Monday, May 29, 2006

Arriving and Arrival

As a young boy I learned quickly to be self-sufficient and to fend for myself. At 10, I routinely cooked my own meals, did the laundry, sat down at the end of the day with our evening paper—The Augusta Herald. I started driving at 14 and would do the weekly grocery shopping at Harris Teeter which became Food Town which became Food Lion. Whatever its name on a particular day, the store was only a couple miles from the house and I avoided major roads. Aside from one bitter old woman in the neighborhood, no one ever said anything; and hers was but talk behind our backs. I’d never taken those types or their talk seriously anyway so it was of no concern to me.

During the years prior to the grocery runs, I spent my days and early evenings exploring the neighborhood, its woods and creeks, its railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill, its kids—younger and older; good and bad. From mid-morning on, I was away from the house building forts, walking the tracks and trails, throwing rocks at passing trains, skateboarding. My neighborhood was rough but I avoided serious trouble and temptation at most every turn. It was unnatural, really, how well-behaved I was. My mother always knew where I was and she knew she didn’t have to worry about me. Knew that I would manage just fine. And I did. I probably shouldn’t have, but I did. I was (and am) adept at avoiding fights; my run-ins with the Law were minor (either illegal firework offenses or witness to something not good). Although I have never not been around drugs and/or alcohol, I didn’t start drinking until midway through my senior year of high school. And drugs always scared me.

Fast forward many, many years. Granted, I have issues out the ass. I once described myself as having more issues than National Geographic. Now I say more issues than the New Yorker because I think I am clever and to my literary ear, it sounds more sophisticated (I am often wrong). But, truth be told, I turned out relatively okay. Except for a five-month span in 1999, I’ve always held a job. I’ve never been in rehab. I’m as sociable and charitable as the next guy. In short, I get by. I think a lot of that is due to the leniency I was afforded while growing up.

Sometimes I rehash my childhood and marvel that I am not a thief, junkie, or some other blight on the social landscape. See, I was granted a great deal of trust as a kid. Negligence is not to be confused with trust in this case. I believe that. But, I also believe I have been extremely lucky during my life. Luck and common sense can serve a person well. Surround yourself with good people and luck often takes care of itself. But, I admit, falling into “good people” is also in and of itself lucky. So, perhaps it is all luck—fuck, I don’t know. Who does?

All of that to get to this: I now am raising a Boy of my own. He is everything to me. I recognize the unfair burden this places upon him, but (as I’ve stated here before) to deny it would be dishonest. And of my flaws, dishonesty isn’t one of them. Em is a uniquely intelligent and kind Boy; and I think fine things await him. But in an ironic twist, I have become an overbearing, overprotective father to the Boy. He is only four, so much of my behavior is justified. But I worry that I have initiated a trend I won’t be able to alter as the months and years accumulate. It is a vastly different world from when I was a child. Or so it seems. In truth, the dangers are likely the same, but our awareness of them is more pronounced. I cannot fathom letting Emerson go off alone, exploring what he will need to explore in order to mature. This bothers me tremendously. How can he possibly grow into his own person if I am unwilling to let him out of my sight for a millisecond? Perhaps it is a moot point—a needless worry—at this young age as being constantly aware of him and his doings is indeed my job. But I do not foresee me relenting in the future.

Certainly, though, I’ll recognize this as unhealthy and instinctively know when to “give” a little. I have seen hints of it over the past six months. Maybe that bodes well for us. Who’s to say? But even when he is 10 or 12, I have trouble envisioning turning him loose to experience life and make decisions that will help shape who he is to become. I cannot imagine giving him free run of the neighborhood and allowing the natural exploration he will demand and deserve. And this seems damn criminal to me. I am aware of it yet unsure whether I’ll be able to correct it. Isn’t that some shit? A premeditated crime against my own Boy.

And so this is an example of one of the things that take up space in my crowded bean. I’m not a complete buffoon. I realize that at some point I will settle on a happy medium between the ultra-freedom I had as a child and the realistic limits necessary for raising, protecting, encouraging, and trusting a child in today’s uncertain world. These things have a way of working themselves out. It’s just a matter of wanting to do things right the first time—save us all a little heartache, you know? It’s difficult at times to find that middle ground. The correct answer.

It is no different than wanting to gift-wrap the world and hand-deliver the thing in its splendor to my son.

And it is no different than knowing that is the worst possible thing I could ever do for him.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Sentimental Revelations

Recently, I had a late afternoon appointment that kept me from taking Emerson to soccer practice. So his mother took him for me. Em knows what is expected of him during practice and during games. He does not have to excel, but he does have to try his best, be aware of his environment, and approach the situation with a healthy mix of fun and seriousness.

On occasion the Boy has to be reminded that lying in the grass and dirt, hiking his satin black shorts up to his chin, and annoying the living shit out of his teammates and members of the other team are not numbers one through three on the day’s agenda. That being said, I want him to have as much fun as possible while accepting the seeds of responsibility and dependability that come with being part of a team. In general, he does this very well. But, again, he has to be reminded from time to time. He is four. And he gets to be four for a whole year. But he also gets to have a lesson or three in the things that (hopefully) will help ease him into the next stage of his young life and then the ones after that.

I pulled up to the practice field during the final 10 minutes of the kids’ workout. Walking to the sideline, I saw three boys standing in front of the goal and Em sitting down as comfortable as if he were watching a movie and having popcorn. I spotted his mother across the field and she gave me a half-smile and slight head-shake telling me that Em had likely assed-out during his practice. That could mean anything from lounging in the grass to getting the other boys to play chase with him. I looked back toward the goal and Emerson’s eyes met mine. He stood up immediately, got a serious look on his face, and commenced to make the most of his remaining 10 minutes.

This was moving in ways I do not fully comprehend. Emerson did not get his four-year-old act together because he fears his father—of this I am confident. But there was something nearly tangible about the action that spoke equal parts to a respect for me and a healthy pride in self. A casual observer may have had a different take on the exchange. To me, though, at play that day were elements of a natural desire for a father’s approval; a recognition that there are expectations of behavior—even for children; and (for good or bad) an effort to not disappoint if disappointment is indeed avoidable.

It was an interesting revelation for me that day on the practice field. I allowed myself the suggestion that maybe I am doing some things right. I am all too aware of the things I do not do well. As such, I strive daily to address them, learn from them, and do them better. So it was nice to have this. Emerson and I laugh together every day. He often tells me I am his “best friend.” I tell him, “That’s right, Buddy. But remember, Daddy first. Friend second.” “Yeah,” he says. “Dat’s right.” It is imperative that he know the difference as we travel this road together. So far, I think, we’re both doing some things right.

That revelation followed a similar one of a few weeks ago. I noticed Em staring at me with the most beautiful, peaceful look.

“What are you doing, Boy?” I asked.
“I’m just looking at you, Daddy”
“Why?” I asked, smiling my own smile.
“Because I love you,” he said.

In those crystal blue eyes I saw a love and respect as deep as the seas. A love and respect nearly as deep as that which I have for him. And I was moved as never before. While I am doing the best I can, I do not feel for a moment that I have earned that from him. Not yet. It is nice, however, to see that he thinks I am ahead of schedule. For in much the manner I never fathomed my own capacity to love someone as I do my son, it never occurred to me that I might some day be as loved in return.

It is a grand thing and knows no comparison.