Probably the ultimate delight enjoyed by little ones is to chase and wrestle with their parents, especially the father who can still be perceived as a bit more threatening than Mom, but still safer than a real tiger.
The passage of years seems to steal the child’s ability to enjoy anything at such a peak, especially pretend games with the folks. It’s the way of all flesh that they put away the things of their childhood and move on to weightier matters like MTV, Pearl Jam and ridiculing their father (formerly the raging tiger).
I am not in denial. I accept that my kids have moved beyond me in some aspects of life, that they may slip things by me once in awhile. I even suspect that there’s a special shared joy in having sport with their unwitting father (see the tragedy of King Lear). I forgive them for these things and others.
When my children reached high school age, they began to beat me in various competitions. I shared in my daughter’s delight as she dribbled the soccer ball around me for the first time, then outran me to the goal and buried the ball in the net. I forgave her. Her squealed taunts were music to my ears.
And the first time my son eked out a win over me on the tennis court, I responded to his braggadocio by encouraging him to try even harder in the next game (see the movie “The Great Santini”) and there was another game, and another game until I forgave him (and he in return carried me to the car, took me home and put me to bed).
When my darlings defeat me at Scrabble by playing “block” with two-letter words rather than composing seven-letter wonders (with only one vowel) as Milton and Bradley intended the game to be played, I did not demean their strategy by suggesting that they couldn’t beat a passenger-seat dummy (not consistently anyway), although the occasion begged for the remark.
These kinds of things I can forgive. Youth has the advantage in most of these sorts of competitive situations. Their bodies are young and their minds are not filled with clutter picked up over the decades.
What I can’t forgive is the way they are treating me now that they’ve been young adults. Nowadays, I rarely (possibly never) win a set, game or match against my son on the tennis court. Sometimes I catch him giving me “soft” balls to return. And after he still beats me and I furiously slam the game ball onto the roof of the Safeway store across the street, he has the disrespect to tell me, “Let’s hang it up, Dad. I’m bushed.”
He’s not so tired. He’s stealing my father role from me and forcing me into the child’s role. This I can’t forgive.
And his sister gives me the joy stick to the video game and explains what I need to do to win although I’ve played the game a hundred times before. The fact that I am furiously (and unsuccessfully) trying to dodge fireballs does not keep me from seeing her hand slowly drift down to the game control and switch the skill level down to “beginner.”
Where does she get off? I’m the same guy who used to let her win at checkers. This I cannot forgive.
Then a friend of mine gave me his old (three years) computer when he replaced it with a modern one. I didn’t have any unbalanced checkbooks or recipes to file but I desperately wanted to get on the Internet that everyone was talking about.
My impression was that the Internet held the entire body of human knowledge and recently I’d had this vague feeling that the people-in-the-know knew a lot more than me, people like the aforementioned offspring who happened to walk into my new computer room while I was setting up the old computer which was missing the old instruction manual.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
“I’m taking the on-ramp to the information highway,” I answered tapping the “enter” key repeatedly with increasing force.
“Ya’ gotta boot it, Dad.”
“That’s just like you teenagers, son, you get mad and think that using force can solve your problems.”
“No, he means boot up the computer,” his sister chimed, “so you can use it.”
My son pushed my rigid shaking hands off of the keyboard and typed some unintelligible responses on the screen. He and the computer dueled and after some minutes, my son appeared to be winning.
“Are you ‘cybering’ with it?” I quizzed, trying to sound computer literate.
“Yeah … OK, Dad,” which was the response that he customarily used to convey incredulity. “There, you’re ready to go,” he said stepping back and pointing to the keyboard.
I tapped the “enter” key sharply as if I knew what I was doing. Then I hit it again.
“Well, where’s the highway?” I barked in my most authoritative father’s voice.
“Whaddaya talkin’ about?”
“THE INFORMATION HIGHWAY!” I took the offense when he revealed his ignorance with the question. “So, there are some things you don’t know about the computer world after all, eh, Mr. Know-it-all?” I was using Know-itall in an ironic sense.
“Do you think it comes through the plug-in?” his sister said turning on me in a savage attack. “You’ve got to hook the modem up to the phone line and buy into an information service like America Online or Compuserve.”
“Like I don’t know that,” I counter-attacked. “Do you think I’m some kind of computer idiot?”
The two of them nodded to each other in one of those secret sibling communications and walked out of the room, leaving me alone with that damn computer.
That I cannot forgive.
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