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For a Time, a Pit Bull Gave Me Back My Son

If I couldn’t openly love him, I would love what he loved.

· 12 min read
For a Time, a Pit Bull Gave Me Back My Son
Image: Steve Salerno 

I did not expect my son to survive his teens. He was a tough kid, a kid with no give in him. From the time Graig could walk, the punishment did not exist that could deter him. Had my wife and I upheld even the most basic household rule book, there might not have been a waking hour when my son wasn’t in timeout, separated from his toys and video games. There might not have been a waking hour when things around the house felt normal.

Moreover, Graig was The Child Who Could Not Be Pleased. Congenitally restless and malcontent, he scorned the permissible, preferring the illicit, the inappropriate, the absurd. When his older half-brother got his driver’s license at 17, Graig, then 8, saw no reason why he should be denied similar privileges. He had taken it upon himself to read his brother’s driver’s ed manual, had passed sample written tests, and voiced confidence in his ability to maneuver his small body sufficiently to meet the requirements of a driving test.

There were remonstrations for months, each time his brother took the car out: “If I can do it, I should be allowed to do it. What does age have to do with it?” My wife and I had no doubt that had the law allowed, Graig would’ve moved out into his own place by age 10.

Therapists seemed more amused than alarmed by Graig’s tendencies, which they painted as curious, hyperactive, devil-may-care—labels whose charming overtones conjured images of a young Hugh Grant or Denzel Washington. Not a Mike Tyson or a John Dillinger.

As I was the chief explainer and-enforcer of life’s conventions, Graig and I spent much of our day, every day, at loggerheads. To mitigate this dynamic, I devised elaborate bonding experiences. These episodes, too, ended in disappointment or worse. Once or twice a year, I’d wholly abdicate my parental duties, let my son play hooky and organize an outing around his (theoretical) favorite activities—“Graig Days,” we called them—and still he’d break his mother’s heart by arriving home in a tearful rage over some trifle that hadn’t been to his liking.

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