“How was your American Government test Nate?” Nate had been studying hard for at least one week, both independently and with me in preparation for his first test. This semester is turning out to be a tough one for Nate. There’s no course in his Graphic Design major, and those are the ones where his strengths are most clear.

“I think I mostly passed.” Now what does that mean?

Elise grimaced and told me she thought he failed, but that he probably got half right. She knew that he knew more though. That’s always the most difficult part, knowing how much effort he puts in and how erratically he puts out. I’ve studied with him for years, and he can get a 0 or a 100, despite identical dedication and work. The noble me feels that what’s important is that he tries hard. The baser me wants him to get good grades.

Since the test, Nate has been harping on the result, which we don’t know yet.

“I don’t want to fail! I want to do better!”

“Nate, I think you should study all your class notes every day. If you want to pass you have to work harder.”

Some grumbling, not much. Connecting the need for increased effort to improved results is a skill Nate doesn’t come near having. I was reminded of an earlier episode, a rare moment when Nate recognized his social situation.

This was in high school, maybe 10th grade. Nate was sitting in his favorite chair in front of our oldest color TV. That’s his station. As I walked passed him on my way from the kitchen to the big TV room, he spoke.

“I don’t have any friends.” He said it devoid of inflection, but the fact he said it at all stunned me. I always took great comfort in Nate’s asocial-ness. I figured if he didn’t realize how alone he was, then he wouldn’t be sad about it. But he knew, and he was.

So I turned left and plopped myself down into the blue damask sofa behind his seat.

“Nate, if you want friends, you have to talk to people. You can tell them the things you like doing and are interested in, but you have to ask them what they like too.”

“OK, I’ll try,” but he replied disinterestedly. He was past it already.

He’s never mentioned friends since then. I don’t know whether he thinks about it much or not. At school, he’s a bit more social; at home much more so.

But does Nate really know that how he acts leads to certain results, whether in his studies or his interaction with others? I don’t think so and I still don’t know how to teach him that.


About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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4 Responses to Disconnects

  1. mark says:

    nice. good on ya, mate. how do you find the time? my thoughts usually end up as scribbles in a half dozen notebooks floating around the house.

  2. Thanks Mark. I’m writing full time now, working on, among other things, a book proposal for Mission of Complex.

  3. Sean C says:

    “If you want to pass you have to work harder.”

    Unfortunately, for many of us auties, work does not imply success.

    I flunked out of college at age 20. After a 10 year break, I decided to go back and try again. Over the past 4 years, I’ve created an authoritatively detailed plan for studying to get the best grades possible, but even though it’s a great plan it’s still only marginally successful. Now, 4 years later, I’m most of the way done with my doctoral these, but still have 2 years left to complete my undergraduate studies.

    The conventional rules just don’t work with us. The impulse to achieve incremental results by incremental effort simply is not satisfied. This isn’t just a problem with academics, but encompasses almost all responsibilities in life. (My frustrations have boiled up to the point where the only art I can enjoy is absurdism.) My conjecture is that our special interests are the only spheres of our lives where the conventional truism of achieve by effort holds true.

    This is something that I’ve always known to be true about myself but my family has never accepted. This has been quite painful. Perhaps your son will be able to find a way to meet your concerns, but if you’d like humble advice from someone who’s been in his position before, I’d suggest taking some time with him to help make a plan–a *workable* plan–that he could implement in his own time and way. Nothing at all works better for my own improvement than direct, honest, trustworthy feedback on the specific issues that I’m addressing. If he and I are alike, then as someone your son implicitly trusts, you could have a big impact on his life.

    (I’m sorry if I’m overstepping my bounds or offering advice that you’ve already heard before, but from your words I can almost feel like I’ve been in Nate’s position and want him to be able to get the help I never did.)

  4. Sean, no overstepping at all. Your thoughts on this issue are very meaningful. I’ll give them some serious consideration. Thanks for reading.

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