My son Sebastian hates losing even more than I do. In fact, losing resembles a small death the way he reacts to it. When he loses a game, any game, he can kick inanimate objects, sometimes just the air in front of him, sometimes he punches me in the balls when I’m not on alert — he’s five and at his height my balls hang right at the end of his cross. Sometimes he picks up a pillow from the couch and slams it on the ground. Sometimes he just sits down on the floor and pouts into space.
Oh, and he’s really good at fake crying. He introduces the fake cry when it becomes inevitable that he’ll lose whatever we’re playing at the time.
And I’m his father, not his rival. I’ll throw a few games here and there, to make him feel better, to give him the thrill that comes with a win, to see that face shine, all eyes, teeth, and runny nose. This holds true from Uno to Old Maid, to Candy fucking Land.
We play Xbox Kinect Sports when I need him to release some quick energy. Tennis, ping pong, and boxing are our favorites. And bowling. He’s not half bad at any of them. We have competitive matches in tennis, he can beat me in ping pong if I try to get too fancy, and I really have to get my shit together in bowling by the fifth frame or I’ll fall too far behind to catch up.
But boxing. Boy, does he piss me off when we box.
I like boxing. I watch it on TV, I love the classics, Gotti-Ward, the Rumble in the Jungle, early Pacquiao, when he tore through his opponents like Mike Tyson a couple of decades earlier. I even take intermittent boxing lessons and own a pair of gloves and a some wraps. I know your basic jab-jab-cross or your jab-cross-left hook-cross combos. My uppercut sucks and I wouldn’t survive in the ring against anyone with half a clue.
But I like boxing.
Sebastian, who wouldn’t know an uppercut if hit shattered his jaw, well, he flat out fucking beats me every time with own style. And the word style is used in a hyper-liberal manner here.
It’s hard to describe. He somehow gallops in place while doing something with his hands that kind of resembles bitch-slapping a speed bag. But not really. He lets out these high pitched shrieks with each slap.
As I said, it’s hard to describe.
All I know is that my avatar’s status goes from green to critical in mere seconds. I can try to protect my face, I can slip and side and throw a furious hook to his temple. I can try timing his attacks and jab-cross him for a while and get him down to yellow and on occasion I can knock him down, usually when he’s taking a breather or something shiny deflects his attention from the screen for a second or two.
But when he’s back in galloping speed bag bitch-slapping mode I’m fucked. The count is on. One. Two. Three. Four. Fuck me. I’m watching my avatar stumble through the ring, seeing stars. Sebastian raises his hands.
“Yes!” he screams.
My avatar’s legs give in. Fight over.
“You’re the loser!” Sebastian screams. He does a booty dance which is mimicked by his avatar. “Got ya, dad!” he says, or “Knockout!.” His hands are slapping his ass in real life and on screen. Just the way I taught him. Sometimes, on a lazy Sunday, he’s just wearing a t-shirt and nothing else. Balls out.
It just doesn’t feel right. I should be dominating him with skill and technique. Give him the impression that he may have a chance. And let him win on occasion. Make him try harder, learn from his mistakes, learn instincts, learn the basics, experience humility, look up to me. I’m his father, goddammit.
He’s Buster Douglas reincarnated as a five year old. I have no answers for him. I am ill prepared. And I don’t want a rematch. What good would that do?
“Let’s play darts instead.” I suggest. I know I’ll win that. Darts involve precision and math.
“Nooooo. more boxing.” He screams. He gets his rematch, naturally. The thrill to beat dad is a drug that’s impossible to kick. I still haven’t given up hope that I’ll beat him with real boxing skils one of these days. Break through the slapping gallop. I’m delusional.
Another game that comes up on occasion, spontaneously during slap-happy moments, is thumb war.
One two three four I declare a thumb war. Five, six, seven, eight, try to keep your thumb straight.
No contest. Each time my count hits six or seven, he rips off my finger with his free hand and whimpers.
I have guilt issues and I fall for the whimper and the look of anguish. We go back and forth. I let him count to seven or eight and then I slide my thumb out and take hold of his and start counting. One. Two. Three. Four.
“You never let me win!” He yells when he loses the game. Emphasis on never. Which is bullshit of course, because I’m not that terrible a father. Of course I let him win. More often than I’m comfortable with. That’s the price of admission for having a child, boys especially. Check your ego at the door, sir. But I do sneak a whole bunch of it inside.
Maybe I like playing thumb war and stretch the game for as long as I can because I don’t really want to ever let go of his hand. I want the two of us to be connected here and now. Remain connected here and now. Here and now forever. I don’t want time to happen. Everything changes all the time and so do the routines and games we play with our kids. When we play I become aware of the connection we have beyond the physical. I become aware of the joy that we share. I become aware our connection. I become aware that he’s part of me as much as I am part of him. It’s beautiful. It’s love unimaginable and indescribable. I get lost in the joy and I get to experience my true self as a child. That’s his gift to me, the recognition of the child within me. I don’t I ever want to let go of that, I don’t ever want to lose my child. I don’t ever want to forget.
That’s worth any price of admission. Even losing.
Time does happen, though. One day he’ll beat me in darts at a real pub and he’ll beat me one on one in basketball and he’ll out-sprint me, and he’ll overpower me in armwrestling and it won’t be even close. Maybe he’ll learn some proper boxing and dislocate my jaw. I’ll love every minute of it, losing and all. That’s why every now and then I’ll do an impression of his five year-old boxing technique. I’ll demonstrate it for him. I’ll do it at his wedding. I’ll mention his little prick jumping up and down, his butt-wiggle, I’ll try to reincarnate the sounds that are coming out of his mouth. I embarrass him. He’ll be as annoyed as I am when he beats me in boxing now.
“Stop it, dad.” He’ll say. Probably more embarrassed for me than for himself. But I’ll get the last laugh in my mind.
Provided he’ll still want to play with me then.