Archive for the ‘DadCentric’ Category
I saw my life flash beyond the window. It was brightly lit in shades of a day that once again I was not seizing. There were knees licked green by blades of freshly cut grass and hair grown golden in rays of sun. There were bright blue skies and brighter white clouds and a playful spectrum reflecting from the distant prism of children laughing.
I sat in an office worn gray with worry, lost between what I have done and what I am doing. I sat in an office and watched nothing as it bounced from tree to tree and fell small across the horizon.
The week is long hours and short nights. The boys are things that children should not be—bored, unchallenged, restless, and a nuisance. I am failing here and I know it. My day is filled with attempts at appeasement and endless piles of paperwork. I parent with shortcuts and scenic routes. All roads are long and winding. All detours are distractions.
The weekend is short and wicked. It teases and dances and whispers things I long to hear, and then it sneaks out the backdoor when I close my eyes for just a minute. The weekend is a mistress flirting across the calendar.
Sunday morning finds sighs where smiles should be and excuses where once were excursions. I am tired and there is work left undone. It is too easy to give the boys a task that taxes their time, like the cleaning of their room—a 15 minute project straight as the crow flies, and an all day affair for two little boys with more imagination than work ethic.
So it was that I sat in an office of gray, full of sighs and longing, while my sons stood in a sea of toys and discarded socks. We were all bored. We were all restless. The window was alive and it mocked me.
I leaned against the doorway watching them do the opposite of what I had told them. They froze when they noticed me. This is where the sighs come in. This is where I raise my voice and make mountains out of no hills.
This is where I am tired of failing.
“Let’s do something,” I said.
And we did.
This post first appeared on DadCentric in 2010, and it’s amazing how little life has changed.
“A boy in my grade was kicked out of school today,” said my 8-year-old son. He was bundled in a coat much too warm for the moment and carrying a thick binder with a thick strap over his thin left shoulder. He wore a backpack for overflow on the other.
Normally I have to pry the occurrences of the day from him, piecing together a timeline from the promising lips of a potential politician already adapt in avoidance and plausible deniability. A typical walk to the park goes something like this:
“What did you do today?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you go to the computer lab?”
“I can’t remember.”
“Should we stop for some ice cream?”
All the while his 6-year-old little brother provides the color commentary in the pauses between, bouncing around us like a cartoon version of himself drawn slightly off scale:
“What did you do today?”
“I don’t know.”
“He played dodgeball! I saw his class on the playground. They always play dodgeball!”
“Did you go to the computer lab?”
“I can’t remember.”
“He had library today! I had computer lab! He always has library on the days that I have computer lab! I saw his class in the hall!”
“Should we stop for some ice cream?”
This time was different. There was dirt, and dirt requires the shoveling of it. I stood there waiting like the proverbial pail. He had the strangest gleam in his eyes. It was distant and heavy and missing some pieces—holes in the blues where he used to blink innocence.
“What do you mean a boy was kicked out of school?” I asked, letting my mind wander down a list of ignoble infractions pulled from headlines and a personal history of assorted shenanigans.
“He told another student that he had…” he looked around to make sure that we were alone. His brother was chasing butterflies, bored with our conversation. “He told another student that he had s-e-x in the shower.”
I actually hadn’t expected that one.
“Oh,” I said. We watched as the youngest, his head in the sky, felt the sidewalk turn to grass beneath his feet. He launched his staggered skips into a swirling sprint and the butterflies teased him into the comfort of the park. I looked at my oldest boy with the holes in his eyes, and said, “Oh.”
“He said he had s-e-x with a girl in the class. He said he had s-e-x in the shower.”
“What did the other student do when the kid told him?” I asked.
“He told the teacher,” he replied. “And then the boy was kicked out.”
“The other student did the right thing,” I told him. We had been spending a lot of time trying to define the lines between reporting bad behavior and being a tattletale. Sometimes things are a little bit blurry, but this was not one of them. “That is something you should tell a teacher right away,” I said.
We talked more about it. We talked about the little girl and how it must have made her feel to hear someone say such things. We talked about how it was that he had come to hear the sordid details and what the playground consensus was on the matter. We talked about the things people do for attention.
We talked about everything until I couldn’t avoid the question any longer.
“Do you know what s-e-x is?” I asked.
He looked around, leaned close, and whispered, “Sex.”
“Yes. It’s okay to say it. It’s not a bad word. Do you know what sex is?”
“No,” he admitted. “But you have to be naked.”
“Sex is something for grown-ups,” I said. “Grown-ups that care about each other. It’s not a bad word and it is not a bad thing, but it is not for kids. It is for grown-ups. Grown-ups that care about each other. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” he said.
“There is going to come a time when we sit down and talk about this more, about sex, and that time is going to be a lot sooner than I care to admit, but you are 8-years-old, and frankly, I’m not ready to have that conversation yet… unless you are.”
His eyes were filling with tears. That is something that he gets from me. He leaned into my arms and got lost in a hug.
“No,” he said. “I don’t want to be a grown-up yet.”
“Okay,” I whispered, “but if you have any questions I want you to come to me. Don’t ever be afraid to come to me. You know that, right?”
He was quiet for a moment, sitting awkward against a cement bench that offered rest in lieu of comfort, and watching nothing in particular.
“What did you learn?” I asked him, unsure of what I’d taught—unsure if I had taught anything.
“S-e-x is for grown-ups that care about each other. It’s not bad, but it’s not for kids.”
He looked me in the eyes. Mine were tired and heavy, his were blue and sparkling against fading wetness. His tears had fallen like a soft spring rain, and I could see fresh innocence growing in the corners.
“And I can tell you anything,” he said.
I couldn’t see the butterflies. The distance had grown too great. But I could see the space between small feet and cool grass. The sun was brightest there.
“Should we stop for some ice cream?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then go and get your brother.”
Image by Ben Workman, used with permission
According to the birds in the pink-covered trees, spring has sprung. But they’re just dumb birds, what the hell do they know? I wore a sweater this morning.
Seriously, I’m writing about the weather. It has come to that.
Also, I’m writing about birds and how they aren’t nearly as smart as they think they are. At the end of the day they all taste like chicken.
The thing about spring that makes it worth mentioning is that a young man’s heart turns to baseball. However, my heart is old. It pumps coffee and bourbon and stops on a dime at least twice during every greasy dinner. My boys’ hearts have turned to other flights of fancy, and our family schedule has filled with stress accordingly. The fun kind.
Every week we have multiple sessions of gymnastics, swimming, Spanish, soccer, and piano. Plus school, homework, and random PTA crap. Frankly, it’s time-consuming.
I’m going to need a bigger DVR.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have the boys involved in any number of activities. When I was a kid such options weren’t readily available to me. Sure, there was baseball, 4-H, and Cub Scouts, and I know that each took a commitment of time and money from my parents, but I didn’t know it then so I didn’t appreciate it. I make sure my kids know. They are living in the now.
For the most part my sunny days (and there were a lot of them growing up in Arizona) were filled with the same activity: Outside.
We had adventures in the desert and the dry riverbed. We rode in huge tractors and jumped for hours in the itchy awesomeness of raw, freshly-picked cotton. Our playground stretched, literally, for miles. We traveled by bike and horseback. We packed heat (BB guns) and strapped knives on our belts (official Rambo survival edition with matches in the handle). There was always a pack of neighborhood dogs panting loudly at our side.
I look back fondly and I can’t help but wonder, what the hell were our parents thinking? Then I remember they didn’t have NCIS and CSI:Wherever back then. They were ignorant of the dangers that we surely faced.
It is spring. My boys and their time are both accounted for. Their schedule is full and tiring. On the weekends they put on their coats and their gloves, strap sticks to their sides and face the well-known.
Sometimes we walk to the edge of the neighborhood where the forest waits, and with it the lure of danger and adventure. The woods stretch, literally, for miles. The boys run around bends and down paths forgetting that we are, relatively, far behind them. They are alone and they are free. Their dogs pant loudly at their side.
There are echoes and there is laughter. It is the song of spring, and the sound of moments to remember.
The birds pale by comparison.
A version of this post first appeared in 2011 on DadCentric
I walk a line called fatherhood and my balance is precarious at best. Toes fall over edges smoothed with kind words and late night hugs. Feet slip upon surfaces left wet by tiny tears and early morning accidents.
It is a path that my father walked before me, and his before him, but the scenery is vastly different and always changing.
It is a path that my peers, friends, and men everywhere stand upon, some more firmly than others. Yet the path is my own. It started where I started and it will end where I end. There will be steps backward and jumps ahead, but it will never be alone. There is no harness for fatherhood and there is no net. We are daredevils on a tightrope and to fall is to fail, and to fail is not an option.
I am every man. I am the Great Santini. I am Atticus Finch. I am Cowboy Gil, as in guil-ty.
I have retraced steps to find things dropped hours after their loss and minutes into the crying. I have walked blocks from strange places to find substance in the hours where no child should be hungry. I have looked into my son’s face and said things that embarrass us all.
I have slammed doors and stood behind them as you cried yourself to sleep.
I have slept in your bed, curled around you like a blanket and felt my legs grow slowly numb.
I heal your wounds and you fix me when I am broken. We meet in the middle and find much happiness there.
The line is not straight. It loops and knots and forks, and maps are useless and hard to fold. Road signs consist of frowns and smiles, and we choose our adventures accordingly.
We run, we skip, and we waltz upon it—watching our steps in equal turn with refusing to do so. Some jumps require both feet.
When we pass each other we nod and wave. We tell tales of where we are going and stories of where we have been. And in the distance there are children laughing loudly and growing way too fast, each breath a beacon and a breadcrumb, guiding our footsteps to the place that we call home.
A version of this post first appeared in 2010 on DadCentric.
Skip: You guys. You lollygag the ball around the infield. You lollygag your way down to first. You lollygag in and out of the dugout. You know what that makes you? Larry!
I wasn’t an athletic kid. Sure, I played a few seasons of little league, but I was so bad, and my confidence was so shaken, that I spent most of my time feigning migraines and moping about the dugout. Those seasons, in hindsight, seem more romantic now—the beat-up glove and wooden bat, the brand-new pair of shoes. It was a moment in the sun and it burned me accordingly. It instilled in me an early sense of failure and doubt, which, for the record is the opposite of what it had promised.
I realize now that a lot of what I accepted as goofiness wasn’t really my fault. I was tall and skinny and had the coordination of a one-legged drunk. You couldn’t see me if I turned sideways. My legs went up to my neck, a breeze could knock me over, and my mother forced me to get a perm, which isn’t really relevant but still fucked up.
Luckily, for me, I had other strengths to fall back on and I made it through my childhood nearly intact. By the time I finished high school I was actually becoming quite the sports fan and could spend an afternoon shooting hoops or tossing around the football without looking like a total schmuck. Of course, I had missed the years of coaching and development that my peers had, but I had fun and I was no longer embarrassed.
This just in, being a kid is harder than it looks.
And so I was little hesitant when my son expressed interest in playing baseball. By interest I mean that the neighbor mentioned it to me and the boy wasn’t against it. The neighbor was the coach and by the time we had our first practice I would be his assistant.
Why? Because baseball is what happens between yesterdays and a good stretch, and watching a little league game is like watching children act out poetry. A boy in a ball field just feels right.
I couldn’t help myself, and it wasn’t long before the old fears became new again—I was afraid that I’d look like an idiot some 30 years later. I was afraid that my son would be just like me. I was afraid of not letting him try.
He had never played baseball. His two visits to Dodger Stadium had seen the game overshadowed by hot dogs and cotton candy. All he knew of bases consisted of Hoth and Echo and random games of tag. He had a used glove that he hadn’t worn in over a year—the last time I had tried to engage him in a game of catch, and the last time he had made it clear that he didn’t find it fun. I promised myself that he would not feel the pangs I once had.
The other coaches showed up with bags of bats and balls. I showed up with baggage and a box of granola bars.
This… is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.
Practice started on a sunny morning on cool, green grass. The team practiced this and they practiced that. The coach coached and I assisted, and in doing so I learned things about the game I had never known. Turns out I had never been taught proper fundamentals and technique despite three years of showing up to do so. I felt the stirring of confidence in a hole long left empty. I felt ghosts slowly fade away.
Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.”
You can look it up.
My son took the field and he threw the ball. He hit the ball. He caught the ball. He rounded third and headed for home, a blue-eyed handsome boy.
On a sunny morning I stood on cool, green grass and felt my losses repaired. It was our game and a blessing to us.
A group of boys ran by me, my son among them. They smiled and laughed and turned left along the baseline.
There wasn’t a lollygagger in the bunch.
With apologies to Bull Durham and John Fogerty.
A version of this post first appeared in 2010 on DadCentric