Sunday, July 17th, 2022

Playing Tanks

Not once, in all my childhood, let alone when I was seven, did I think of asking my father to play with me. He would take us to the pool, or he would take us all out to eat at a restaurant, or he would sit down on the couch to watch the TV news and eat two ice-cube trays of frozen root-beer cubes and offer me a taste. He taught me to ride a bike, and later, drive a car.


When I was small enough, sometimes he would play acrobatics. He would hold my hands, I would jump up to stand on his thighs, he would flip me upside-down then right-side-up and I would jump from his knees to the air and land on the ground. This was the best.


One time, when I was small enough to think his back really was the size of a horse, we played bucking bronco in the living room. Cate & Dan tried to ride on his back & got tossed off quickly with no desire to get back on. When it was my turn, I knew I could do better: I knew they weren’t trying hard enough. I climbed on, he tossed me off. I climbed on, he tossed me off. If I could just get my arms around his neck, I thought, I could hold on tight. I climbed on, he tossed me off. I was angry. I climbed on, he tossed me off. I was crying. I climbed on, he tossed me off. Mom came in from the kitchen to see what was wrong. I climbed on, he tossed me off. I was determined.


“Paul, you need to stop that,” she said.


“She’s having fun,” he replied, laughing. Full of adrenaline, I was determined. There were many times I would have preferred my mother intervene between my father and me, but this was not one of them. I knew that I could try harder and stick it out longer than my older siblings. I already had. I wanted to keep trying until either he gave up or I got on, but I was not going to give up.


“She needs a break,” said Mom. “She’s tired.” Now? Just when I was sure I was going to succeed, when I was going to prove I was stronger than my mean old siblings, I was told that I could not keep trying?


But I never asked him to play with me. He would do what was on his mind to do. If he ever did want to play, he’d ask, and in my head, I believe I remember every time he did. I may not have been afraid to be tossed off the back of a bucking bronco, but I was definitely afraid to ask my dad to play.


Akiva, on the other hand, has no preconceptions. In his little world, fathers are people who play with their children when the children ask. Fathers will postpone other obligations when children ask them to play. Following this line of logic, Gramps, just one generation removed, should play on request. Akiva, shy about many things, is not shy about asking Gramps to play. I watch. I say nothing. I wonder how awkward Dad feels and if he is going to take the easy out of finding something else he needs to do. When Dad miraculously gives in and plays with Akiva in the morning, I feel a temptation to intervene in the afternoon when Akiva again presses him for attention. I almost want to say, “Gramps needs a break. He’s tired.” I don’t, tho. I want him to stick it out as long as he can. I want him to pay attention.












Mom, on the other hand, played games with me nearly every time I asked.

I asked often.



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