“I was the first one dressed,” he said.
It’s not a race.
“I was the first one done with dinner,” said the other.
You shouldn’t eat so fast.
“I’m the winner,” they said in a rotating series of blurs and screams and clouds of dust.
We’re all winners here.
Everything is a competition, from brushing their teeth to pulling on their socks. It is not a race against the clock, nor is my schedule of any consequence. It is the beating of the other that drives their actions and heralds the subsequent gloating, which in itself is a competition, pitted as it is against the wails of banshees and the agony of defeat.
We are all losers here.
“I’d rather be jogging,” he read from my shirt. “Daddy, what’s jogging?”
“It’s what people used to call running,” I answered. “It’s a long, slow run to nowhere in particular.”
“Where is Particular?” he asked.
“Someplace quiet,” I told him.
“He says he’s stupid,” whispered my wife. “He says he hates himself.”
“Why?” I asked her.
“He won’t tell me.”
And then I walked down the hall to beat the demons from my boy.
“What’s the matter?” I asked into the thin line of moonlight that separated us.
“I don’t know,” replied a voice in the night.
“You are a sweet, smart, and wonderful boy,” I told him. “Mommy and I love you, and we are proud of you.”
He started crying and leaned forward to put his arms around my neck.
“What’s the matter?” I asked him again.
“I don’t know,” he cried.
“Do you feel okay?”
“Are you sick?”
“Did something happen?”
“Did you do something?”
“So why are you upset?”
“I don’t know,” he said again, and then he pulled me tighter.
We sat there in silence, two generations intertwined. I could feel his tears run across my face.
“You’re passionate,” I said into the dark with an ironic sense of stoicism. “You get that from me. Do you know what that means?”
“It means we wear our hearts on our sleeve. It means sometimes our emotions run away a little bit.”
“Like being happy or sad?”
“Like being happy or sad,” I echoed. “Sometimes Daddy yells too much. Sometimes I laugh too loud. Sometimes I do things without thinking just because they feel right, and sometimes they aren’t.”
“Do I do that?”
“What do you think?”
“I think you have that passion, too. It gets away from us sometimes, but it is a wonderful thing. Not everyone sees it that way, but it is. The trick is not letting it control you. That’s something we both have to work on.”
“Is that why I’m crying?” he asked.
“I don’t know.”
The morning was filled with the things that fill a morning.
“I was the first one in the shower,” said one.
Don’t mess around in the shower.
“I was the first one to dry off,” said the other.
Make sure your hair is dry.
“Let’s run,” they said in a rotating series of blurs and screams and bowls of oatmeal. “Let’s run!”
Finish your breakfast.
And the race was on and it never wasn’t, and the door slammed shut behind them. I watched them run up the hill, a race against the other—a race to nowhere in particular. Their feet jogged like memories and their laughter grew all the louder.
They ran away like emotion.
This post first appeared on DadCentric in February, 2010.