We were still in the habit of bathing our baby girl in the bathroom sink when word came of a second child in Susie’s womb. Looking for any reason not to have to repaint to a gender-specific color, I insisted that we should surprise ourselves seven months later by not allowing the ultrasound nurse to reveal the child’s sex.
I am well-versed in the humility a man is to exude when earnestly saying in earshot of both God and Man that he just wants a healthy baby. We mean it. Still, most of us men somewhere in that humble process at least ponder the thought of having a son. We crave to share with our boy the things we have done; steer them from the mistakes we have made; impart upon them the wisdom of our experiences such that they make the world better.
So, it was to my great elation that my medically-trained friend, whose skilled hands were first to touch our second child, loudly announced: “It’s got testicles!”
My family was then perfectly symmetrical. There in the hospital bed was my close-to-perfect-as-it-gets wife, a baby girl splashing in the bathroom sink, and now a healthy newborn son to whom I could teach all the things bursting from my soul.
He rode on my back. We rolly-pollied on the floor. We pushed Thomas the Tank Engine around the Island of Sodor. He fit so sweetly under my arm on the couch with his head on my chest and with his blanket in his hand.
My first inkling of being out-matched, though, probably came when he stood on his head at four or five years old. I was in my early 40s and had never stood on my head. It seemed that he could do anything. He started reading well before first grade, and, in fact, only stayed in first grade a few months until the school administration called us in saying they recommended moving him to second grade to stave off boredom. He was artistic. He was kind to his chums. He conversed happily with the little old ladies at church.
Five or six years into his life, we Silverbacks started holding father/son weekends at the Island of Swansboro. The duos of Singleton, Wiggs, Thorp, and Sutherland joined host duo Jim and Little Jim MacRae for Friday-to-Sunday stints in the rustic cabin, whether in the spring or fall. Curiously, it always transpired during the height of fishing season on Bear Beach, a fact hardly noticed by the boys but very obvious to our wives. After breakfast one morning and after Mr. MacRae dismissed the children to play following mandatory calisthenics in the main room, I began to share with Jim my absolute awe at the things little Jamie could do and at the calm manner in which he did them. Jimbo altered my entire perspective of my father/son relationship with his response: “Yes, Banjo, Jamie is the man you have always wanted to be.”
That little fellow will leave us this August to take up residence in a dormitory in Orange County, North Carolina. In these 17 years, he has never disappointed with a report card. He has performed beautifully on musical instruments. He has preached inspiringly from the pulpit. He has scored runs and baskets and goals. He has had his choice of colleges (and the one with tar on its heels should feel blessed to have him).
The only promise he broke that I know of is one he made sincerely, but without hope of ever keeping. I used to go to his bed at night and spoon in behind him, wrap him up in my arms and make him promise to stay little. “OK, daddy,” he would grin, as he took a firmer grip on his blanket.
Last fall, when we first discussed the process of submitting test scores and filling out applications for college, he and I cried together on that bed at the realization that he would leave Sodor and Neverland and Oz very soon. We wept for all the love we had known in those magical places.
I thought that by having a son I would teach him to be just like the best of me and teach him how to be better than the failings in me. Instead, Jamie educated me on how to calmly go about doing what is right. I fail his ideal more than I achieve it, but I am grateful to know what it looks like through his example. It is with melancholy that Susie and I give him over to the world to change it and to make it a better place. Yet, I am so thankful for the seventeen years that I have been able, every single time I walk into the house, to have him get up from his seat or come out from his room and accept his embrace and his simple, “Hey, Dad.”
I, in turn, wrap my arms each time around the man I want to be.
I promise to practice while he is away such that when he comes home for Thanksgiving, I can show him on cue how I have learned to stand on my head.