For the past couple of years I have enjoyed a playful little routine with our 14-year-old, sweet natured and mildly autistic son, Daniel. At some point each evening, either immediately before dinner or a few minutes before bedtime, I would announce that I have something “very important to talk about” with him. This is well-established code for “let’s rumble on the bed, sucka.” We’d laugh, we’d wrestle, and we’d exchange all sorts of mild trash talking.
A year or so ago, for example, our banter might go something like this:
Me: “You’re going down, my friend. We are finally going to put this rivalry to rest. Please don’t go crying to your momma, because she will NOT be sympathetic.”
Him: “Really? REALLY? Yawn. Is that all you’ve got, Mr. Graybeard! This fighting thing is pointless. [I mock punch him on the shoulder a couple of times.] You’re pathetic! I’m embarrassed for you!”
And so it would go for ten or fifteen minutes, one or the other of us gaining the upper hand momentarily, grappling and tickling and laughing and bantering back-and-forth. Typically, I would win the first round. Then, drunk with victory, I would neglect my defenses; Daniel would shrewdly take advantage, and vanquish me in the second bill. If he felt particularly salty, he would close his parry with a Jedi mind trick: “Dad,” he would say in a monotone while waving his right hand a few inches from my face, “you WILL forget that you won the first round and believe that Daniel was the ONLY winner tonight.”
Things are changing in the Swensen household, however. Daniel is becoming more like a man and less like the little boy I selfishly desire he remain. He wears size 11 ½ shoes; he is stretching upward like a human Gumby; he has grown armpit hair; his voice squeaks and deepens comically, occasioning Krista and I to invoke wistful memories of Peter Brady (do any of you remember “The Brady Bunch”??) croaking through a rendition of “Time to Change.”
A few days ago, I clambered upstairs and found him rocking in his favorite chair in the spare bedroom and viewing YouTube videos on a hand-held device.
“Daniel,” I began, “why don’t we, you know [wink, wink], go in my room and have a talk? I have lots of stuff to [wink, wink] chat about!”
“Well…no thanks, dad. I’m fine here. I’m actually kinda busy.”
“What? Seriously? Don’t you want to, errr…, talk?”
He paused his video and looked at me sheepishly. “Dad….I don’t want to hurt your feelings. But….”
“But what?” I asked, sensing he was genuinely troubled—he was not playacting.
“Well,” he paused and sighed deeply, “look at your hair.”
“What about my hair?”
“Yes, I’m aware of that, Daniel. So what?”
“Come on! You know what that means, don’t you? We can’t pretend any longer. You’re old, okay? I can tell you are getting tireder. And I’m getting bigger. And stronger. I’m afraid you’re going to get hurt.”
“What? Are you going koo-koo for Co-Co Puffs or something?!”
“No, Daniel, I just mean there’s no such word as ‘tireder’. What you mean is ‘more tired.’”
“But I suppose you’re right about me being too old to wrestle with you now. I have always kind of liked it—it was fun. I have to admit, though, that you ARE getting way too difficult for me to compete with. You’re too strong and too quick and too wily.”
“Yeah—clever. You know how to trick me into certain positions where you’ve got the advantage, or weasel out of danger in a way you never could before. You’re smarter.”
“Yeah. Exactly. Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. It’s good. It’s just that I’m going to miss it, you know?”
“I understand, dad. But all good things must come to an end, you know. Even if it weren’t dangerous for you, I’d still want to quit ’cause grown-ups don’t do that sort of thing unless it’s with a little kid. And I’m not a little kid.”
“No, I suppose not. Sorry, Daniel. Will you forgive me for wanting to squeeze a bit more ‘little boy’ out of you?”
“Yeah, sure, no problem.”
“Thanks. I love you.”
“I love you, too. Close the door, please. I like my peace and quiet.”
Timothy Swensen is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.