The Man Who Kept the World at Bay

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.

12 Replies to “The Man Who Kept the World at Bay”

  1. Shawn,

    Thanks for validating my day. I had a similar experience this morning with my oldest two kids. It was “Dads and Donuts” at school. I knew about it for a while but to be quite honest, when I left work yesterday, I had completely forgotten about it. I left work knowing that today would be crazy and that I would need to get an early start. I was only home for a few minutes when I saw it on the large dry erase board in our kitchen which we simply refer to as “The Calendar”. If its on the calendar, there is no getting out of it so off I went to school with my two very excited and very proud kids. There were lots of dads and lots of donuts but it wasn’t about the donuts. My Blackberry chimed what seemed like every 30 seconds. Continually reminding me of the work that was waiting for me. They gave me a tour of the building. I saw their classrooms. I saw where they hang their coats, where they sit, where they read…I saw how they use choose their lunch for the day and where they hand in their homework. It all seemed so simple but when I saw how proud they were, I realized that this is everything to them. The fact that their dad took time to step into their world, even for 30 minutes, meant so much. I need to do this more. Our kids just want to be important to us. When I say “just a minute”, I am basically telling them they are less important than whatever I am doing which is never the case.

    1. You’re a great dad, JP. Sometimes I just need a reminder of how it felt to be a kid, and what a big deal it was when our parents spent a little time with us. The strange thing is, as you mentioned, it normally requires so little – a 30-minute visit to their school, a 15 minute game of hangman, listening to them as they show us something they created. Being present. I guess that’s it. Just being there. I get lost in my own brain so often.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. Both for bringing to my mind childhood conversations of my own, and the take-your-breath-away feeling when you get a glimpse of how fast our time with our children is going! Like your dad, I have a feeling I will be following my kids’ buses for a long, long time– I just pray is not with too much regret for missed conversations.

    1. Thanks, Lynn. I just took my email subscription off of my blog a few days ago while rearranging some things. I’ll try to see where I can fit it back on again. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. This is lovely, wise and deep. My father is all of those things and I am blessed to have many fond memories like these. He was patient and answered everything. It warms my heart to see that time has not lessened his patience, as he will sit for ages with my sons, listening.

    Wonderful post!

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