A friend's college-sophomore son came home for Spring break. Rule of the house: do your own laundry. But morning of day he was to leave and return to school, his room was piled high with dirty laundry. The mom was holding her ground on the rule when the dad asked his son to help him out at a soccer game he was coaching. The mom, liking the idea of father and son coaching together, decided she'd "help out" by doing her son's laundry. When she was dumping the first load from washer to dryer, she discovered she'd washed his wallet--it had been in the pocket of a dirty pair of pants. I'll let her words take the story from here:
"So i took everything out of the wallet to let things dry. And I found a fake ID [a driver's license form another state, giving his age as 21]. I was very upset about it. It's illegal to have such a thing and when our son was home at Christmas break, he'd gotten drunk with a friend and caused a commotion in our backyard that caused a neighbor to call the police. I didn't want to confront him with the fake ID so when everything was dry, I put it all back in the wallet --except the fake ID. I kept it.
"When he came home, I told him about washing the wallet by mistake. Later, as he was getting ready to leave for the airport, he went through it. And he asked, Wwhere's my ID?' I said, 'Your ID [his real license] is in your wallet.' Well, he got really angry and we were shouting at each other. I said the fake ID was illegal and that given the drinking problems last Christmas, this was no way to win back his parents trust. He said he didn't use it to buy liquor. He used it to get into concerts. The shouting went on. It got so bad I refused to drive him to the airport.
"He hasn't spoken to me since. I wrote him an email explaining why I did what I did and how I felt about fake IDs. He sent back a reply that was just short of saying f--- you."
What an issue! You find something illegal in your 20-year-old's possession, something that could, in the long run, bring him harm. But you found it going through his wallet--even though you didn't mean to be going through his personal items.
My friend says her friend with a son her son's age says, "all the kids have fake IDs. Forget about it." She doesn't buy that would-you-jump-off-the-cliff argument.
I asked a friend who has a 24-year-old son what he would have done. "It depends on what was going on in the household. Were the parents letting their son have parties in the home where his friends were allowed to drink? If so, they don't have much to stand on about using the fake ID to buy liquor. I would have taken the ID but talked to my son directly about it--about my concerns about under-age drinking. I wouldn't have waited for him to discover it was gone."
Paterfamilias, a lawyer when he's not a sounding-board dad, saw the situation differently. He was not primarily troubled by the illegal document but by the mom's actions. By his lights, she should not have looked in the wallet--should not have taken stuff out to dry. And if she did and found the fake ID, she should have tucked it back into the wallet. If there was an issue about drinking and his buying liquor with a fake ID, she should address that separately--not connect it to the fake ID. Going through his wallet, however inadvertent, and then using what she found there to confront her son, "breaks a bond of trust."
Another friend, whose youngest is 33, makes light of the "illegal" act. She had a fake ID when she was growing up in Brooklyn. All her friends did. LIke me, this friend had an intrusive mother. So she reacted as I did: "I would have tucked it back in and never said a word about it."
For some of us, a fake ID is not a big crime. But what if the item she found was worse--illegal drugs, say, or evidence of an interset in child pornography? Does that change the way a parent would react? It's a slippery slope between inadvertently finding damaging evidence and behaving like an intrusive snoop.