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Ask Rene: Our College Son Got A BRAND!


Hi Rene:

My husband and I went to a college where fraternities hardly existed, so when our freshman son pledged a fraternity we had questions and concerns. But while some of the events seemed silly and pointless except for the “bonding,” it became clear our son was finding a real brotherhood he valued, and we were supportive. I even told him that this was what I had hoped for him from the Boy Scouts (he fell in with a dysfunctional troop).

He just went through “Hell Week” and then became a full-fledged brother. We are happy about this. Except this:  he also got a BRAND! It’s on his right shoulder blade (I haven’t seen a photo yet). He says it was a decision he and a couple of other pledges made sober and ahead of time.

My husband FREAKED and is calling our bright, premed son, a moron, although just around me. Our son asked then (by text) what I thought and I said honestly that it was so out of the blue I had no reaction. He said that it wasn’t out of the blue for him. Well sure, he didn’t tell us because he guessed we would not support it. He has talked before about tattoos and we have said if they were meaningful, like related to his mission work, and not in places that might cause problems in future jobs, that sounded fine. “Snake bite” piercings we were leery of, but he drifted away from those on his own. Never did branding of any kind come up until after the fact.

I would rather he hadn’t done it, but I don’t see any point in being angry about something that can’t be undone. Am I under-reacting? Is my husband overreacting? Does it even matter? It seems like it should, somehow. But if this is the stupidest thing our child does away at college, I think I can be cool with it.

Resigned To The Fact



Dear Resigned:

Wow, well, as you said, there’s not a whole lot that can be done about this now and I think that’s where we have to start with this. You made some really good points in your letter; things I think might help your husband in his processing of this. So, I would have a sit down with hubby and cover these three points.

*THE CAMARADERIE YOUR SON SHARES WITH FRAT BROTHERS: This is not about the brand but something much more. Your son is a part of something that is important to him, a sense of belonging and true brotherhood; you acknowledge wanting that for him. He shares something with this group of guys, a way of thinking, an outlook on life, a deep friendship. They are young guys, trying to make their way through the world, with hopes, dreams and fears that you and your husband have long since worked through. I think this is one of the main issues of parenthood; at some point you and your opinions will take a back seat to other people in your kids’ lives. Your husband probably wishes he had confided in him on the brand but he did not. The reality is your husband might want to prepare himself for more of that. His role (and yours) in your son’s life is changing and it’s time to get comfortable with that.

*WHAT’S DONE IS DONE: This is not like a bad dye-job on hair that will grow out or even a tattoo that can be removed, though not easily. A “brand” is just as it sounds, a scar left after a hot object is applied to the skin.  Since I didn’t pledge a sorority in college, I can’t say that I understand the mindset behind marking one’s body like this. But I was young once and one of the things I can say, now standing on this side of the age precipice is that tattoos, belly piercings and brands may look decent on young, taut skin. Not sure the same can be said on an aging, flabby, wrinkled body. He’ll know in a few years (and trust me, that time will FLY by!)

*YOUR SON IS AN ADULT: I think parents have such a hard time with this and I don’t understand why. Of course, I may feel differently the first time one of my kids does something I think is dunderheaded. Your son is away at college; that means he’s probably over 18, which means he’s an adult. Period. If he wanted to shave his head then cover his scalp in tattoos, there’s little you could do to stop him. At the end of the day, in a weird sort of way, you and your husband should be proud of him for making his own decision. It may not have been the one you would have chosen, but he is his own man. He took all the stuff you taught him over the years, processed it and is making his way through life with that road map you provided. He sounds like a pretty strong kid to me. One that will be just fine.

One other thing, I would tell hubby to cool it with the name-calling. I know he only says it to you but I don’t think it’s healthy and could undermine their relationship. And I don’t think you’re underreacting as much as you’re being pragmatic. Let’s hope your husband can learn from you (and your son).

Good luck mommy!

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