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Published: July 15th 2009
Tim's place on Lake Holiday...
You’d think he’d done this a time or two before. But he had the same experience on a wakeboard that I did on a cello. Tim, whose prodigious house Zack helped build, had taken him out on his speedboat around Lake Holiday. It was Phillip’s moment and he knew it. The excitement he could hardly contain had him begging for the OK from Tim to jump off the boat and grab the line.
The advantage to having Tim around is his instructive and soft pitch. “Now, you’ve been snowboarding, right?” He made an immediate connection with Phillip, and put him at ease. The novice was comfortable enough to tell his master when and how hard to thrust the engines to pull him up. It was he giving the orders, not receiving them. He bobbed up and down in the water. His life jacket was a size or two too big. From the back of the boat I could hardly see the top of his head hunched down at the level of the wide shoulder straps. He wrestled with the board into which his feet were firmly locked and threw the line between his legs. Tim watched him carefully, now forty feet
Current Davidson Project
Construction is perpetually delayed by the owner...
from the boat. No one spoke, not me, Tim, or Zack. The silence was awkward.
All of a sudden, “Ready?”
Immediately Phillip countered with a powerful, “Ready!” Calling to mind my fiasco earlier on Watts Bar, I hoped for him not be too emotionally scarred or crushed over several crashes into the lake. His arms and legs would be sore. I would have to take him aside, console him by saying that he’ll eventually get the hang of it over time, whether I believed those words or not. Maybe when he violently smashes his nostrils into the lake, he’ll come to grips that life is not fair. It’ll be a cruel lesson for him, but a necessary one.
Tim opened up the engine. The little twerp rose out of the lake like a wobbly Phoenix. Even if unsteady, he did not go down. He smiled. I was in disbelief.
Did he have to succeed on the first try? Couldn’t he have waited for the third? Was it wrong for me to be so perturbed? Not only did he stay up for the better part of a minute before the high speed and uneven water brought him down, he naturally maneuvered
Up on the First Try!
What does he have that I don't?
to either flank of the boat without succumbing to its wake. He was delighted. Paternal pride hid my envious anger of him.
Weary of the toll on his body, he finally relented, but not before several successful visits around the undersized lake. When he scrambled onto the boat and dislodged the board from his feet, he turned to me. He did not seek out my approval or congratulations. Rather, he simply inquired, “Dad, do you know anyone who’s got a boat in Connecticut?”
The ink had not fully dried on the standard office copy paper. We were on the way to the clerk’s window at the courtroom to settle the final details when she interjected. “I am still not sure about those dates. I’ll get back to you.”
Come again? I took her at her word. Even when a deal is struck, her word carries the value of a fox’s promise to guard a henhouse.
“What do you mean you’re not sure?” I came back at her sternly. It had been a full morning of unsympathetic tones and character assassinations.
“I still have to see if I can get that flight for him. I’ll call you.” Interestingly enough, this
Down, but not dissuaded...
did not come up beforehand, now that I had just capitulated several days’ time with Phillip for this summer in order to accommodate her flight travails. If not admonished by a judge or forced by an officer with a badge, agreements to her mean zero. It is wise to know when to fight your battles and when to let it go. Such wisdom is not automatically granted; it comes over time borne of experience and failure. She had just been lambasted by crafty lawyering. Without a leg to stand on, control had been wrested from her grip. The scales had been adjusted back into proper balance. She was tired of the clashes. So was I, but I had not folded.
Neither of the lawyers batted an eyelash and I seriously doubt they even took notice of the monkey wrench she threw into the machinery of legal cogs we just hammered out. Prudence firmly dictated to resist her, but if I did I’d look like a jerk. More so, her plans revolved around Phillip seeing his grandmother and family in Eastern Europe, which I will not hinder. Phillip adores his family. On principle alone, I could have shut her down. I
Are You Kidding Me?
He has to have done this before...
bit my lip, threw my hands into the air palms up, and left the courtroom a winner.
While he was not there, so did Phillip.
Plans beyond Crossville, Tennessee would not develop. No camping, no Appalachia, at least not this time. Our time together was brief, but in that time I solidified with Phillip an unbreakable bond. He will always remember his trip to Tennessee: the waterfalls, the ball games, and the lake. He will always hold dear the generous hospitality extended to him by strangers and one day do the same for others. Birthday pool parties, afternoon matinées, and Chuck-E-Cheese mesh into a nebulous glob in his head. They carry little significance in comparison in Tennessee.
My summer hedonistic pursuits, as I have always known them, have not been dismissed to the back of the closet. Rather they have been unknowingly redirected and re-prioritized by a ten-year-old.
The last exit for us moving north on I-81 is in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Phillip had held on as long as he could. Drowsiness enveloped him and the road map slipped out of his fingers and to the floor. “Phillip!”
The outburst startled him and he shot up at attention.
“Yeah?” he replied halfheartedly.
“Are you still my navigator?”
“Yep”, but with hesitation.
“What do I need to do next?” Signs for I-84 East zipped over him. He was oblivious to them as he looked at the darkened asphalt for answers.
“Uh, you need to turn here.”
“Uh,” and then he caught the last sign, though I had already shifted into the exiting lane, “there! There!” He learned much, having mastered the system of mile markers. If they go up, travel is eastward or to the north. Otherwise, we are moving south or west. In the bigger states, exit signs reflect the mile markers. He has figured out how to divide by sixty to deduce the number of hours to the next major city according to the signposts. If only he could stay awake to tell me this.
I pointed out the Delaware River to him, even though it was enshrouded in darkness. We climbed a hill to Newburgh and he tried to remain awake. “Hey, am I still your favorite Dad?”
“Dad!” he cried the word out prolonged, unnaturally prolonged and calling me out on the absurdity of the question. “You have to be!”
“Why do you think?”
“I have no choice, don’t you know?”
“Yep. You’re the only dad I’ve got.” With that he curled up without warning into a ball, knees into chest, and waded off. My navigator never got around to direct me home after the Hudson River.
As with the trip down, I drove straight through, 928 miles, door to door. His grandparents stayed up to greet him. When asked about Tennessee, he fought his fatigue and he beamed without elaboration. His smile and storytelling that night granted me a pardon for not doing what I should have done seven years ago. Back then it wasn’t that I chose my battles poorly - I did not engage in practically any. Though he cannot comprehend it, I am grateful for my son’s resilience to forgive. It is for that reason during this summer, however brief in his company and more than any others, I have been saved from the poor judgment of my past. In moving forward they are, God willing, errors as a father I plan not to repeat.
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