meeting my son, upon occassion

I have two children, as different as the sun and the moon, the experience of being their father is a series of tacks to the wind and moments of shocking clarity often concerning how utterly different two children of the same parents can be.

My daughter is a bundle of energy, a fountain of comments and a nudge bordering on tyranny. Her brother by contrast is observant, tactful and non confrontational. I don’t know if it’s possible to raise children and not see them through the highly personal lens of our own childhood. In the case of my son I often recognize in his behaviour echoes of my own childhood. His quiet thoughtfulness and matter of fact posture while playing by himself reminds me deeply, resonantly of the flowering of my understanding of the world when I was a child. 

By his age (4) I had already found many corners and hiding places. I kept these kingdoms, not from my parents, but from the tyranny of my older siblings. My brother, now 5 years dead, six years older than I, was cruel and domineering. My parents, recognizing his problems, did their best to insulate me but in the end sharing a room and home with an older sibling translates to close contact at every level.  When I won my first fist fight, aged 7, my friends looked at me with wonder since I was outwardly bookish and a peacemaker. What they, outsiders, couldn’t see was the turmoil in my home where I learned to scrap behind closed doors, forced by my older brother who would only accept complete dominance or battle.  In the end he never succeeded in enslaving my will but he did make me a better Dad.

My daughter daily agitates for command and control of her brother. He, in turn, sometimes plays along but often sabotages her will or, more often, fights her to a standstill. In this, in him, I see myself.  I do not discourage him. Instead I try to work with my daughter on the underlying anger that fuels her campaign for Queen of the world.  This is a balancing act since I do not wish to discourage her ambition or drive only her blind need to control.  Sadly my ex terrorized her at a very young age. I didn’t see it coming and failed to stop it. Now I spend considerable time attempting to undo some of the damage. My son, by comparison, weaned by me and largely raised by me is only terrorized by the echo of his mother in the person of his sister. Sadly my ex is a continuing threat to the kids. Waiting for her to cycle through one of her periods of psychosis, when she might do anything leaves me with knots in my stomach as I wrestle with the ghosts of what I imagine she is doing while they are in her care.  Fortunately Ian is approaching 5 without having experienced outright trauma at his mom’s hands. 

Ian is, after all male. For all of you  “sexual difference is a result of environment “nuts please go off and read something else, you’ll learn nothing here. He is male and as a result is completely different from his sister.  He will often turn up quietly at my side and tug at my sleeve. He looks up at me quite calmly “Dad can I have a fork, three toothpicks, your shaving creme and some string?” He sees the doubt cross my face “I’ll do it in the bathtub. Don’t worry. But the fork might get broke”  This train of logic is very male. My daughter by comparison will bounce into my lap and bubble “Dad come upstairs and watch me build a mongoose trap!” My son will test it first and then calmly invite me to a demonstration at my convenience.

Since my daughter has now started horseback riding lessons I get to spend one afternoon each week with my son solo. It’s a pleasure and it reminds me how much easier one child is than two. My son, so far, has opted to continue life as he knows it and make no new demands on me when he has my undivided attention. He draws, builds puzzles requesting help from me when stuck or frustrated – and constructs elaborate scenarios that involve motorized vehicles and conflict. Sometimes these scenarios are simple wish-fulfillment. He can spend an hour playing “school bus”. He longs to be old enough to follow his sister onto the big yellow bus.  When my daughter plays school bus she takes the position of tour guide. For my son, there is only one choice, he drives and then fixes the engine when it breaks, then defends the passengers from incoming pirates and dragons.  I’m afraid he will find next fall’s first bus ride a major anti- climax.  [as an aside I’d like to suggest a national holiday that involves faux pirate battles for all children with the willing cooperation of adults. Now that would be something to look forward to. “Boarders away! Hoist the mizzensail and bring her to the wind!”]

Every night that my children are with their mom I call them. Invariably I speak to my daughter. It’s a five-minute conversation along standard lines. My son, happy at whatever he is involved in, always declines to speak to me or his mother when she calls them at my home.  The other night I called and my daughter, growing into her life, was off visiting a friend.  I found myself in a lengthy phone conversation with Ian.

“What are ya up to buddy”

“Nothing. Just playing.”

“What are you playing”

“Cars, trucks, gas station and airport with pirates”

“Sounds interesting. Are the pirates attacking the airport”

“Yeah, but then if they get caught they have to work in the gas station. ‘Cause pirates aren’t really bad guys, they’re just being bad. Not like real bad guys that are really, really bad.”

“I guess that’s true.”

“Dad? Do motorcycles have engines in the back or the front.”

“Usually in the middle.”

“Hmm…. so how do they make the wheels go?”

“With a chain”

“Oh”

“Do you know what a chain is?” I’ve learned to ask him about seemingly easy terms and concepts. I learned this lesson definitively trying to put pajamas on him. For about three months I would say ‘point your toes’ when I put on his pajama pants. He never would and finally I said ‘do you know what point your toes means!?’ ‘No! And it’s really hard to try to do it when you don’t know what it is!’ he replied.

“No. What’s a chain?”

“Like on your bike. The thing that goes from the peddles to the back wheel.”

“Oh yeah. Do motorcycles have peddles?”

The conversation when on like this for another twenty minutes.  We discussed the top speed of pirate ships, counting (he can count to 53, exactly 53 and cares not what lies beyond), calendars and what the date was, why his friend’s bike was faster than his etc.  Interestingly I believe I could have this exact conversation with almost any man including Barack Obama and neither of us would think it odd. I guess that this is the core of being male.  My son is just a guy like every other guy. There is only one difference.

“Dad, I miss you.”

“I miss you too son….”

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~ by Brad Morrison on January 10, 2010.

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