the conversations going in both directions. I think the thing I miss the most about parenting are those late night talks. I’ll probably blog about it sooner or later. Thanks for the reminder of all those precious moments we shared together, with the house silently cloaked around us, as everyone else slept. Sorry, got off track for a minute. What I meant to say was that parenting really does ask us to wear whichever hat best fits the situation at hand, and bravo to you for relying on the Biologist Mom in your time of need. Smart girl, you are.

    As I poke around a bit in your archives, I’m already getting a feel for the person that you are, and I’ll have to say that (1) I’ve discovered I really like how you write, and (2) you kinda rock, in the general sense of the word, and (3) you really get to me in a good way with your parenting stories. Look forward to getting to know you a bit more, and thanks for sharing this Wicked Step-Ma story. I was a Wicked Step-Ma myself,emphasis on the Wicked.


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