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Dad Daze: Therapy can help a confused and troubled teen

I didn’t recognize the boy curled up in a ball underneath layers of blankets on this unseasonably warm winter morning. School had started an hour ago, and my son Eddie was tethered to his bed. After unpeeling the covers like the skin of an onion, I recoiled at the sight of my son’s beautiful face, which was distorted in agony.

“Go away,” Eddie screamed as my jaw went slack like Laura Dern’s during a particularly disturbing scene in the cult film “Blue Velvet.” My mind flashed back to Eddie’s childhood. The kid I envisioned a decade ago, who was innocent, carefree and an enthusiastic student, vanished. Fast forward to his senior year of high school, Eddie, then 17, was clearly troubled, withdrawn and depressed just months before the coronavirus altered everything.

Eddie started hanging out with a mysterious group of friends led by his destructive and manipulative girlfriend. I’ve typically been a good judge of character, but I was duped by a teenager who should be orchestrating three-card monte games at Times Square.

For months, I believed the tales delivered by this charismatic and amusing 16-year-old. My son’s prom date said she was headed to child welfare court since her father was abusive, and we might not see her for quite some time. She left for three glorious months.

Even though my son’s girlfriend was MIA and not allowed to see, call or text Eddie, she controlled him by writing letters, which arrived in disturbing volume. It was like Eddie was a pop star since he normally received three to five envelopes a day.

I discovered not long after that the girlfriend from hell pummeled a schoolmate, and that led to the 90-day hiatus. I learned that the previous summer, Eddie was on call 24 hours a day. His gal pal would phone him at all hours or demand that he sneak out in the middle of the night.

In the wee hours one morning, I saw a shadowy figure outside my bedroom window. It was Eddie, who crawled out of his third-floor bedroom to the second floor. He then leapt to the grass and ran to a car. I caught up with him, and he was grounded – but that didn’t derail the relationship. I recall the agony and desperation he exuded when I demanded he relinquish his cellphone.

I wondered what could have been if the girlfriend was at arm’s length when Eddie was showcasing for college baseball coaches. When I look back at that summer of 2019, it’s amazing he attracted interest. He was exhausted. As I was getting ready to depart for a college showcase just outside New York City, I called for Eddie, but he wasn’t in his room.

I phoned him, and he said he was coming back from a convenience store. The truth was obvious on our ride up the New Jersey turnpike. Eddie fell into deep sleep. He escaped at some point in the middle of the night. I expected the worst, but it was like one of those Mickey Mantle stories where the New York Yankees slugger was out carousing but somehow homered the following day while hung over.

Eddie was sharp striking out eight while giving up just two hits and a walk over five shutout innings. After speaking with three college scouts, my sleep-deprived son turned into a zombie as soon as he hit the car seat headrest.

The following week around midnight, Eddie texted me while I was en route back from New York asking what uniform he should wear for his next showcase. When I arrived back two hours later, Eddie wasn’t in his bedroom. At 4 a.m., he FaceTimed me from the hospital. He told me his girlfriend tried to commit suicide. “That’s terrible,” I said. “I hope she gets the help she needs. You have a showcase this morning. Can you get back here in two hours?”

“My girlfriend just tried to kill herself,” Eddie said. “How can I leave her?” Even though Eddie missed the showcase, it worked out for my son, who committed to a Division II baseball team in Philadelphia. However, his senior year and his life were slipping away. After months of trying different parenting techniques, it was obvious that he needed therapy. I was fortunate to find a therapist who said she could see Eddie immediately.

“You’re getting out of bed,” I said to the rumpled form emerging from the safety of his covers. “No, I can’t,” Eddie exclaimed.

“You’re going to therapy, now!”

“I won’t. I can’t.”

“If you don’t go with me now, I will commit you.”

Eddie’s defiance slipped away. He could see that I meant it even though I have no idea how to commit a kid.

My heart was breaking watching a good-natured young man with so much potential throw it all away. I remember speaking with Eddie two years ago, and the subject of who is going to take care of me when I’m an old, doddering man came up. “You know it’s going to be me,” Eddie said. “Who else would it be?”

I had to take charge. Eddie acquiesced and dressed as we had minutes before visiting the therapist. I sat with him for the first 10 minutes to ease him in and provide detail. I left for their session and returned to find a calmer-looking Eddie who met with his new confidant each week.

His therapist provided pertinent details about Eddie and his co-dependency and how they came up with a plan for him to re-emerge from his emotional zone, which was subterranean. It took a while, but Eddie, who would always be sketching while chatting with his therapist, improved.

Change didn’t occur overnight. Eddie’s metamorphosis came incrementally. Eddie insisted that his relationship with his girlfriend was stabilizing. He was annoyed that I would start every therapy session speaking about her.

Since I could chat with him once again in an easy manner, I told him that his girlfriend is a problem. He said all was fine, but a week later it went from bad to worse. When Eddie didn’t give his girlfriend a glass of water quickly enough, she attacked him and shattered his iPhone and feigned a broken wrist when he tried to grab his device.

“It won’t be long before you’re 18,” she screamed at Eddie. “I can say whatever I want, and you’ll be doing five-to-10 and goodbye college and goodbye baseball.”

That still wasn’t enough for Eddie to let go of his albatross. When I implored Eddie to leave her, he noted how troubled she was and asked me how he could just let her go.

“Let me count the ways,” I said. Fortunately, his therapist and I reasoned with him, and a month later he finally said goodbye to his tormentor.

Normalcy finally returned, and it was as if the old Eddie never left. All of the sudden, the lighthearted kid we all knew was back goofing around with his sisters, and he even offered pitching instruction to his younger brother, Milo.

When I asked him to help his brother on the mound a year ago, Eddie lost it. “Do I look like a pitching coach?” Eddie snapped.

“No, you look like a jerk,” Milo responded. Eddie’s best friend, Arcady, stopped by for a welcome visit. Weeks earlier, Arcady called me and revealed that he was Eddie’s only pal who told him the truth. “I said to Eddie that this girl is toxic,” Arcady said.

To his credit, he didn’t want to see his friend make a potentially devastating decision. It was so cool to see a pair of 17-year-old boys care about each other so intently, and then there’s Eddie’s brother.

“Eddie’s back,” Milo said. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s good to be around him again.” Eddie’s return wasn’t all due to therapy, but it played a huge part along with lots of love and understanding from his family and an assist by a good friend.

The bottom line is to be proactive. If your child is showing signs of depression, or their grades start sinking or they become a stranger in your own house, perhaps it’s time to seek therapy.

Last February, I was in a bar having a drink with the coach of Milo’s ice hockey team during a tournament in Niagara Falls. The coach revealed that his son, who is the same age as Eddie, was going through a similar crisis. “But how did you get Eddie into therapy?” the coach asked.

It wasn’t easy. For months, I thought therapy would be the answer, but I delayed the inevitable. I’ll never forget that lost, helpless expression on Eddie’s face. That expedited the next necessary step. If I didn’t make that move, I can’t imagine how much further Eddie would have spiraled down.

Therapy helped bring back Eddie’s confidence, his sense of self-worth and the reality that all is not lost. Eddie embraced the fact that he has a bright future. After graduating high school, Eddie’s therapist sent a note: “Congratulations, Eddie! You did it!!!”

Eddie still has a ways to go, but he’s faring well. “I would recommend to anyone my age to go to a therapist,” Eddie said. “There’s no downside. It’s not easy at this age. Things happen, and it’s good to have someone you can trust to bounce things off of. Who knows how things would have turned out for me without therapy?”

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