The small boy (me) stretches out on a worn sofa next to the man (my dad). He is watching television. The man wraps his arm around the skinny boy, protecting him from the world. In response, the boy asks the man a lot of questions, drowning out the evening news, but the man never shushes him like I (so often) shush my son when his life intersects with my own adult busy-ness.
Just a second, buddy.
Hold on a minute.
Let me just finish this up.
The little boy on the sofa asks the man (his father) the umpteenth question: “When you were a little kid like me, what did you want to be when you grew up?”
The man pauses, then speaks barely above a whisper.
“When I was a little boy, all I wanted to do was play baseball. That’s it.”
The man squeezes the boy a little closer, and the boy’s insides are crushed, not by the weight of the embrace, but by the realization that the man (his dad) had a dream that didn’t happen. Suddenly his house feels small and inconsequential, an indefensible structure in the face of a dream-squelching world.
But his father keeps hugging him, and eventually the small boy drifts off to sleep, and the weight of his dad’s arm is enough.
* * * * *
The small boy (my son) perches in Willie’s passenger seat during a five-hour trek into southern Georgia. He asks the driver (me) a million questions, and for the first time in too long the driver listens, and he answers every one.
“Did they have TVs when you were my age?” the small boy asks skeptically.
“Yes!” the driver protests, laughing. “I’m not that old!”
The small boy laughs mischievously.
“What was your favorite food when you were my age?” and “What were your four favorite sports, in order from one to four?” and “What did you like to do when you were a kid?”
Later the young boy would tell his mother, “I love sitting with Daddy at the front of the bus when he tells me about when he was a little boy.”
* * * * *
My dad sent me an email shortly after we left on our trip. In it he told me how he followed our big blue bus much further than I had realized, and how when he finally stopped he parked his car and watched us vanish into the traffic and over a hill and then we were gone. The things he said in the note made me feel like that boy again, lying beside his father on the sofa on a hot summer night, falling asleep as Dan Rather relayed events going on around the world. Events that were powerless in the face of his father’s love.
It’s a good feeling, when your father pays attention to you. I need to do that more, for all of my kids. Just stop and listen. And keep the world at bay for them.