Hoping for a Broken Bone

Dear Will:

My right thumb is swelled up like an Italian sausage and I have a welt on my arm that makes it appear that I went out and got a budget tattoo of Saskatchewan on my left biceps. There’s also a mustard-yellow bruise on my sternum, and my ears are sore (I didn’t even know that was possible). All of which confirms that I have been doing something inappropriate for my 44-year-old body.

That something is jiu-jitsu.

What in the world would compel an otherwise rational, middle-aged bald guy to take up a glorified form of street fighting? That part’s simple: Luke, my occasionally rational, 14-year-old manchild, has done his research and decided that this would be the coolest of all martial arts to learn. Since it’s a half-hour round-trip to the studio where he trains, it quickly became obvious to me that either I should sign up with him or resign myself to sitting in the parking lot with a good book.

Which of course begs the question: Why in the world would an otherwise rational, middle-aged bald guy not welcome the excuse to read a good book? I look down at Saskatchewan and wonder the same thing myself.

Luke, on the other hand, is thrilled. He’s learning a very manly art and gets the chance three times a week to beat up on his old man. What occasionally rational, 14-year-old manchild wouldn’t welcome that? I’m sure, in fact, that the possibility of pummeling and humiliating his dad will keep Luke attending these classes for many months to come. At least, that’s my fear.

Every session we learn some new moves and then “grapple.” It’s little more than a glorified wrestling match at this point, with lots of sweat and grunting and very little that resembles anything that one might consider “martial arts.” And because I sit at a desk all day, my conditioning might best be classified as “abysmal.” So I can go about two minutes before my grunting turns to gasping and I find myself stretched out on the mat hoping for a broken bone or seizure to end my misery.

When I was 14, I played basketball and ran track and  spent long hours visiting the elderly and reading to the blind. (Hey, it’s my story; I’ll tell it the way I want.) Why couldn’t my son take up basketball instead? I could stand under the hoop rebounding for him and not once wonder about the details of my HMO formulary. I could even hold my own in H-O-R-S-E with a distinct competitive advantage in the early going. And while I might still run the risk of bruising from time to time, I guarantee you the welts would look more like Rhode Island than some obscure Canadian province. I would also have the glory of an occasional good shot and even maybe a victory from time to time.

But no—my son wants to be a street fighter, which virtually guarantees that I will return home after each session a beaten man with only the vaguest notion of what to do next time I get jumped in a dark alley. My real fear, of course, is that the guy jumping me in the alley will be Luke, who will already know the only two jiu-jitsu maneuvers I’ve learned and will be able to execute them better besides.  (Note to self: no more dark alleys.)

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I need to find someone else to give my son a ride to class. Interested? Think of it as a way to see Saskatchewan without ever leaving Orange County.

PW

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“Why Should I Ask God?”

Dear Will:

My wife Dana and I have been grappling with a difficult decision in recent weeks, one which for years to come will have a rather powerful impact on Luke (our eldest)—and on our whole family for that matter. Because Dana and I are both smart enough to know how little we really know, it seemed like a good idea to us to make the decision a subject of fasting and prayer to see if maybe we could get God’s help in sorting it all out. He knows what’s best for us, we figure, and so why not try to get Him to tell us?

Thus resolved, we invited Luke to join us in our quest for spiritual insight, assuming that he would do so without much prodding. But this was another of those times in which a teenager zigged just when Mom and Dad figured he would zag. “I already know what I think I should do, so why should I ask God?” he explained. “Even if he gives me a different answer, I’m going to do what I want anyway.”

His honesty was refreshing even if his attitude was not. Try as we might, we were unable to persuade him that it would be helpful to know ahead of time if he were about to embark on the wrong course of action. As all of this was taking place, I was reminded of a time when I was—get this—about his age, a time when I did not want to ask God for guidance for fear that, once informed, I would be held accountable for whatever He told me. I was familiar enough with the implications of religious living, and I was not yet prepared to commit. So while I wish Luke had a little less hubris, I have a hunch I know where he got it. (Don’t you just hate that?)

I don’t believe that Luke is particularly unique in this regard. The world is full of people who live strictly by their own counsel—we all do from time to time, I suppose. Likewise, our history books are rife with those who have risen and fallen based almost solely on their own cunning. But what I hope for Luke—and anyone else similarly inclined—is that the day will come when he feels the need for help from One wiser and more powerful than he, and that when that moment arrives he will know where to turn and do so with appropriate humility.

Fortunately, as our family struggles onward, help is on its way. This weekend the Church will be holding its semi-annual General Conference, and we’ll have the chance to hear from our prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley.  It’s the next best thing to hearing from God Himself, but I’m hoping that my son might pay attention since it will be coming to him through the TV screen. In my view, it’s a chance for him to get an answer to questions he has not yet been willing to ask.

Who knows if it will really work that way for him. I can tell you this, though. It often works that way for me, which is why General Conference weekend is always one of my favorites. If nothing else, maybe it will provide me some insight on how to be a better father. God knows I need that. Besides, I’m sure there are plenty of questions which I have not yet asked for which God, through his servants, has already prepared an answer. Now the only remaining question: When He tells me—as surely He will—what am I going to do about it?

PW

A Lesson for Dad

Dear Will:

Father’s Day provides me a great excuse to tell you why I love being a dad. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but at the same time the rewards are immeasurable. Allow me to illustrate:

The other day my four-year-old Seth informed me that he had planned a “lesson” for me. He said that as soon as I was done with what I was working on I should come upstairs and look for the pachycephalosaurus, a small plastic dinosaur which would indicate where I was to sit. It’s hard to say no to an offer like that, isn’t it?

Of course, I finished as quickly as I could and headed to the “classroom.” As it turned out, the “lesson” was broken up into two parts, starting with a play in which I was to take the role of a pachycephalosaurus while Seth played the part of the triceratops. (Some advice: Should you ever have to play that pachycephalosaurus role, you’ll avoid the wrath of the director if you keep in mind that the pachycephalosaurus walked on two legs, not four. Who knew?) The play was followed by a rousing game of Go Fish, which I lost as usual.

The whole sequence of events was a marvelous pay-off for a dad. When Seth informed me that he had prepared a lesson for me, he was saying, in essence, that he wanted some time with me. What a flattering, wonderful thing. He has other ways of communicating that to me as well. On Monday, for example, I stayed home to work from my study rather than go into the office. Every half hour or so, Seth would get bored with what he was doing and, without saying a word, he would slip into the office and snuggle up in my lap. It made it hard to go through my email, for more reasons than one.

The day will come, I’m sure, when my little buddy tires of me and would rather hang out with friends or (gulp) a girl. But for now, I’m still his best pal, a title I bear with great pride. I will do whatever I can to hold onto that position in hopes that we remain pals throughout his life, even when friends and other interests begin to occupy his thoughts and time.

Of course, even as I write this, Seth is trying to figure out how to climb up into my lap. And so I must set down the laptop to attend to more important matters. I hope you understand.

PW