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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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  1. Dano

    December 9, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I’ve burned the crap out of myself many times. On the hot grill, a motorcycle tailpipe, the oven, a soldering iron. Those scars always fade with time. I’ve also looked into branding, and I’ve read a lot about them fading, as well.

    It’s way better than 50 stars on your face.

    The only thing that I’d be upset about is if it cost a lot of money to have it done, and if I was the only source of income for the young man. If you plan to spend my money on something, you’d better talk to me about it FIRST!

  2. Will Jones

    December 9, 2011 at 9:40 am

    I’m a Marine, and probably one of the few that doesn’t have an eagle, globe, and anchor or a devil-dog tattoo. It’s not something I chose to do, but I fully understand why so many do. To those who’ve never been a part of a group this close (including this kids dad, I bet) it’s very hard to understand how it becomes a part of you that you want to keep as part of you forever. It’s hard to explain, but like I said, if you don’t know, then you don’t know.

  3. Cody Williams

    December 9, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Lady, be glad your son is not sporting the red or blue gang colors of the Crips or Bloods.

    He’s grown and it’s his body, which is no longer attached to yours.

    The room smelled like someone was frying bacon the night I got branded. I had just graduated from undergrad and was getting ready to fly out to the west coast and the grownup life. My two closest frat brothers and I decided to ‘get hit.’ One was going to dental school and the other was on his was to law school.

    That was 30 years ago. My brand has not faded yet. If it does I would probably get ‘hit’ again. The three of us have stood up as best men in each other’s weddings and are god-fathers to each other’s kids. Those guys will surely be my pallbearers when I leave this place, if I leave before they do, and vice-versa.

    Your husband should definitely cool out. However, his only concern should be to make sure it’s a (Kappa) branded on sonny’s chest, instead of a Q (Omega).

  4. Buster Spiller

    December 9, 2011 at 11:09 am

    The parents, particularly the father, shouldn’t over react to this. It doesn’t matter if the body marking is a tattoo, piercings, or a brand. His son is an adult and capable of making these decisions on his own. He’s not his little boy anymore who has to be protected from the world. Most importantly, he’s an individual and individuals express themselves. I didn’t have any of those things growing up ALL those years ago (LOL!) but in college, I decided to get one ear pierced. Of course my parents moaned and groaned, especially my mother who tried to throw a Bible verse at me about disfiguring your body. I didn’t care, it was my decision. Years later, I got the 2nd ear pierced along with my younger brother, who encouraged me to get it done. My mother was appalled but said nothing since my brother is the favorite child. Seven years later, I got the navel pierced on a whim. 10 years after that when my teen son was living with me, I got both nipples pierced (he knew and thought they were cool, even though he thought I was crazy – LOL!). Then a tattoo on one shoulder. Then, another tattoo. Those were all MY adult decisions. As a parent myself, I understand not wanting your child have these displays of individuality prominently displayed as not to hinder you from gaining employment. With the exception of my ears, you would never know that I walk around with these various types of body art. But that was my choice. The decision of where to place body art lies solely with the individual. My son is now an adult and has various tattoos all over his upper torso, but all can be covered with a dress shirt. So mother and father of the ‘Brandee’, just chill! If your son is pre-med, apparently he is intelligent enough to make his own decisions.

  5. Will Jones

    December 9, 2011 at 11:44 am


    I was with you right up til the nipple part.

    Oh my DAMN! I understand your choice though… but still… DAMN (rubbing my chest while I type)

    Couldn’t do it! All the wholes I have in my body I was born with! LOL

  6. Cody Williams

    December 9, 2011 at 11:49 am

    Dang, Buster. I bet when you drink you spring liquids like a sieve. LOL.

    Anymore piercings you’d like to share with us?

    I once thought about getting a nipple pierced but decided I’d have to have very well developed pecs. If not, that could be very unsightly on an old guy like me. Ugly. That would be like getting a scrotum pierced. Which, I’ve heard some guys have done.

    While visiting a nude beach in Europe I ran into a very attractive woman who had her labia pierced. And there’s a black male porn star, so I’m told, who has the tip of his penis pierced.


    Big time, ouch!

    So, the moral of the story is that the mother in this case should be very glad her son just has a little’ole brand.

  7. vanzell

    December 9, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    although I chose not to ‘get hit’, and would not recommend it, your reactions ar typical and probably best. just use this as an opportunity to move your method of communication with your son from adult-child to adult-adult. this will probably generate more feelings of love and respect from him to the two of you. this is a real opportunity to reestablish your relationship with your son and build the next level.
    and I agee with Cody, better it be the diamond of KAPsi than any other that would surely scar the young man physically and mentally for life… 😉

  8. Resigned To The Fact

    December 10, 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Thanks for the insights, folks. Rene, your point about the name-calling is a good one. Things are cool right now, but I’ll be sure to revisit this before bringing the boy home for the holidays next week. And for those who asked, dad is an Air Force veteran and son is Delta Kappa Epsilon. Both are proud of their affiliations, and rightly so.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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