Parenting can have exciting moments. Father like son, may not always turn out as expected.
Sometimes, we adults can think or behave like children. When telling an interesting or exciting story, we relish every Ooh! and Ah! heaped upon us. Young people often react so strongly to a good tale that the joy is much greater for the storyteller.
Having learned from sad experience; it is not wise to tell a child about actions you performed that were inherently unwise. Even when accompanied by warnings of the stupidity of your decisions and how close you may have come to death.
Born in the middle 50's, my formative years were not clouded with fear of terrorists nor were we surrounded by violence. The watchdogs now set to "protect" us from these threats did not exist. Even gangs were small and had little effect on daily life. We feared organized crime and the Soviet Union. My, how times have changed.
When I was around sixteen, fireworks were, and still are illegal in the County of Los Angeles. Not wanting to miss the Fourth of July fun, and being a typical boy, I decided to make homemade fireworks for the family's entertainment.
Not a difficult feat since my hobby was chemistry. Yes, I was a nerd. In those days being called a nerd or geek was an insult and not a lifestyle choice with possible respect for any accompanying talents.
We had an enjoyable firework display by the pool where emergency water was available, and that should have been the end of it. As I got older and surprisingly less wise, my friends and I decided that with a few electronic components and a purchased Estes model rocket, we could make a shoulder mounted launcher out of a cardboard carpet tube. It turned out successful, and the resulting explosion of the rocket against the old washing machine in the back hills of Valencia was impressive. So impressive, we ran like scared children fearing getting caught and harshly penalized.
Discussing it afterward, we realized, all three of us may have died or received serious injuries if the rocket had exploded while inside the tube launcher. We decided the whole idea was terribly stupid and never did anything that dangerous again.
Please don't misunderstand me. I was a kid, easily bored and did many more crazy and dangerous things—just not quite that idiotic.
Many years later, I now had five children who all enjoyed hearing stories told as often as possible. Not just my little ones who would sit me down and speak as young children do saying, "Daddy, tell me story of 'you' life." My older kids would ask, "Dad, what crazy things have you done?"
After telling stories of how Captain Hook's problems all came from not listening to his parents, the question of my adventures from my son Drew, standing at the door, brought more temptation than I could endure. I recounted the very stupid and crazy experience I had when still young consisting of making a homemade rocket launcher. Not forgetting to reiterate how incredibly dangerous it was. Also, eliciting a promise that he would never consider anything so hazardous.
Now it is time for you to stop and listen to your inner voice and discern what happened next. I'm relieved to say that the ensuing events, though spectacular, did not result in death or injury.
Drew and his friend Spencer—the names have not been changed, and neither are they innocent—decided because of my tale, a carpet tube would be a great launcher for rockets. Fortunately, the house had accumulated a supply of fireworks over the years purchased from places outside the state and the county. I say fortunately because the two boys elected to skip the whole—build a high explosive rocket—idea, and elected to use some of the existing supply of bottle rockets. These produce a much lower yield in explosive power; I promise you.
As a side thought, I have never claimed to be mature or to have accumulated wisdom to go with my years. These illegal fireworks would not have been in the house if I had indeed grown into a wise man.
On one balmy evening in July, my son's friend was visiting. I happened to glance out the window and see the two boys crossing the yard headed to the gate that would take them to the Homeowners Association land, "Behind the Houses," as my kids called it. A carpet tube and bottle rockets seemed a suspicious set of play toys to take into an area of two to three feet high dangerously dry grass in the greatest heat of summer.
Catching up with them, I explained, as wise fathers should, their obvious intent was dangerous, a potential fire hazard and I sent them back to the house. Poor clueless trusting father, thinking that the story would end there. All I had to do was look back at my life, and I should have realized the adventure was yet to come.
Less than an hour later, Lindsy, my daughter noticed a large plume of smoke rising from noticeable orange flames of the burning grass at the top of the little one-hundred-foot-high hill beyond our fence. Within a few minutes, two fire department helicopters flew over and performed water drops followed up by firemen from multiple engine companies trying to squash the fire before it grew into a major brush fire. They succeeded, and extinguished the fire in less than thirty minutes restricting the destruction to under five acres of brush. The initial burn site was only two or three hundred yards from the rear of the police station. That is most likely why it was discovered so quickly.
As any father would, during the excitement I checked and verified that all my children were home and safe. Drew was there, though his friend Spencer seemed to have gone home unexpectedly. As the excitement died down, one of my children informed me they had seen Drew and Spencer fleeing from the fire zone. Later, neighbor children informed us that they had observed Drew at the burn site just before the fire and their parents had reported this to the fire department.
Interrogation of my son brought a full confession. Not that a denial would have been very effective with the plethora of witnesses. Years later, my son wrote an essay in school recounting this event. From that paper, I learned that the first few rockets exploded harmlessly in the air above an area clear of brush. It was the accidental dropping of the tube that allowed the already lit rocket to enter the dry grass adjacent to the launch site igniting the brush fire. Also, Spencer, Drew's friend had reported the event to his parents.
The family waited with feelings of trepidation for the inevitable contact with the Police or Fire Department. We were not disappointed. The next evening, when responding to a knock on the door, we discovered uniformed members of the Bomb Squad standing in the entryway. Behind them, in front of our house, sat a police vehicle with a bomb disposal unit attached. Concern and anxiety passed through me as the officer asked me to step outside for a word. Many scenarios of disaster passed through my mind as I agreed and quietly closed the door behind me.
To my surprise, the officer had researched our family and found that we had no record of trouble except the requisite speeding ticket here or there. The extremely kind officer informed me that he had sons of his own and asked me how I wanted him to handle the situation. The look of shock and confusion on my face brought a smile to the officer's face and he decided to help me out with a few suggestions.
He proposed that if I wanted to, "scare him straight," I could allow him to be "arrested" and spend the night in juvenile detention without creating a record of Drew's incarceration. The officer also suggested the option of his partner and himself giving a lecture designed to, "scare the hell" out of Drew but leave him in the custody of his parents after eliciting a promise of perfect behavior. As a final suggestion, he said I looked like a good dad, and if I so desired, he would allow me to provide a solution and discipline of my choosing. All of the options required the family to turn over any contraband to be placed into the bomb disposal unit for later destruction.
Not feeling comfortable with allowing my young, mostly innocent, and usually well-behaved son to spend a night in juvenile detention, I selected the second option of "scare the hell" out of him. The officers and I entered the house to find Drew on the couch waiting. The two uniformed men told my son that it was possible that he would be held responsible for the thirty-thousand-dollar cost to the County of Los Angeles to extinguish the fire. Since he was a minor, the cost and responsibility would fall on his parents. Watching the mortified reaction of my son to this revelation, the officer promised to do all he could to prevent those consequences. Even if successful, any future incidents would fall twice as hard on the family with possible jail time for his parents.
Drew was sufficiently cowed and promised never to do such a thing again. He turned over the contraband fireworks which the Bomb Squad dutifully placed in the disposal unit. After a handshaking ceremony and a wink at me, the officers left taking the family's supply of fireworks with them. I cannot overstate my gratitude to those fine officers who understood the difficulties of fatherhood.
Always a unique child with an active imagination, this was not the first exciting event he brought the family. There is the time Secret Service Agents surprised us at home in response to several counterfeit one hundred dollar bills that Drew had printed and given to friends at school as a joke. For some reason, the US Treasury Department did not see the humor in the incident. However, as they say, "That is another story."