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Who's that laughing boy?

There's a little boy who walks around in my skin and bones.

I haven't actually laid eyes on him in some time now, but he's present, always handy when I need him.

We talk. Compare notes. Been pals for nigh on 70 years.

Some days I'll be walking along, and happen to catch my image in a storefront, and while not compelled to suddenly throw up my hands in surprise, it's definitely startling to see who it is looking back in the glass.

My mind having been elsewhere, I'm not who I expected.

Once upon a time, see, I was a dark-haired boy, and man, and now, no matter how murky the window, there always seems sufficient glint to highlight my hair and full moustache, both as pale as a winter's moon.

And the boy and I have a big laugh about that.

Now you know why I appreciate having him hanging around. He's a reminder that I'm all of me, from the beginning of time _ my time _ to this precise moment.

And that we make each other laugh.

But it's not all laughs. Not by a longshot. There's some serious stuff in the air to arrest our attention. Like this recent headline: "What Mom can do to make a boy a better man."

Why was I engulfed by guilt after reading that? Had I let my mom down? What could Mom have done to make me a better man?

The writer of the story beneath the newspaper headline had whipped up a little stew, a concoction of excerpts and quotes from authors of several hot, current books _ mom manuals.

In other words, a profusion of how-to advice. Seems to be a lot of that going around these days. Have you noticed?

Well, maybe there always was, but on my childhood street it was mostly free advice. Good thing. Somehow I can't picture any mom on that block peeling off a buck or two from her husband's take-home pay for a book on how to raise her son.

All in all, I think they did a darned decent job. Maybe they weren't as educated as the average moms of the present, but they inherently understood there are no shortcuts in nurturing. It requires a huge investment of time and self.

They taught politeness _ that endangered, cardinal attribute _ and they didn't shrink from putting the fear of God in their darling little ragamuffins.

Topics such as those were not addressed in the newspaper report, which is not surprising. This is, after all, 1994.

What we did learn is that there are all kinds of tricky, psychological facets to the fascinating subject of rearing sons today, and plenty of authors of how-to books are eager to assist.

As in the instance of the boy reluctant to play catch because of the fear he might be hurt. The expert in this case advises Mom not to coerce her son. Rather, she should explain to him that yes, it is reasonable he could be hurt. In time, then, he'll be able to take the risk in stride. See?

No, I'm not mocking such problems. But why is the little boy who's walking around in my skin and bones laughing?

Ed Hayes, 70, is a retired Orlando Sentinel staffer. He now is a freelance writer living in Orlando.

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