Why I Probably Won’t Play With Your Kid

Note: I wrote this in 2010, when my son was barely six years old.

This may seem heartless or callous to some, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately.

I enjoy hanging out with my son. Whether we’re building things with Legos, folding complex paper airplanes, or just exploring streets deserted by builders caught in a recession, he’s a positive presence in my life. Heck, I even like doing math flashcards with him. Listening to him read? Goes without saying. Sheer delight.

The moment another child is added into the mix, with rare situational exceptions, my interest plummets to zero.

I think this is because in all my 30 years prior to having my own child, I had no interest in children. Perhaps because I was the youngest in my family (that I saw frequently), I didn’t have any experience with children until the birth of our son. I know many men fit that description, but I also see several who possess a seemingly innate ability to jump in with a group of kids and know what to do.

Whatever it is, I don’t seem to have it.

Sometimes it troubles me, but mostly I just let it roll. When my son has a peer over to our house, or we visit one of his friends, I immediately consider it his free time to interact with someone his own age. I am sure I will feel differently in the future, based on what numerous empty-nesters have told me, but for now I just switch into grown-up mode (I didn’t say mature) and cherish the time we adults enjoy covering topics and humor we reserve for just such moments.

Maybe it’s a general social attitude. Superficial social situations do not appeal to me, and I always have preferred small get-togethers over large parties. For the most part, if I can’t hang out with people I really have an interest in and/or care for, I prefer being alone. This intensifies when it comes to children, requiring actual blood relation to get my interest.

Even that doesn’t always help.

I applaud those men who jump in there and become one of the kids. I guess I’m just a stick in the mud.

A Dad Who Left Early

We lost a great dad this week. His name was Steve Caffey.

When I first saw Steve, probably at Christmas in 1992, I thought, “Wow, that guy needs to wash his hands.” Then I learned he was a mechanic, and realized he probably had washed them more times that day than I would wash mine in a week.

I also learned that he had a youthful energy many his age could only hope to possess. At family holidays, he constantly interacted with children — his own and others’. He made them smile, and they returned the favor.

When my wife and I had a child of our own, I started understanding Steve a little better — why he rolled around on the floor with the kids, and played peekaboo.

It was because he loved being a dad.

I spent some time with Steve outside family holidays. I saw his Coca-Cola collection and the animal sculptures he created with concrete and incorporated into parts of their fence. I saw cannibalized remains of laptop computers in various states of disrepair.

He always had his hands in something, but there was nothing like watching him under the hood.

The few times I stood watching him work on my car, it was obvious he knew what he was doing. He was skinny, but deceptively strong. He could quickly reach and work on parts when others might have to spend hours clearing a path. He could tell me in about two minutes what was wrong with my car, if that long.

One time I rode in his truck with him to take Stephanie to a friend’s house. He spoke of his colorful past, which I won’t try to repeat here. I’ll just say that we both ended up starting sentences with “back in my day..” and sounded like old men, but his stories were much more interesting than mine.

Through all that, I still feel like I only caught a glimpse of who Steve was. During the last several visits to Tulsa, I didn’t see him, but I saw his and Johnna’s children. When they were babies I wasn’t very interested, but now they’ve become some of my favorite folks, always warm and welcoming.

Just like Steve.

His children have set up a site to raise money for the funeral services. If you can help at all, it would be hugely appreciated.

Dribble Dabbler

The last time I mentioned dribbling, it was because my baby son’s salivary control was practically non-existent. Actually, I don’t think I was blogging yet at that point, so I probably didn’t mention it. Consider yourself fortunate.

Now, it’s all about repeatedly bouncing a basketball, slobber not included.

Benjamin is eight years old for about another month, and his favorite school playground pasttime this spring has been hanging out, playing one-on-none. He shoots, he scores, he dribbles around nobody, and then he shoots again. Other boys ask him to play, but he declines and develops his skills in solitude.

For two of the past three nights, he and I have escaped the house for about a half hour to shoot baskets together on the same spot. His school is an easy bicicyle ride from home, and its four goals almost guarantee availability in a time when most children seem to prefer video games. Honestly, he has chosen me as a playmate those days because he could find nobody else, but it has been a great time for us. I love just shooting baskets as much as he does. We are content to shoot until we make it (with a recently added limit of 10 tries) and then hand the ball back to the other guy for his shots. There are many passes after rebounds, and some dribbling.

Before that, I hadn’t shot a basket in more than a decade, if that recently.

The bad part? We did it all with a cheap, lopsided soccer ball he got for participating in Jump Rope for Heart. The issue of receiving a reward for altruistic activities aside, it was not a quality ball in the first place, and it was a poor substitute for a basketball.

Our plan was for my brother to give him a basketball for his birthday, but by that time the weather in Texas will not be very conducive to doing anything outdoors that doesn’t involve getting into a pool, lake, or river. So, Thursday, as a sort of reward for such a great third grade year, Shannon took him to a local store and they picked out a basketball the appropriate size and weight for his age.

That night, he kept the ball by his side anywhere he went. We were easy on him a couple times when he dribbled it in the entryway, but made it clear that was not allowed inside the house. Somehow he left it in the living room at bedtime, and I pressed in on it to test the pressure. Not full enough.

I took it into the garage and pumped it much tighter. A test dribble produced that signature “ping” that comes from inside a bouncing basketball — exactly what I wanted. The next morning I handed it to him.

“Go try it just real quick in the entryway. Listen to it,” I said.

When he did, he snapped his head back a bit when the ball bounced higher than he expected. His face lit up. “Cool!”

Writing this now, I’m upset with myself for not carving out a few minutes that night to go test out his new ball on the school’s hoops. I didn’t get home until 5:30, I had an update to do at 6 p.m., and then we had dinner. Still, I feel I could have made time had I considered how much it would have meant to him.

IMG_2671_sm_blogI made up for it a bit when we went there Saturday morning with his new ball, and took turns for almost an hour. When his shooting skills improve and I have finished knocking off the rust, I hope he will be up for a friendly game of HORSE. We could start now if we limit the range, and he just might beat me. (click image for larger version)

Hallmark Can’t Have It

Ah, Father’s Day. Some treat it with disdain, lumping it in with so-called “Hallmark holidays,” those disingenuous occasions foisted upon us by greeting card companies. I can understand how some would feel that way, and in some ways I do, too. We don’t need someone to tell us when to appreciate certain people in our lives, and we certainly don’t want to send a card if we don’t mean it.

I don’t see the problem with giving extra attention to a person we already treasure. I’ve decided to give a detailed account of my Father’s Day 2011 experience, to help uncover whether it’s a Hallmark holiday or something more.

I rolled over several times, sleeping only in short bursts beyond 6 a.m. We had decided to stop shouting across the house, so I grabbed my phone from the nightstand and texted my wife. “Please send Benjamin in here.”

Shortly, the bedroom door opened. “Happy Father’s Day!” Benjamin said, almost singing it.

He walked over to the bed, wearing a Star Wars clone trooper costume he had used two or three Halloweens ago. I reached out both arms for a hug. “I can’t lean over,” he said. “There’s a rip in the butt of my costume and I don’t want to make it bigger.” He made a half turn. “See the tape?”

(click any pic to enlarge)

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The Messed-Up Day: Redemption Threatened

(concluded from: The Messed-Up Day: And Benjamin Waited)

My work completed and both of us fed, I headed off with Benjamin. Finally we would take that Arbor Hills trip I had promised him since the first day he rode without training wheels. Lest anyone start figuring that since he’s seven, I must be awfully neglectful, I would like to point out that he learned in November, and our weekends have been full of family trips or inclement weather ever since. Plus, he needed to become a fairly strong, confident rider before trying the steep, often densely populated paths and offroad trails that awaited.

And to survive his first involuntary flight. (click pic to enlarge)

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