I know a young man in Chicago who’s 18 and living at home with his mother, not an uncommon situation. Still, I doubt that there’re more than a dozen 18-year-old guys in the country capable of being happy at home with their mothers, unless they’re recuperating from surgery or doing the girl next door, preferably both.

Men’s lives are unique, and yet there are attitudes and experiences that we seem to share in this culture. One of them is a desire to get the hell away from our parents, especially mothers. I’m not anti-mother. I know a few mothers who occasionally appear to be superficially reasonable, although I could be wrong about that.

So this kid’s a good guy—decent and smart, from a broken good home—but his father doesn’t live with him, and that’s a problem. I think a lot of what fathers provide for sons is running interference with their mothers, a most useful service and not one that can be done in absentia.

Having children changes things for some men. Nothing will ever be the same, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Siring is just a few minutes for most guys; fathering is forever.

This young man hangs out, altering his mood and being surly to his crazy mother, which I completely understand, having done much the same thing, except I had a job. He wants to be gone, but he went to public schools, so he’s not prepared to function autonomously unless he takes a menial job. He knows mostly how to go to school.

Fathers are benchmarks, “Adam” to his sons, the First Man and soon enough thoroughly inadequate, boring and dim. Cain was very surly. Reminding teenage boys of their superiority is a noble calling is what I tell myself.

This guy is lovelorn to boot, heartbroken over his ex. And God knows nobody can help him with that, least of all his mother. He’s on his own on that one, and he may never get over it, whatever that means. Regardless, once adolescence is in full swing, there ain’t a mother on Earth who can help her son be a man. It just sounds like “blah, blah, blah.” At least Dad is a clear example of what not to do, which narrows the choices some.

In my experience, mothers are forever telling you stuff, and some fathers, too, and I think it’s usually a waste of time. It’s always what we do that counts, and never what we say.

I’d like my sons to listen carefully to my instructions and admonishments and especially my words of wisdom, of which there are more than you might think. I don’t expect them to, though, which is perhaps why they don’t. I certainly didn’t listen to my father worth a damn, and now I’m so much like him, it’s spooky.

All that intellectual rebellion didn’t mean squat. I bet my young friend in Chicago is afraid of becoming his old man.