After an amazing meal in Duluth with our sons, my wife and I headed back to our hotel with plans to head down to the semi-fancy, trendy lounge on the second floor. But when we pulled into the parking ramp, we noticed that nearby a block appeared to be cordoned off, and we could hear music and see a crowd of people.

    It was a block party/street dance sort of affair, so we parked and strolled on over. Over the next three hours or so, we enjoyed an abundance of fresh air and people-watching - we were probably the oldest people there by a couple of decades. And the band, Big Dave Wave and the Ripples, was supremely skilled.

    But, first, let me rewind a few hours, back to that stellar feast at Bellisio’s Italian Restaurant & Wine Bar. We were going over our sons' finances as our oldest embarks on his junior year of college and his younger brother starts his freshman year of college. If you're a parent with kids who have gone to college, are currently in college or planning to go to college someday, you can probably deduce the general tone of the chat. Our oldest couldn't help but raise his eyebrows a bit ominously when we told him where his student loan balance currently sits, and I likely increased his stress level an infinite amount when I went into what has become my tried and true rant: Student loan debt at some point is going to cripple this nation's economy and, therefore, cripple this nation in general. How can fresh college grads being paid introductory-level wages afford decent wheels, a decent place to live or any other purchases that keep the economy humming along when they’re also strapped with what essentially amounts to a home mortgage?         

    My wife and the mother of our two boys then went into what has become her predictable counterpoint to my point: Possessing a college degree will give our sons more earning power throughout their working careers, and even with loans for tuition to pay off, they will be better off in the long run.

    So, back to the block party...

    The young people were having a festive time, to say the least. As the night progressed, the crowd swelled and what early on was a scattered couple dancing here and there grew into a mass of young people jumping around and gyrating, as we stood off to the side enjoying the music and the spectacle of it all.

    Then I started to notice it. First, it was a young woman, obviously a college student. She was dancing and looked to be having a blast with the guy she was with. But what was it that she was also doing in tandem with her dance moves? The lighting wasn't the best, but I could see her frequently bringing one of her hands to her mouth for some odd reason. And then I saw the cloud. She was vaping. This vibrant, full of life girl was filling her mouth, throat and lungs with fruity-smelling water vapor packed with a major nicotine punch, and she was doing it over and over and over.

    So I started looking for others like her, and they weren’t hard to spot. Bringing a hand up to their mouth, taking a big pull/drag on their slick little e-cigarette device, and releasing vapor, some in tiny clouds almost impossible to notice, and some big, brilliantly white and puffy.

    The next day at lunch with our boys, my familiar college loan debt diatribe gave way to my no-less-foreign lecture on vaping: Who knows what chemicals lurk in that delicious-smelling hot liquid contained in those ultra-cool tiny devices? Do you know how much more nicotine you vape compared to a traditional cigarette? Do you know how much money you’ll spend on this habit over a lifetime? Do you know the degree to which smoking of any kind can potentially/likely impact in a negative way every other health problem your body might encounter, now and when you’re older?

    But you were young once, so you know how it goes with kids in these scenarios. You can’t tell them anything they don’t already know, but they’re convinced they’re invincible, so they partake in negative, even dangerous behaviors anyway.

    But on this occasion, to my pleasant surprise our sons offered a challenging retort that left me grasping for an answer.

    “So what’s the worst problem, dad, college debt or vaping?” one of them asked.

    “But I thought distracted driving and staring at our phones all the time was our biggest problem?” his brother added, no doubt recalling my countless agitated monologues on that subject as well over the years.

    Well-played, boys. Touché.

    College debt, vaping, and being distracted by their phones. That’s a terrible trifecta right there. It’s hard out there for a kid, and maybe not so bad for a guy approaching 50.