I’m not the kind of guy who has altruism down and unconditional love in the bag. There are millions of people who have a better grasp on these virtues. I’m working on it, though, but for now I’m a little bit jealous as I’m sitting there, off to the side, as my five year old skater boy is experiencing one eternal moment of bliss. Just now he performs a kick-turn against a ramp with the fluidity of a boy twice his age. He’s wearing shorts, t-shirt, and the checkered Vans I bought him. He’s protected with a helmet that features a gnarly skeletons scene, elbow pads, knee pads, and wrist guards, and he’s gotten so good that the board seems to be sticking to his soles. His face combines focus and elation and there’s snot running out of his nose that he keeps rubbing into his t-shirt.
I’m watching him from a grimy platform off to the side and I’m proud but I also want what he has. The platform is littered with radioactive colored crumbs, smashed soda cans, Gatorade spills, candy massacres, and cigarette butts. My denim will need a dry clean, that’s a fact. I’m unprotected from the Southern California sun and just a little freaked out by the inevitability of melanoma, a farmer’s tan, and those thong-y flip flop tan-lines.
I’m listening to the confusing banter and idiocy of the kids between the ages of seven and thirty-three that are gathered behind me, each clinging to their boards as if they were life savers. They may or may not be making fun of me but at this moment I don’t care. That’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to watch my son.
Just now he falls off his board during an ollie attempt. I’m not concerned. He gets up, a little slow perhaps. He rubs his buttock and he turns his head my way. We lock eyes and I smile and give him a thumbs up. He returns the smile and thumbs up and jumps back on his board.
Watching my son skate, fall off the board, get back up and shake it off, learn new tricks, stances, techniques, looking for my approval when finally mastering a maneuver that he had been working on with stubborn determination, doing ride by’s and high-fiving me with the hard shell of his wrist guard (hurts like hell), to me that’s beauty and love and bliss.
I love the skatepark jazz of wheels hitting the concrete, decks popping, skaters rejoicing or cursing, the pleasant white noise that I had never experienced as a kid, when and where there were no skateparks. I want to be out there with him. I want to experience what he does. Fall, get up, learn, try again, and add to the jazz. But at forty-one I have created a tall layer cake of fear. I fear getting taunted, cut off, ridiculed, and attacked by the skater kids. I fear that they will confirm that I’m too old, that I’m out of place, that I shouldn’t even have the audacity to aspire to attain such beautiful and holy virtues such as love, joy, and happiness. That shit is, you know, for kids.
But what if I was wrong? What if this fear is to be overcome by spiting it? What if age has no bearings on one’s desire to get back on a deck and fail for a while, falling over and over? What if an adult, a parent even, has the right to enter the space of innocent joy, a space not yet perverted and decayed, a space of peace, presence, a space unclouded by the doubtful mind. The opposite of the cluttered mind, shit deposited by the accumulation of years, traumas, and “no”s. Do this, not that, get a job, commute, drink away your sorrows, drink away the boredom, drink away the regret, drown the last remnant of joy and, for crying out loud, raise your children to the best of your ability. That doesn’t sound right.
I see parents in elementary school, at karate practice, at soccer, at tee-ball, at the playground, in the mall, in their cars and I’m confused at their childrearing, I see an unsurmountable gap between child and adult.
Every week at karate there’s this dad. Big, bald, burly, cargo short, ankle sock, Nike Air wearing motherfucker. Not only does he shoot highly disapproving glances at his daughter if she doesn’t shuffle around the dojo to his liking, he even snaps his thumb and middle finger with the ferocity of a whip making he gets her attention and she gets his disapproval.
I doubt that he sees the joy in her. He’s not looking for that, he’s looking for perfection, something he can relate to. Every time he snaps I feel the urge to walk over to him and snap his fingers in half.
I see soccer dads with babies Baby Bjorned to their chests screaming at their four year old kids to foul their opponents. Fathers scream at their tee-ballers to “take out the second baseman”.
What the actual fuck?
I am a man, a father, a husband, a man-child, who is working hard on undoing the traumas my parents inflicted on me back then, all these years ago. They still haunt me. Maybe I’m too sensitive to all of this but I am reminded of the trauma and of the gap between child and parent everywhere I take my son. Screaming, spanking, belittling, ignoring the child because of cell phone, neglecting to wipe the tears from their cheeks, embrace them when they’re in pain, or just look at them when they call for their mom’s or dad’s attention. That shit is everywhere and nobody seems to think that anything is wrong here.
Anyway, one Sunday afternoon I say: “Fuck it.” I refuse to be a member of the fellowship of parents any longer. Well, not entirely, that would be careless. I will be a hybrid parent. I’ll be as childlike as I can afford to be without endangering my child. I will play when asked to play. I will kneel down to the children’s level when they speak to me. I will listen and respond instead of just preaching or telling them to suck it up. That is, unless they punch me in the dick, which they tend to do. They call it pelis but that will change to dick and balls really soon, I’m sure.
Long story short, I want to be as brave and courageous and full of joy as my son is or else I won’t be capable of teaching him anything.
So I buy a board and join my son in skating a Los Angeles skate park. I take a leap of faith. I put on a helmet and some elbow pads and I try and I fall and I get back up and I rejoice in the experience of learning, of being present and contributing to the skatepark jazz. An hour later my hip is the color of sizzurp and I’m still the guy they call “Sir” and I don’t care because I’m filled with joy and excitement. They can judge me, ridicule me, or talk about me, who cares?. I am sharing an experience with my son, one I never allowed myself to have. One I never thought I deserved. Yes, my daddy never played catch with me, but that’s a different story.
Anyway, after I finally stop falling on every fakie attempt (basic beginner move, you know, for kids) my son rides up to me. He jumps off his board, decked out in his protective gear and he holds up his wrist-guarded hand.
“That was so good, Dad.” he says. “You’re a fast learner!” I let him high five me. I’m filled with unimaginable love and joy and excitement and pride. I feel like a child hearing affirmations and the whip of the wrist-guard doesn’t hurt at all. Ok, it does but that’s not the point.
Next a sponsored skater with 180k Instagram followers yells at me and my son to get out of his way. “Please, Sir!” he says. I wave at him and usher my son off to the side and we watch the kid, he can’t be any older than sixteen, perform some insane feat that I couldn’t even begin to describe. What I will remember is the experience I had with my son. A connection of love, compassion, and joy. It was much more amazing than any trick I could ever learn or watch being performed. I think that’s what they call Holy.
“Thank you, Sir!” the sponsored pro mumbles as he pumps past us.
Forty-eight hours later I am in a walking boot and on crutches. I bailed on a few ramps and landed hard on my right heel. I cracked it like an egg, to use my podiatrist’s exact words.
This is not a sign. This is not an ending. This is not a gap. This is only a moment between my last skate and the next one. Until then I’ll return to sitting on the grimy platform watching Sebastian getting better and better.
“Skateboarding injury.” I tell anyone who rides by, eyeing my boot and crutches. That’s all they need to know.