Jackson, my 10-year-old son, has taught me many things about the world around me. A shower – no matter how long – is never long enough. It is never too late in the day, nor too close to bedtime, to enjoy a good snack. And it is not against the laws of physics to project toothpaste from the sink of the bathroom to the ceiling of the bedroom around the corner. The world is a mysterious place, and I am immeasurably grateful to have him around to unveil these wonders, along with countless others, every single day.
Perhaps more meaningful, however, is what Jackson has taught me about myself.
This was the first Christmas where Jackson was in on the “Santa secret.” So, he knew it was his mom and dad who forked over the cash for his new iPod Touch, rather than some kindly bearded man up at the North Pole cobbling things together with the help of a few elves. And he appreciated it. He truly did. But realizing I had a child who is reaching that point where the realities of life start to creep over the bulkhead of childhood wonder gave me pause. And watching how he took to the iPod Touch without hesitation, fluently navigating his way to the app store and downloading more free apps than I could ever imagine needing in my lifetime, convinced me that the years between us are actually quite tangible.
“Why do you need all of those?” I asked. “You’ll never get to all of them.
“You’re going to download some sort of virus,” I warned.
I knew exactly what I sounded like. I sounded like my parents. The echoes of mom and dad saying “I don’t understand why you kids even want that Atari thing” or “Computers? Ha! Why would I care about computers? They can’t do the dishes, can they?” haunted me from the dark corners of my mind. I have become the old person who “just doesn’t understand.”
So, Jackson taught me what I thought was a very simple lesson about myself – I am old. But in reality, his lesson for me didn’t actually end there.
Jackson’s birthday is on Christmas Eve. His uncle gave him a Ripstick. A Ripstick, for those of you who don’t know, is to a skateboard what roller blades are to roller skates, yet decidedly more unstable. It has a single castor at the front and one at the back. It looks something like two oblong ping pong paddles fused handle to handle. The front and back move independently, just to make things exciting, I guess. According to the instructional DVD that comes with it, it is actually possible to propel yourself uphill by shimmying back and forth and somehow maintaining your balance as you try to forget that the only things separating you from the unforgiving pavement below are two wobbly, gyrating wheels. Jackson was very excited to have his very own Ripstick. And for some strange reason, I was excited to learn how to ride it.
And so there we stood in the driveway, staring at it. We bantered theories back and forth on how one might get onto it without planting his face into the concrete. We talked about which foot should go where, or if it even mattered. Eventually, the talking had to end. Jackson stepped up and, almost immediately, tilted himself off. Again. And again.
“Dad, can you do it?” he said with the slightest bit of frustration in his voice. In fact, I was almost stunned by how his sincerity drowned out the frustration. Did he actually think I could do this? I was never into skateboarding. I’ve only tried to snowboard once. As excited as I was by this new toy, I was equally sure it was something I would never lay a single foot upon. For an old guy like me, this thing was a deathtrap. And yet, there Jackson stood asking for me to show him the way.
“We’ll take turns. How ‘bout that? We’ll teach each other,” I said.
And so it began. We stutter-stepped. We wobbled. We watched the instructional video a second time. And then, we started to roll. I even managed to catch a wheel in one of the driveway cracks and take a tumble without breaking a bone. I don’t even think I bruised my ego. In the epitome of role reversal, Jackson ran to my side to see if I was ok. And on his very next try, Jackson started cutting turns back and forth. We were far from experts, but we were balanced and moving.
A couple of more times that day, we headed down to the neighborhood clubhouse to take turns riding around the empty parking lot. We were sharing an experience neither one of us had ever had before. For that moment, we were both free to experience the wonder of life, unfettered by the conformity of experience. We had found a new frontier together. There was no young, no old. Only the thrill of the new.
It is true. I may be old and only getting older, but Jackson has taught me that I am most assuredly not dead. Life, according to Jackson, is not yet finished revealing itself to me.
Fatherhood requires that I pass the benefit of my experience on to Jackson, in hopes that he will use the knowledge and understanding from it to reach heights far beyond my own grasp. But at the same time, Fatherhood begs me to rely not solely on the experience of my past but also to share in the sense of wonder that can only come from doing something you have never done before. Fatherhood, in short, is as much an adventure as it is a responsibility.
The other day, Jackson offered to buy me a Ripstick of my own with some of his leftover birthday cash. I just might have to take him up on it.
Image credit: Dimitri Castrique
Jim Denny is the winner of numerous awards for things like writing, communications planning and website development. He has managed multi-million-dollar marketing budgets for some of the largest companies in the Financial Services industry in his nearly 20 years in communications and marketing.
None of which really impresses his 10-year-old son, Jackson.
In his 10 years as a father, Jim has found that little boys are more impressed by how far you can throw a football, how fast you can run and how loud you can burp. Despite his own deficiencies in all of those areas, Jim hopes to leave a lasting impression on Jackson by being the best dad he can be.