Wednesday, January 05, 2005


In Which A Hero Stands Revealed...

My son has a lot of fears and anxieties. It's that age. If it's not snakes under the bed it's something else. Early in the school year, after a fire safety lecture, my boy freaked out every time Mom turned on the gas stove.

Usually, there's no reasoning with him, but this one time I managed to get through. I was tucking him into bed, and he looked up at me with his big, l'il guy eyes shining, and asked, "Daddy, what would happen if there was a fire in the hallway and I couldn't get out of my room and you couldn't get to me?"

Instead of trying to assure him of the unlikelihood of the scenario, or wondering WHERE he comes up with such specific situations, I found myself thinking: Well, what WOULD you do? And I looked at his bedroom wall. "You know Mom and Dad's bedroom is right on the other side of that wall, right?" My boy nodded. I rapped on the wall, listening for the hollow sound indicating the space between the studs. "Well, right there is where I'd do it."

"Do what?" he asked.

"Come through the wall to get you," I replied.

He sat up. Now THIS was an answer. "You can DO that?" he asked. I nodded and tried to explain the relatively fragile properties of half-inch drywall, but he wasn't listening. All he knew was that, in case of fire, Dad was gonna come through his bedroom wall to save him.

And that was the end of his fire fears. Problem solved, right? Welllll...

A month or so ago I learned that, among his friends who live nearby, my son has developed something of a reputation for telling stories (gee, not sure where he got that). And it came to my attention that he was telling his friends how strong his dad was -- strong enough to crash through walls even! As you can imagine, the reaction was rank skepticism, or in the words of one of his more articulate friends, "That's poop."

Well today, the young posse was assembled at our house, all watching TV. When I came in the door, they asked to see my little TV spot of yesterday. They didn't care what I had to say about anything; they just wanted to see someone they knew on TV. You know how kids are.

Well, it was as good a time as any to break out the old tape I'd be saving for the past month, after rooting through about six boxes in storage for it. The yellowing label on it reads: "Mom and Dad's House, 1991."

I look at my son, and at his friends. "Let's put this in first."

And on screen, it's 14 years ago. It's a short video made by a friend during the summer I helped my parents renovate the old house where they now live. It was a job that required a lot of tear-out, and there's one scene I'm looking for.

There it is: a shot of a blank wall. It's quiet for a second, then there's a loud BANG! that makes the kids jump. Another BANG! and there's a crack in the wall. Then there's an almighty crack and a cloud of dust and a whole section of wall caves in. The dust begins to settle and standing in the breach, mugging for the camera, hands on hips Superman-style --

"It's my dad!" my son shrieks and the rest of the boys gape--at my son, at me, at the TV. By God, it IS me: I may be 20 pounds lighter and 14 years younger in the image, but there's no missing my goofy-ass face.

They rewound and watched it four times.

I know, I know: It was shameless showboating for a bunch of elementary school boys, but the years in which a man can be a flawless hero in the eyes of his son are few, and we're probably only a couple years away from the day he's rough-housing with his friends and puts a couple holes in the drywall himself and sees how easy it is.

But for now, today, I make no apologies for wanting to be the Dad who crashes through walls. There are worse ways to be remembered.

From Somewhere On the Masthead

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