“Mum, some people are really lonely,” said the Wolf of Bell Street. “This lady I just met, I’m the first person she has spoken to today. You know the great thing about getting your quota early, is you can just chat with the person. I knew she didn’t want to buy solar panels, so I just chatted for fifteen minutes. Some people are really lonely mum.”

There’s a vignette for you of the types of phone calls that were coming in through the early months of this year to my wife, Lisa. And the Wolf of Bell Street is more usually known as Jack, our son.

Lisa received multiple calls daily in those first few weeks. Our son has taken a gap year after finishing high school.

From about Grade 3 up to Year 12 school was the proverbial round hole. Jack – a classic square peg.

The danger of a story like this is to simply compare and contrast and say that all is well now. How do I put this? Okay – if you have more than one child – do you reckon it is fairly normal that one might give you a slightly easier parenting run than the other? That’s been our story. Jack has an older sister who found her journey through school one that was meaningful, it made sense to her and it was rewarding. She could accept that some tasks might not appear readily relevant but was prepared to trust that they were all part of building towards her ultimate goal of doing as well as she could in her final year. She was a self starter, motivated. Still is.

Before he was The Wolf of Bell Street (we live in Preston), Jack had thousands of mornings where there was the opposite of self-starting – it was tough to get out of bed and even make it to school. There’s a delicate balance between looking after him (and his private ongoing journey in life) and also reaching out maybe to the mum or dad who is reading this and quietly saying, “He’s just like my kid”. Let’s put it this way – just because your writer facilitates experiences for mums and dads and their teenage kids in schools around the world, doesn’t mean that he’s had anywhere near all the answers as the dad of a kid whose had his challenges growing up. In fact there were plenty of times I stuffed up. Fear got in the way (for me), and at times I forced him to get to school on days when he was genuinely sick… sometimes sick because he was anxious.

So – in the overall comparison… holding the first few months of this year up against the last ten years, you would have to say, we have seen a pretty motivated, indeed self-starting young man.

Here’s another observation on the glorious imperfection of family life… if you are doing the parenting job as two people, I reckon there are very few of us in the world that have parenting styles that are in harmonious alignment.  In teenage terms (and no reflection on Lisa because she is a brilliant mum who can be tough when she needs to be), I would be characterised as the tight parent. On that score though there are the rare moments when we do get something in alignment. Lisa and I had said to Jack that his pocket money was going to finish at the end of January. By about the 27th of January, he was getting grumpy about this. We made it clear that the cut-off date was not negotiable. By about the 30th of January after marching up and down Brunswick Street with copies of his CV, he decided to try some online jobs.

“I’ve got a training day tomorrow, for selling solar panels door-to-door all around Melbourne” Jack proclaimed.

The next day he came home inspired.

“I reckon I can do this. The trainers there are awesome”

Through a few searching, gentle questions we learned that the job was purely commission.

And this is where, amongst the many times I stuff things up like offering advice when it is clearly unwelcome and probably not useful, Lisa and I high-fived each other.

Why? Well, because we said nothing. Lips – well and truly – bit and zipped.

We both enquired after to the contents of our inner dialogue as we learnt about Jack’s new job… that he had found himself.

We both thought…

“Sounds dodgy…”

“Commission only is hard – not sure he will last the week.”

“Door-to-door is really tough work.”

So here’s what happened. The next day, he started amongst the group of fifteen young folk who went to the training. The day after that, thirteen didn’t come back – it was just him and another girl. Within a week, he was the only one left from his training day and he was loving it.

The phone calls came in – pure joy – as reported to his mum…

“Just got my fifth lead mum!”

“Mum this old lady asked me to fix her oven… the door just needed some support so I made up a wedge of foil and got it to close properly” (To this day, we have no reports of an septuagenarian having recently been blown up in her kitchen from that suburb!)

He simply loved the incentive that came that when you sold 10 leads for the week, your commission went up five dollars and every sale to that point went up by five dollars as well.

Sitting in a local shed on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, my mates asked me how Jack was going three weeks in…

“Fellas – do you know he got 30 leads this week and he cracked four figures for his pay?!”

My mate Rob made the eponymous remark – “He’s The Wolf of Bell Street.”

Take-aways and other thought bubbles

  1. This article is for a lady named Tiffany. Last year when we chatted, she remarked – all your stories are positive, what about when you are having a tough time with your teenager. Well, Tiffany, apologies again that this does have a sunny tinge to it but believe me… it has and still sometimes is a tough journey with The Wolf of Bell Street. I want you to know, that if you are feeling like you haven’t got any more answers, I have been there. 
  2. Joseph Campbell, the famous writer and mythologist said “If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

For you as the parent of a teenager – I reckon one of the biggest protective factors in their life is having that bliss, a spark of passion – having something they love doing and they’re good at it. 

  1. I shared this story with my friend and colleague, Valerie Campbell-Hogg, facilitator of the Silkwood School – an amazing education community in the Gold Coast hinterland. She loved the story and then put her psychology training hat on and said… “Don’t worry about the times you have stuffed up, what I love is that you and Lisa got really clear about one thing… the money was running out on January 31. There was no daylight between you two. It was one simple, clear boundary. That’s the key – don’t have too many rules but make sure the ones you have are clear and non-negotiable.”

As always – if you wanted to write back, there’s a space below for you to do that. What memories, current issues, people came to mind for you as you read this.

Oh yeah and earlier today, I chatted with Ryk Goddard, about this story, on his Breakfast program on 936 ABC Hobart. Click on the interview below.