Frequently, Nick asks me for help making a soft-sword.
“Dada, want to make a sword with me?”
This is not a request a father can easily ignore. It is, actually, the sweetest invitation I know. I think of Paul Revere and his son, making silver teapots together. Did Paul Revere even have a son? No matter.
I walk the few steps from my study into the hall, which is his workroom. Newspapers are spread out everywhere on the tile floor. Nick is grappling with a pile of newsprint, trying to make a tiny fold along half of one edge. He motions me over and I grip the other half. We begin rolling together.
The first three folds are the key to a good soft-sword. If they’re done right, the sword will have strength and rigidity. Done wrong, the sword will flop.
The first fold is about one inch, depending on the thickness of the pile. Then you must fold that part in half, and fold it in half again.
The edge is too long for one pair of hands to accomplish all this. Two pairs of hands are needed. We roll in concert.
“You’re going too fast for me,” I say.
He stops for me to catch up.
“It’s not even,” I say.
“This one sucks,” he says. He unravels everything and we begin again.
It usually takes us three or four tries to get it. Sometimes Nick will start ripping the pages in frustration. Sometimes we’ll finish a sword, only to have Nick test and throw it across the hall, pronouncing it a failure.
As I know failure begins with those first three folds, I’m quick to point out when we start going astray. I’ll say things like, “This isn’t going to work” or “It has to be tighter.”
I worry about being hypercritical and discouraging him. (Nick is easily derailed by criticism from his friends.) But we have our successes, and he will always get back to it after a bout of frustration.
I asked him once, “Does it work for you when I say it’s not right? Is it like someone at school saying something of your sucks?”
“It’s different,” he says.
“Because we’re working together?”
“Yes. You’re a good dad at swordmaking.”
Which is enough for me.
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