Free Web Counter
Web Counters

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Middle Man

I’ve been a son. And I’ve been a father. But lately I’ve been troubled coming to terms with being both. My son Ben is three. Somewhere out there (well, actually there is nothing mysterious about this, I’m sure it’s cataloged, boxed up and filed away in a closet of my parent’s home) is a collection of 16 mm home movies that I remember seeing long ago. In one of these films, my older brother and sister and I are dressed in bad polyester pajamas opening presents on Christmas in the wood paneled den of my childhood home. In another, we play with the family dachshund before we had to give it away because of my brother’s and my allergies. I don’t remember the films having any sound. What I can remember is an image of my young self that is virtually identical to Ben.

My parents regularly confirm this. "It’s like having you around all over again" my mom will say. The resemblance is probably more projected than actual, but it’s hard not to see patterns repeating. He’s a tender child. Warm, affectionate, humorous, adorable. Naturally thankful and gracious. Developing. Young. "Good as gold" as my Mom would say, likely repeating something my grandmother used to say about me. He’s bright, inquisitive, and funny, but small and fragile as a young child should be. This is something new.

We didn’t really experience this phase with our daughter. Olivia seemed to emerge from the womb fully matured and already insisting upon her way - "Can’t someone clean this stuff off me? Hey, watch it! That instrument is waaaay too cold! That wasn’t 7 pounds 8 ounces, it was 7 pounds, 8.2 ounces." It’s hard to remember moments of tenderness shared with her.

My job lately has required more time and there have been fewer moments period. Some Sundays I have to go into the office for a few hours to get prepared for all that Monday through Friday will demand. Some days require me to arrive early and/or stay late. I often can’t drive her to school in the morning because of another commitment. There are meetings or conferences in the evening or overnight that keep me away. More insidiously, there is the time I’m home, but not, because the demands and stress of work keep me from being fully present. I’ve worked hard against this last one, but I know I haven’t fully succeeded.

Friday I had lunch with my dad. There were some papers they needed my to sign so that, as executor of my parents’ wills I’d be listed as an authorized signer on their bank accounts. We were also going to try and clear up some things on my own bank accounts which actually go all the way back to when I was a child and my dad set them up in my name. The bank has changed names 3 times, but I haven’t switched and his name is still on the accounts. Can’t say why. Inertia I guess.

I see how precious the times with my kids are, yet I see them already slipping away. Last weekend I hoped to spend lots of quality time with them both, but my daughter who’s 7 had a schedule filled with playdates, birthday parties and general activity with her friends. I can still monopolize Ben’s time if I want and play on the floor with him for hours until my stamina gives out. This period is so short. Not far away will be adolescence when time with parents is merely tolerated at best. I was already talking in the car on the way to school the other day with Olivia answering questions about college and whether or not she will move away when the time comes. It will be here in a blink and I don’t feel prepared, emotionally or financially.

In the meantime, my dad tries to speak to me about news, my job, politics, religion, home repair, whatever. And 9 times out of 10 we are on different wavelengths. I don’t want it to be this way, but I can’t help finding myself irritated with him. I don’t know if it’s really him, or frustration at the void between us. I don’t think, vote, believe or emote like he does. We don’t read the same things, watch the same things or do the same things. I see him play on the floor with my kids. I can’t remember him ever doing that with me. He was a figure of mystery, authority, and probably some undeserved fear in my childhood. In my adult years, he’s been a help and a rescuer so many times. He’s fixed cars and plumbing, offered money and advice. Helped my wife, watched my kids, given rides to the airport or a car repair shop, helped move furniture and spent hours helping me meet some commitment I made and found myself unable to fulfill alone.

More often than not I’m less than gracious in these moments and I take him for granted. I regret this deeply and wish it were not so. Then I am with him again trying to have the simplest conversation and finding no common ground.

Some nights I try to read books to my son, but mom is still the preferred parent. She goes to exercise early in the mornings and if he wakes, I try to comfort him and get him back to sleep. More often than not, after I convince him Mommy is not available, he says "I want to sleep by myself" and I’m banished back to the world of showering, shaving and getting dressed while he puts himself back to sleep.

How long till find ourselves sitting in a cramped booth in a Subway restaurant, one of us eating tuna, the other salami? One of us wheat bread, the other white. One of us Democrat, the other Republican. One of us Southern Baptist, the other something else. One giving advice, the other refusing it. Planning for death, avoiding the subject and finding at last common ground in sharing the joys and the beauty of his child and my grandchild.


Post a Comment

<< Home