My son is bigger than me. This is troubling.
At 15 he’s three inches taller and way more athletic than I ever was. He’s the only freshman on varsity soccer (I played JV hockey as a senior, which I think is illegal).
I knew this was going to happen. Delivered via C-section because of his head size and always one of the tallest in his class, I heard the footsteps even when they were a child’s size 12: He’s coming for me.
Before this recent growth spurt we enjoyed a blissful 18 months where we shared clothes and shoes like college roommates. Emerging from my closet sporting one of my vintage shirts he’d wordlessly relay to me that, in my sons eyes, I am at least semi-cool. I, in turn, showed up to The Laugh Factory in his slip-on Vans and soft flannel shirts.
I didn’t care that he came home wearing my dress shoes covered in mud from kicking a soccer ball after school. I can wash that off. But the feeling of communing with my son in this give-and-take will stay with me.
It occurred to me the other day that I have never hit him. It also occurred to me that that ship has sailed. If I hit him now he might punch me back. And if he kicks my ass I’ve got to move. I can’t live in a house with an asshole like that.
I’ll end up like the old lion that’s beaten down and plays out his final years on the edge of the pack waiting for the jackals to circle him and tear his flesh apart. This Oedipal nightmare needs to be shut down immediately, but how?
He’s upsetting the paradigm of paternal dominance going back to my own childhood. Unlike me, my father was not a pacifist. He was 6’2” with a bad temper and being much smaller than him was overwhelming.
Towering over my son in his younger years put me on confident and familiar footing. But it was a complicated footing because I didn’t want our relationship to be based on the dynamic I’d had with my own father.
When I grew older and shed my fear of my dad, I also lost some of my respect for him.
In my insecure moments I comfort myself with the knowledge that no matter how big my son gets, I will be able to take him down. I’ve been in a lot of fights and even though I haven’t always won, I’ve never lost. I am a nasty Irish prick and will break a bottle if necessary. (I may have written that last part in case my son ever reads this and gets any ideas.)
We play one-on-one basketball and over time the game has progressed from my indulging him in an occasional win to me having to give it everything I’ve got – and then some. I trash talk, box out, and occasionally pull down his shorts when he goes for a layup.
I went to hug him last week and mistakenly went high over the top not realizing that I’m now the guy who goes low. I stretched my arms around his torso while he hugged me around the neck like I was his prom date. It felt awkward at first as I adjusted to the new arrangement.
He doesn’t act any different than he did in simpler times when I was bigger than him. It was a long hug during which I realized that I’ve overcome this Oedipal hurdle and my ancient fear of being small. Thanks to my bigger-than-life son, that is just not the way we relate to each other.
We played one-on-one the other day. It was tied at 13-all when I got an open lane twice in a row and won the game. We looked at each other and silently acknowledged the obvious; the kid let Dad win this one.
Instead of the sense of powerlessness I had always feared, I felt respected. I felt loved. Then I mocked him for losing, and went inside for a smoothie.