(The Hamilton Spectator – Monday, July 24, 2017)
Today we’re going to talk about the boy. Child #2. My son.
You may have a boy also. And if he hasn’t yet put his head inside the open mouth of an alligator, then, well, congratulations.
My boy announced recently that he’s going to jump from a plane. “I’ll get my friends. We’ll all jump together,” he informed me. This, when he turns 18, a parachuting party into adulthood.
My boy also tells me that he’s now planning a career as a daredevil. I don’t know. I mean, do RESPs cover daredevil school? There he is with his friends, I’m picturing, riding three days on the underbellies of a parade of wild forest elephants.
This is what makes my boy so easy to love: his boyishness. Nothing makes him crazier than being hindered from going about his boyish business. “Dad, can I wear my skates to bed?” Or, “Dad, I’m going get a tattoo of a fish.” Or, “Dad, I lost my underwear at school today.”
“Uhuh,” is what I always say.
School, of course, can be a sore spot for my boy. “You’ll never believe what happened today,” he told me just before summer break from his Hamilton public school. “Dad,” he said, “they gave us a walk-and-talk recess. We weren’t allowed to run. They said it was too hot.”
Too hot, I guess, to laugh, too.
That got us talking about Africa, where, yes, it’s hot, and where my boy, as you may know, largely grew up. It’s where he did run, where he saw life in its many shades, where he captured his high and noble sense of boyhood. In Africa, that place of more danger but less fear, where my boy (we were chimp trekking) has, indeed, walked through real forests inhabited by real forest elephants.
Today, it’s hard to say how much of this contributed to his current daredevil career path, even as it’s hard to say how much of his Canadian experience led to my son’s previous desire to be a hockey player. (A hockey player, he astutely reasoned, to make enough money to be a farmer.)
But by now you get the drift. It’s a bloody business to be a boy, even as it’s a bloody business to be a parent. Nothing (short of eating a pack of razor blades; please don’t give the boy any ideas) can cut you open like parenting can.
So goes the parenting drumbeat. The days may seem long, but the years are a blur. Some blood along the way is just part of the ride.
My boy knows about this too. One sunny day he was chasing, naturally, a girl. Full-flight, he fell on a cement stair. By the time I was in the school’s nursing station to see his forehead split open, the colour of his blood-soaked clothing was beyond recognition.
Later, on the surgeon’s table, a large needle of anaesthetic going into his head, my boy looked up at me in wide-eyed horror. He screamed while I held him down, “No Daddy! No Daddy! No!”
Today, it comes to mind. And more. There’s my boy’s recent waterskiing manoeuvers on an Ontario lake. His “Dad, look, I’m playing hockey on my Ripstik!” His recent late-night ER visit. His mother’s worries.
The world, in its fears and lies, will always try to squeeze this sort of life out of its boys and mold them into something less. But some boys never lose their esprit libre, their spirit of generous living. My boy, it seems, will always be one of those boys, just like, maybe your boy, or boys, or future boys, will be.
It’s all not bad to think about today. Because today is my boy’s birthday. Yes, today my son Jonathan, middle name Thomas, turns 12. Twelve. It’s the last year, they say, of pure boyhood. A transition year into things more manly. Maybe. Maybe men can be boys too.
Once upon a time, after all, the boy’s Old Man made his own parachute jump. That was long before I ever imagined my boy. Or his sisters. Or the children’s mother. In my youth, that was a crazy jump, for sure.
Funny enough, family life, I’ve discovered, isn’t much different.
Happy birthday, son.