Losing things, Part 2: Rites of passage

by Wolf Pascoe on January 21, 2013

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.




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

Sitting with men



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.)


If you like this post and have a Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account, please consider sharing it by clicking one of the buttons below:


Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Chad Nikazy January 21, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Beautiful post.


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Thanks, Chad. Glad to see you.


Barbara January 21, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Your post reminds me to be grateful I had both of my parents while growing up – in fact, I still have both of them. It’s easy to take that for granted. But your mention of people who felt disqualified even though they have that parent…I think that would be worse than not having the parent in many ways.


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2013 at 3:17 pm

I had an uncle who resembled my father–my father’s brother–whom I got along well with until I was a teenager. Then he seemed to me arrogant and shallow at times–my rebellion. It occurred to me I might have felt the same way about my father. It was a strange sort of feeling, rebellion-in-absentia.


Pamela January 21, 2013 at 7:11 pm

This is beautiful and being a mom I haven’t thought enough about the father son bond. Thank you. Wrestling is good. Lately my 7 year old has regressed back to hitting when he is upset. He said he has these big feelings and needs to “get them out on someone”. Wrestling or pillow fights might be helpful. Thank you.


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2013 at 10:04 pm

JustAddFather is here to help.


Privilege of Parenting January 22, 2013 at 12:12 am

We all remember different things from the same stories… I remember how Hans must steal the key from under his mother’s pillow, the key that lets him out of the protective mother castle, for although she loves him very much, an act of transgression is required for the boy to enter the world of men. What I love about fairy tales is how anyone can share the story, mom, dad, teacher, friend and become the needed mom, dad, witch, wolf or raven to help the hearer on their woodsy way.

Here’s to qualification through connection, be it wrestling with kids or with angels (oh, I guess that’s sort of the same thing)


Wolf Pascoe January 22, 2013 at 1:58 am

Qualification through connection
This is so right.


Kyle Bradford January 25, 2013 at 11:31 am

Do you stay in touch with Bly?


Wolf Pascoe January 25, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I haven’t seen him for a few years. It gets harder as he’s slowing down.


BigLittleWolf January 26, 2013 at 3:20 pm

This one leaves me aching, Wolf. I realize it is not the same to lose a parent to death as to the war-riddled remains following a bitter divorce, but I worry for my sons. What they didn’t learn and didn’t feel when their dad was gone so much before we split, and more so, after.

That is their cliff; at about the same age you were when you lost your father. How will they ever learn what it is to be a man, raised by a woman who was unable to bring a good man into their lives in any real way?

I wonder about our damage created of absence as much as presence, of overcompensation as much as abandonment, our lifelong fear of abandonment or worse – being the one who leaves.

This is particularly elegant: I’m more exhausted than he is because in addition to wrestling my job is to keep us both safe.

I believe those words capture the essence of the parenting job. Allowing them to gain strength enough for exploration and fight, while we guard against the most serious dangers – at least, those we can see.


Wolf Pascoe January 27, 2013 at 1:27 am

It’s inner father your boys need. From everything you write about this marvelous pair, it’s clear that connection is well underway.

As to abandonment, who among us hasn’t been?


The Exception January 28, 2013 at 1:43 pm

This hit my heart, maybe in the same manner that it hit Wolf’s. My daughter hasn’t seen her father in a year though he lives less than five miles away. The relationship was never close it never really had a chance for many reasons known and unknown. My daughter is well adjusted and all round fabulous; however, I don wonder what his lack of attention and lack of” claiming” her and seeing her brilliance. The relationship between father and daughter is one that can not be replaced – we can only do the best we can. She is lucky to be the sparkle in my dad’s eye – but I do wonder how her life and experience are impacted?


Wolf Pascoe January 29, 2013 at 11:00 pm

I suppose time will tell. Meanwhile, what a gift to have the grandfather she has.


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: