One of the best parts of being a father took place in the moments when my son first learned how to read during our adventures to public restrooms.
The request would come at any time and any place and be phrased something like “Dad I need to go sit.”
Sometimes we’d end up in places that provided ample reading material and he’d ask me to explain what certain phrases mean.
“Dad, who is Julie and why should we call her for a good time?”
“She is probably a nice girl who likes playing with her friends.”
“Do you think I’d like playing games with her?”
“They might be grown up games, not sure that you’d like them now but one day I expect you’ll probably like playing those games with girls.”
“I don’t know dad, girls change the rules all the time. They complicate things.”
What You Were Born To Do
A dozen years later that boy tells me to hold still because he wants to see if he is finally taller than I am.
“You grew differently than I did. If you look at our growth charts you’d see I was bigger than you at birth and bigger at virtually every age until around now. I am pretty certain that you’re taller than I was at 17, but my feet were bigger.”
He makes a face and I tell him there is no hidden meaning.
“Sometimes there is. Sometimes there are layers.”
“Yeah, sometimes there are but I am also as direct as they come and the people who need to know precisely how I feel know.”
“Is that is why you told that guy to go fuck himself at the gas station? Or are you talking about when you told that other guy if he didn’t treat mom with respect you were going to kick his ass.”
I tell him I was smiling when I said what I said to the guy who attacked his mother.
“Why? Did the thought of punching him make you happy?
“No, I thought it would make my threat less threatening and give him an opportunity to apologize.”
I shook my head and laughed.
“Nope, he is 6’4, which makes him about 6 inches taller than me. He ran out on the field and screamed that I had threatened him and demanded I be removed.
We ran into each other later on and he told me I was lucky. I told him I’d rather be lucky than stupid and added something about how money doesn’t buy class.”
“Dad, why do I think it was more colorful than that?”
“I am a writer and not a fighter.”
The conversation weaves in and out of a dozen topics and I wait for him to decide if he is going to tell me what he is really thinking about.
It comes in fragments that I weave together and understand to be among the most universal of all questions.
“Who am I? Why am I here and what am I supposed to do my life?”
“I grew up with a father who basically had one job. Grandpa worked for the county for 38 years or so.
By the time I had my third job I started to wonder if I was some kind of failure or if I had made the mistake of trying to be the round peg in the square hole.”
He looked at me and asked what happened.
“A girl told me I was born to be a writer and that is what I should f0cus on being.”
“Did she read anything you have written or did she just say it because she thought you wanted to hear it?”
“Yeah, I think she read a couple of things but I don’t think she ever said something because she thought I wanted to hear it. Hell, she said all sorts of things to me that weren’t really what I wanted to hear.”
“So you pissed her off?”
“Yeah, but I made her happy too in that “Julie call me for a good time kind of way.”
“Dad, that is disgusting and I don’t want to know any details.”
In between howls of laughter I reminded him he didn’t have any details and couldn’t say if I was talking about Parcheesi, Chess or Checkers.
“The real message here is twofold, good/great communication skills will be of great help in your professional life and they won’t hurt in your personal either. If you learn how to talk and not text your way through conversations…”
We Get What We Deserve
Our conversation sets off a series of memories pinballing through my head and I find myself chasing down moments I have already lived through for the purpose of introspection, projection and inspection.
I see me at 17 sitting in a classroom where a man tells us we get what we deserve and think how lucky he is I can’t travel back in time to verbally pummel him for trying to deny hope to those who may have opportunity he felt denied to him.
We can’t wrap our children in bubble wrap and protect them from the world nor should we ensure they never fail.
They have to learn how to get back up when they get knocked down but we can’t let them get beat down either.
He has been through a lot already this son of mine and there are moments where I am amazed by how well he has responded and moments where I shake my head because the response isn’t what I expect.
But he hasn’t gotten what he deserves and what he has gotten isn’t because of what he did any more than it is for most of us.
There have been moments where I wondered if I was being punished for certain choices but they never lasted because I don’t believe life works like that.
And because those choices woke me up and made me realize how I had been slumbering.
They’re why I sometimes look side wise at some things I have been told because I don’t believe you can experience certain things and say others unless what you said before wasn’t true.
But that is a side issue.
Loose Lips Sink Ships
“Dad, who do you want to choke on a piece of meat?”
I look up and see the girl who stole my hair smiling at me.
“Baby girl, I own that mischievous smile you’re wearing. That is mine.”
“Yeah, yeah, just like all the hair you don’t have. Abba, you are funny when you write. You make faces like you are talking to yourself.”
“I am, always. It is how I write.”
“So who is the dumbass that is supposed to choke on a piece of meat?”
“Remind me to never say anything around you. Don’t think I don’t know you and your brother play dumb sometimes. My sisters and I did the same when we were kids, except grandma and grandpa spoke in Spanish when they didn’t want us to understand.”
“I know, it didn’t work because you always knew what your parents were thinking.”
The accompanying eyeroll is exaggerated and I shake my head.
“I am not one of your little friends, don’t roll your eyes at me. One day you might want to read some of these, might give you some insight into things. Might be interesting, or it might not.”
Facetime interrupts our moment, “got to run abba.”
“Tell him I say hi.”
She giggles, turns red and walks away.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
When I close my eyes I can hear him whisper and ask what he did to us.
I whisper back something about trying to fix what he didn’t do and smile as he starts yelling.
Got to find a new doctor and get a physical and make sure there aren’t any old man problems.
I don’t feel old but faces and pictures of myself, friends and family on Facebook suggest otherwise.
We’re really not that old, but we’re really not that young either.
It is the middle part, more or less and I am trying to fix things to make more.