My son loves a sunny afternoon. Doubtless, he will tug at my pant leg, grab at my hand, or in childlike desperation use mysterious skills and attempt to dismantle our screen-door to find fresh air and sunshine. And doubtless my wife or I will heed his pleading and let him scamper across our postage stamp yard at every opportunity.

Likewise, the bubbling laughter and antics of Hayden, the boy next door, echo across our threshold, usually followed by strict warnings, fierce rebukes, or screaming, yes screaming, denouncements as he tries yet again to do something disorderly.

As a family, the three of us hardly notice the disturbance next door. Hayden is six months older than Samuel, and he speaks not just words, but sentences clearly and concisely proclaiming that he will not do as he’s told. Samuel merely watches from across the sidewalk separating our two yards as if he were walled in safely from Hayden’s chicanery.

Like all boys, Samuel and Hayden both dare to hazard themselves in the hopes of proving their invincibility. While I often gently caution Samuel against self-destruction, Hayden runs carelessly, words of anger and retribution from his mother or grandmother following in his wake. At first, I thought this to be bad parenting, simple ignorance of his welfare, until the day of “The Chase.”

Most afternoons, Hayden’s grandmother is busy salvaging what she can from his escapades while his mother, Katie, works.  His father, whose name I’ve never heard, uses Hayden as a trophy at family gatherings, promenading him about until the party really begins. Then it’s back to Katie or her mom.

You see, Katie didn’t expect Hayden; he was an unsolicited surprise. There are times when I’m sure Katie means well, but immaturity, coupled with inexperience, drive her into a social life where children are a hindrance or nuisance. Hayden’s father offers little more. Both see each other when handing off their son. Their words are often sharp, sometimes demeaning. Neither recognizes the fallout affecting their son. Thus, responsibility for raising Hayden mostly falls to the grandmother, a 40-something divorcee with responsibilities of her own. That’s not to say Hayden isn’t well looked-after. To the best of her ability, “Mammy,” that’s grandma, takes care of him.

One particular afternoon I spent my time chasing Samuel down the sidewalk, not as a game but because he determined to explore beyond the boundaries we set for him. Samuel yelped in surprise and excitement every time I swooped him up, trundling him back over my shoulder. After several of these trips and retrievals, Hayden took his liberty to follow Samuel’s example. Frustration and threats erupted from “Mammy,” willfully ignored by defiant little Hayden.

As I watched her huff and point to the dusty concrete next to her, it occurred to me that Hayden wasn’t running away; he was giving chase.

My wife, with a little tilt of the head, gave me a silent “get ‘em!”

While I stood there, contemplating whether I had the energy or desire to chase after boy I didn’t know, the revelation began to seep in.

Every boy fights to become man. They test their boundaries, their limits. Every little boy wrestles with the idea of manhood and fatherhood through roughhousing, dare deviling, and rebelling. The fact that every boy rebels proves it is in our nature, corrupted as it is.

But there’s more.

Boys don’t rebel to see what they can get away with, but rather what they can’t. When they test restraints, they define themselves and their identity.

Hayden gave chase to his father, or rather the idea of a father. A broken idea, incomplete even as his father’s involvement remains deficient. Hayden chased his limits in the hopes that “dad” might pursue him and define him.

Hayden gave chase to his father, hoping “Daddy” would pursue him. The father never did; he never does. Hayden’s father continues on, his son a trophy on the proverbial mantle.

I can never be Hayden’s father. His understanding, his knowledge of what and who a father is will be warped and fragmented for life. Men will come along and either further distort or refine that initial paradigm. It will always have gaps, cracks, and holes unless other men, good men, willingly accept the responsibility.

I let myself be chased that day. With all the incomprehensible energy a toddler can have, Hayden chased at my heels. In the end, as elusive as I was, he caught me, he pummeled me with giggles and laughter and daring. Maybe, just maybe because of this chase he’ll chase down the heart of fatherhood, wrestle it to the ground and understand who he is, how he is defined.

And until then, I pray there are men, fathers, who in spite of their reluctance and self-conscience, will chase and be chased by those still searching, still pursuing what a father is, that the fatherless will achieve fatherhood, faithful and loving and always ready to give chase.

Image by: Morgan Whitney, SXC This article originally appeared at the .

Leave a Reply