I know what you’re thinking. And if you want that kind of advice [on how to father a son, or daughter for that matter] then you might want to check out Wikipedia, Urban Dictionary, or, well, just go ask your parents. There is always the ultimate option of “finding these things out on the ‘street'”. Ooh… Sounds positively dirty.
What I’m talking about is being a father to one’s son. And I have just the story to share on the subject.
A few nights ago my wife had to go out for a few hours. She left me with the usual instructions. “Make sure Son reads two chapters from his book to you, make sure Daughter takes her shower, and carve that turkey on the stove.” Yeah, I’m still puzzled about the turkey.
I got this, I thought to myself. They are, after all, my kids and I’m pretty decent at taking care of them.
I proceeded to tackle things in reverse order. The turkey? Well, he was pretty tough and I couldn’t find the electric carving knife so I gave up.
Daughter’s shower? “Sweetheart? You stink. Hit the showers!” I called from the kitchen while placing the tin foil back over the turkey. Done.
“OK, Son, where’s that book?” I asked. He approached me with a copy of something called A Cricket in Times Square. Looked simple enough. The pages were small, the text was big. I hate crickets but I love Times Square so maybe there would be a balance.
The thing is that Son began to mildly complain. “Daddy, this book is sooooooo big and I want to watch the Turtles!” I laughed out loud at the thought that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still on the air. “Listen young man, quit complaining and let’s get it knocked out together.”
While we sat on the front porch together, he reading and alternately asking me how to pronounce difficult words like Connecticut, I sipped my glass of wine and realized how much fun this is.
And the experience conjured up an isolated memory in my mind of my own dad and his quirky awesomeness in how he fathered me. I’ve got to find a different phrasing for that.
I was six years-old (same as my son is now) and my dad was home so it was either a weekend or he took some vacation time. For some reason he decided I needed to read a book. I’m guessing it was a Sunday and football was on. Did he hand me The Cricket book? Nope. My savant-esque, genius of a dad placed into my hands a gem called…
Ages in Chaos: A Reconstruction of Ancient History from Exodus to Akhnaton by Immanuel Velikovsky (1952, Doubleday, 350 pp.)
He claimed to have read it when he was a boy of my age and was fascinated by. The book, for the record, weighed more than my head. The first thing I noticed was the lack of pictures. The second thing I noticed were the handwritten margin notes penned by my father and dated 1820. OK, so he’s not that old.
For the next three hours I slogged my way through the first five pages. As you might imagine the text is dense and the words near-impossible for the average six year-old to digest. But, the old man had told me to read the first chapter and being the obedient son I was, that’s what I did.
Bringing the book back to him I awaited his round of questioning to insure that I had read this
piece of crap wonderful work of scholarly scholar-ness.
“Son,” he said, “Give me your summary.”
I stared blankly for a moment before attempting to string something cogent together.
“What in the hell are you talking about?!” he finally said. “What were you reading?”
“This book,” I replied. “This… Ages in… Chah-ose.” And that’s when he realized that I hadn’t a clue what I was doing.
His next clue came when he began to ask about the Middle Kingdom of Egypt and its “garbled history”. Again, I attempted an answer that made no sense.
“Where exactly were you reading?” he asked.
Now, my veracity called into question, I boldly yanked the book from his hands and, grabbing the first few pages between my thumb and index finger, I exclaimed: “This, Dad, the first chapter!”
He wasted no time.
“Son, that’s the damn foreword.”
And with that we gave up. I never did read that book though I did study the art and archaeology of the ancient Near-East as part of my religious studies degree.
Coming out of my trance, I looked down at my own little boy. “Cuh-NET-i-ket, Son,” I said. “Huh, Daddy?” “It’s a state near New York.”
He looked at me like I was crazy and returned to his book, clearly having moved several pages ahead while I was daydreaming.
And as he continued reading about the cricket I returned to my thoughts. So he challenged me. I seem to have turned out OK. God bless him. From that one experience I at least knew there was an ancient Near-East. None of my friends knew that. And he did discuss that book with me as time went on, though I never read it myself.
But to this day I have never read the foreword to a book.
And I still chuckle ever time I hear the word chaos.