The Get Up: Part 2
The other day Dylan watched me fall. I wasn’t doing something superhuman or heroic or even foolish. I just bent down to pick up my shoes and fell.
Sometimes my falls are spectacular. Windmills and waves. Jerks and jives. Shuffles and shakes. Like the unscripted gyrations of James Brown or Mick Jagger.
But this was not one of those times.
No Jitterbug. No Twist. No Carlton. No Floss. No warning. Just down. Like a bag of suburban cement.
In the last few months these unspectacular falls have been happening more often. Before the fall, in a soft little boy voice, Dylan asked, “Dad, can we go outside and have a catch?”
“Sure. Just let me put on my shoes.”
A few months ago I wrote “The Get Up”, a piece that was published in an anthology of short, nonfiction stories called “Dear 2020” by Chris Palmore. “The Get Up” is about how, on Christmas morning, no one witnessed my fall. And how no one witnessed my get up. I wrote, “I’m embarrassed. Frustrated. Defeated. I hate falling. Yes, I hate the physical pain falling brings but what hurts more is the emotional pain in falling causes.” All of that is still very much true, but today, I feel something else. A residual effect of my youngest son witnessing his father’s fall: shame.
“Whoa. Dad, are you okay?”
Since the dawn of man, fathers have expressed their love for their children through instruction. Long ago, it was decided men were not natural nurturers. We were hunters and protectors. Our family’s survival was our chief duty. And this required us to be stoic, guarded, and protective. We could not be distracted with articulating our feelings. So we conditioned ourselves, and other men, to avoid talking about important things inside. In these primitive times, a father taught his children to track animals, to hunt, to farm, to build fires. Physical exertion forged an emotional connection. The father showing-child doing ritual expressed what fathers often struggle to say.
In less primitive times, say the 1980’s, my father showed his love by showing me how to play baseball, swing a hammer, and push a lawn mower. His instruction, his hands guiding my movements was a form of wordless love. Instructing our children how to do things is encoded in our DNA. It’s primal. It’s how we promote 200,000 years of masculinity.
But how does a father show his love, when he can’t physically show his children how to do things?
“Do you need help?”
Without instruction, Dylan moves a chair over to me. I lean on the seat, pull myself up, and get up.
I can’t speak for all men, but I struggle with not being able to do physical things with my kids. It’s unnatural just to watch them learn how to do things on their own. Six years ago, in “Learning to Fly”, I wrote, “Before my diagnosis, I believed that I would do physically heroic dad things, like carrying all three children off to bed, tucked under my arm, like footballs. I believed I would be the MVP of father-son baseball games. I believed my children and I would run 5k’s together and I believed on a perfect summer morning, when the sky veined with golden light, we would ride bikes along the New Jersey coastline. But we age and learn that real life always falls incredibly short of the one we imagined, of the one we planned. And yet despite our protests, it’s the unplanned life that teaches more than our fantasies ever will.”
Little did I know, six years later, I would still be living an unplanned life. Still struggling to accept I will not do the physically heroic dad things I once dreamed of.
And though my body is now indifferent to 200,000 years of heredity, I’m still tethered to a father’s duty to instruct. Except my instruction looks different now. Like dancing like a rock star. Like writing publicly about personal struggles. Like accepting help from others. Like getting up after I fall. Like making peace with my shame.
“Dad, maybe we can have a catch later.”
Standing again, I look at him, and smile, “I would like that.”
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