My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. — Jim Valvano
Lately things have gotten serious between me and Nick. He says things like, “I love you,” and “Can we go camping, just you and me?” and “Will you sleep in the trundle next to me tonight?”
I said, “Let’s camp in the treehouse.”
I’m always plugging the treehouse. I went to a lot of trouble to get that treehouse built. But it’s been cold and rainy lately, and I let it go for the time being.
We have a new ritual.
He comes home after school and says, “Pillow fight.”
We clear a space around the living room couch, then lay into one another with pillows. Pretty soon we’re wrestling. He’ll get me in a headlock.
“I surrender,” I say.
“More,” he says.
So we wrestle until we’re both exhausted. I’m more exhausted than he is because in addition to wrestling my job is to keep us both safe. Not easy with an opponent as fierce as Nick.
When the wrestling is done we collapse out of breath on the couch next to each other. Our breathing attunes. No words are spoken.
If there were words, the words would be: “I love you. I don’t know why I want to kill you, but I love you.”
Nick is ten now. When I was his age my father had been gone two years. At that time we lived near an aunt, my mother’s sister, who, when she spoke about me to others, would refer to me as Greta’s boy. Greta was my mother.
This aunt had a son my age whom I played with, and I spent a lot of time with their family. Whenever her friends would visit, my aunt would introduce me to them by saying, “This is Greta’s boy.”
I couldn’t argue. I was Greta’s boy. But I was also Elijah’s boy, though Elijah was gone. It made more sense, I suppose, to go with the living relationship. But shame is a strange thing, and can worm its way into your life’s subtext when you least expect it. The subtext of this particular introduction was, don’t mention the father.
Bly used to speak of the bond between father and son in almost mystical terms, an invisible, resiliant cord. It isn’t made of blood. Nick and I don’t share any blood and it doesn’t matter. Cord it is.
I suppose it was in place from the beginning, but now it’s making itself felt in unmistakeable ways. The bond is palpable when we sit on the couch after a wrestling match, just breathing.
Sometimes Nick will sit close and rest his head on my shoulder. He has this habit of reaching up and twirling his hair in his fingers. Sometimes he’ll twirl my hair.
It’s new territory for me, the experience of this bond. I didn’t get to wrestle with my father, or be out of breath with him. When he was around I was still too young.
Growing up as Greta’s boy made something in me fall asleep. I walked around for years that way, curating a weird sort of failure, sensing that something that should have begun didn’t.
WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?
I felt a sense of failure most acutely when I was around other boys and their fathers. I felt, there is no other word, disqualified. It was many years later when I realized that other men, even men who had fathers, also felt disqualified.
When Bly, who often told fairy tales in addition to reading poems, began telling the story of Iron Hans, rooms of men and women would grow quiet.
There is a scene in the story when the little boy says to the man, “What shall I do now?”
“You’d better come with me,” says the man, who lifts the boy to his shoulder and carries him off into the woods.
The moment took your breath away.
You wanted to say, The part where the man takes the boy with him into the woods. Can you tell it again?
Losing things continues next time with Stories
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:
Dimes by Chiwan Choi. This poem is what I mean about the bond between fathers and sons. I wanted to quote it in full here because it’s so damn good, but it’s its own post, so just go and read it.
Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)
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