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Public views a hard lesson in parenting

On behalf of the community, I welcome Byron and Michelle Austin-Brown to the next phase of parental life.

Those folks who are, or have been, parents of teenagers learn the hard way that it is not easy. Even the best of kids sometimes have the worst of times. The desire to do what they feel like, instead of what they should do, occasionally overwhelms just about all of them.

Think back. Any adult who, as a teenager, never lied to his parents, snuck out of the house or took a forbidden smoke or drink can now step forward.

I didn't think so.

The eight-day public saga of the mayor's "stolen" SUV ended Friday morning. The perpetrator, as many suspected, was the Brown's 16-year-old son, Byron III. After early and repeated denials, the lad -- always polite during public appearances and described by his father as a "good boy" -- admitted Thursday he took the car the morning of Feb. 24 and sideswiped a few parked vehicles near the Brown home.

It always seemed like the likely explanation. The "thief" had the key, because there was no damage to the vehicle. Surveillance photos from nearby Canisius College showed a young black male exiting the damaged SUV and walking toward the Browns' home. The longer the mystery persisted, the more people believed the mayor was misusing his power to cover up for his kid and to spare himself political embarrassment.

Some folks may still believe that. But I don't buy it.

I am not naive about politicians and what they are capable of. But I think the mayor, whom I have known casually for years, and his wife are decent people. I have a hard time imagining they knew from Day One that Byron III was the culprit, and covered it up to avoid personal and political embarrassment.

One, stonewalling does not work politically. It turns a one-day hit into a long-running gauntlet of speculation. Two, it sends a horrible parenting message that the way to deal with a problem is to lie about it.

Brown did the stand-up thing, and stood up Friday in front of the media. He admitted to the community -- hundreds of thousands of folks -- that his kid lied, he and his wife were deceived and they are sorry about the whole mess.

You could not help but feel sorry for the boy and his parents. The Browns are buttoned-down folks, big on respect and appearance. The boy, an only child, knows the rules. But a lie takes on a life of its own.

"He said he tried to tell us [the truth] many times," Brown said, "but was fearful it would damage his relationship with his Mom and I."

There are plenty of perks that come with political office. Part of the price is the public airing of what, for the rest of us, are private matters.

Apologies and explanations come not behind closed doors, but in front of TV cameras and notebooks. The teen's misdeed and subsequent dishonesty are not hashed out just at the Brown house, but chewed over at everybody's dinner table. It makes a tough, hurtful situation even harder to deal with.

Is there still reason to question what Brown knew, and when?

Maybe. The mayor said that the teen caught on the surveillance tape didn't walk like his son. Yet it was not a continuous film, in which movement is obvious, but separate images.

Brown said his son could not have gotten back into the house without him knowing. But the boy obviously did.

I suspect that not everybody buys Brown's story. I chalk up the mayor's stance to a parent's faith in his kid and desire to believe him. Romantic love is blind, but parental love is blinding.

The Browns now know better. And everybody knows it.


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