The Parent Trap: Prom night for a “Solitary Son”

He looked like a gangster. To be fair, perhaps less of a gangster from The Sopranos and more of one of those parodied in Guys and Dolls. The boutonniere was the topper, a single red rose, which his mother attached to his lapel. Ahead lay the junior prom, my son’s first foray into the world of dressing up and acting as if he were an adult.

To be honest, I was surprised that he even wanted to attend. We hear many tales about his “friends” from school, about how the guys all joke around and the girls all pal around. But we don’t see many of them or hear from them past Friday afternoon.

My son is fun and sociable, but he is at heart a solitary soul, more happy to spend time with his friends through the Internet than one-on-one. So I rightfully supposed that the prospect of spending three hours in human contact for anything other than the burden of school work would be abhorrent to him.

“Of course I’m going to the prom,” he said to me with an overt tinge of surprise and scorn. “Everybody else is going. Why shouldn’t I?”

Why not indeed, but I figured that he would feel funny not having a date for the occasion. I was assured by him that all of his friends were going by themselves, and meeting up at the prom. I also understand that my kid isn’t happy wearing anything but shorts and a T-shirt, even in the coldest days of winter. I’ve always been convinced that he would fit in the best in warmer climates, or perhaps a nudist colony.

But there we were on a Saturday evening, driving to the men’s wear store to buy a suit. The last suit that he’s owned was bought for his First Holy Communion, and I’m pretty sure that it’s not going to fit ten years later. You really don’t realize how big your kid has gotten until you buy him a suit. The size which I guessed at barely fit past his bicep. Two more sizes up, and we finally found a black number which was a perfect fit. The gangster look? That was actually my idea. We bought a deep red shirt with a red and silver tie to complete the ensemble.

The pictures taken at home with his parents and grandparents seemed to foretell a miserable prom experience. “Who exactly is going to the prom, you or him?” asked a friend of mine, on seeing a photograph of my son and myself. I look happy, while he looks like he’s heading to the nearest IRS office. My hope was that the photos he promised to take at the event would show a different side of my son, one that he professes showing to his teachers and classmates.

The results opened my eyes. Photo after photo of smiling friends, both male and female, were in his camera. And behold, there was my son in his suited glory, smiling as broadly as I’ve seen in years.

“This is Connie,” he told me as I looked upon a picture of a pretty girl he has mentioned on more than one occasion. In a romantic flourish, he presented her with his boutonniere before leaving for the night. Now that’s friendship.

Not much has changed since the prom. My solitary son continues to glue himself to the computer, preferring to socialize behind the safety of a plasma screen. But at least now I can put a face to the many names I hear about every day. I can also see a future when he will have friendship beyond the school walls.

Next year is the senior prom. Let’s hope that the tuxedo rental goes as well as the suit purchase, and the friendships grow after the monitor is turned off.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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