Winter Mute: A Father and Son's Endless Summer
Last Sunday, it was 83 degrees - in January! - under a nearly cloudless sky the color of a television tuned to a dead channel. It was beautiful; one of those nearly perfect days that makes some people want to move here, and makes it worthwhile for those of us who already do.
I desperately wanted to spend the entire day outside with my son, hiking up the Sam Merril trail, walking around the Rose Bowl, or playing frisbee in the street out front. But thanks to an unholy convergence of writing deadlines piled high around me, partly due to some poor planning on my part, but mostly due to a sudden explosion of OMFG DO THESE THINGS RIGHT NOW requests that dropped into my lap on Friday, I was stuck inside.
I wasn't going to complain; at a time when more and more people I know are losing their jobs and I'm starting to get survivor's guilt, I'm grateful to have enough work to keep me inside on a Sunday. Still, I sat in my chair and looked out the window, at one of the most beautiful January days I've seen in my 36 years riding Planet Earth, and felt the warmth of the sun on my face. I looked back to my desk. The TO-DO list was long and devoid of checkmarks. The blank document on my monitor was a perfect sea of white, disturbed only by an insistent blinking cursor.
I took a deep breath, and got to work. Nothing came easily, distracted as I was by the unnaturally perfect day that was just 25 steps away, but I eventually made my way through it all, and in the fading light of the afternoon, spent about ten minutes throwing the frisbee with my son. It was the best ten minutes of my day, and my only regret was that it didn't last longer.
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I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a sentimental guy, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I love my kids more than anything in the world. I would walk through fire for them, or even sit through one of those holiday movies with the talking animals. Which I did when they were little. More than once.
Anne and I were absolutely not the cool parents who worked really hard to be friends to our kids and then wonder why they're total fuckups as adults. We were not the authoritarian parents who bark "because I said so!" at every opportunity and then wonder why they don't want to be around us at all once they're adults. We were authoritative parents who worked very hard to be fair and consistent. We let them make mistakes, did our best to help them learn from those mistakes, as we did our best to raise kids who would be kind, successful, independent adults.
Every day, our kids affirm that we did a good job. Ryan's a sophomore in college and Nolan's a senior in high school, and they're both kicking ass in school. They're incredibly mature compared to their peers, they're kind, they're funny ... but most of all, they're young adults who I genuinely enjoy being around.
This weekend wasn't nearly as perfect as last weekend. Sunday was nice, but it was very breezy and the humidity was low enough to give me a sinus headache. Monday, it was cloudy in the morning and a little hazy all day long, but as the shadows got longer, and my deadlines loomed closer, I made an executive decision to take a break.
I walked into the living room, where Nolan was watching TV.
"Hey," I said. "Do you want to go out front and play frisbee with me?"
"I don't know," he said, with a wry smile, "is your Old going to be able to keep up with me?"
"Only one way to find out," I said.
For the next 40 minutes, we ran around in the street together, making spectacular throws and equally spectacular catches.
Okay, one of us did, and the other one was reminded that he's not in the same great shape that he once was, but the important thing is that both of us genuinely enjoyed each other's company, as we always do.
Shortly before it got too dark to keep playing, a dad ran down the street, trailing his five-year-old, who was wobbling on his tiny two-wheeler bike, which had knobby tires and was smaller than the smile on his face.
"Is that his first day without the training wheels?" I said, as he passed.
"No, he's been at it for a few weeks," he said.
I saw the pride in his face, heard it in his voice, and remembered feeling that myself over ten years ago, when Nolan took his training wheels off all by himself and just started riding without my help.
"I remember when I did the same thing with him," I said, pointing up the street at my son, who is now 17 and 6'1.
"Wow, I guess I should pay attention to these things, because he's going to be the same size as him before I know it!" My neighbor said, pointing at his son and then to mine.
"Yeah," I said. "Good idea."
Cherish them, I thought, because sooner than you think, you're not going to be able to keep up with him.
Just then, the wind blew something into both of my eyes.
(Photograph by Kevin Scanlon)
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