The Tiger Woods of Sons

September 9, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

My son will be the Tiger Woods of tennis.  No, even better, he will be the Michael Jordan of tennis.  Wait, wait, my son will be the next John McEnroe of uhh….well, tennis.

At least that’s my fantasy.

There comes a point in fatherhood where most Dads, foist all his hopes, dreams, and aspirations on his kid.  In my case, I have my ten-year-old son, Tyler.

I think this generational rite of passage starts from a biological urge for fathers to transfer every ounce of ambition and unfulfilled aspiration into their son so that we can live vicariously through them.  It’s bred into us.  We can’t help ourselves.  I believe the clinical term for the condition is “Needtopassthebuckology”.

I see signs of it every time I get together with my friends.  “My son just got an all-star award delivered to our home for baseball!” said one.  My other friend called up to tell me that he’s started coaching his two boys in junior tennis and that one of his boys was characterized as being especially gifted.

In fact, now that I think of it, every one of my friends who has a son who is at least eight years old has told me that their son is especially gifted in one sport or another.  I have yet to meet a father who has an average or “gift-less” child.

All of this, of course, only intensifies my obsession to discover the super human-like talent that must lie somewhere within Tyler.  If all these other so-called gifted boys are that good, then surely Tyler must possess the kind of Schwarzenegger-like strength and cheetah-like reflexes to excel in any sport.

I figured, once we discovered Tyler’s athletic gifts, in short order we could expect opponents to fall to their knees in dejection once they saw the phenomenon that is Tyler and realize that any attempt to compete against him was basically a futile delay of the inevitability of his unstoppable awesomeness.

Perhaps my expectations were a tad high.

I’ve taken him out to the tennis court, since I’m a pretty good player and I figured it was a good place to start.  I taught him the basics, and he gets excited when he hits the ball and gets a little frustrated when he misses.  He is fine when we are on the court, but you distinctly get the feeling he would be just as happy riding his bike or goofing off with his friends.

He has no obsession for the game, and based on my experience with him, the same goes for soccer, baseball, or any other organized sport.  As a dad who loves his son, I’ve come to realize that whatever he does, as long as he tries, is fine with me.

So, after a few weeks of coming to this conclusion, I was pleasantly surprised yesterday that Tyler wanted me to take him out to the tennis court and hit some balls.

Of course, with my outlandish expectations once again quickly re-established, I readily obliged and we headed to the courts.

On the court, Tyler ran around, trying to hit every shot, including ones he couldn’t realistically reach.  He kept at it, and only took a break just to get some water.  We played for 90 minutes and for the first time, he seemed to revel in the game.

Time to work on those sponsorship deals again.

Once we were done, we came home and he wanted to get some more water.  He opened up the refrigerator, and all at once, one of the side drawers fell off and a number of glass jars burst on the floor.  Tyler looked a bit stunned, and I told him to step away from the broken glass but that it was OK and that these things happen sometimes.  Yet, he looked dejected.

I told him, “It’s OK, Tyler.  It’s just an accident.  I’m not mad at you.”  He said, “I just wanted this to be a perfect day, and now you have to clean up this mess.”

Not quite understanding what he meant, I asked him, “What do you mean you wanted this to be a perfect day?”  He said, “You know, the card I gave you this morning, you and I spending time together today.”

Then I realized what my ten year old meant.  That morning, he gave me a card.  For the last few years on that day, he’s given me a card.  A father’s day card.  And now I realized, he played his heart out on the tennis court on that day…for me.

At least for me, it was the best father’s day a father could ask for.

A time for reflection, resolutions, and calcium supplements

September 4, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

And so, as we reach the zenith of another year, we pause to reflect on the year that was, of lessons learned, and the promise of a new year.  Such as it is with the close of another year, I come to the realization that in my life, time begets wisdom, experience begets patience, and perhaps most importantly, I am one step closer to needing soluble fiber supplements in my daily diet.  I wonder where I can get a bulk discount on Metamucil?

If at all else, I’ve learned that time creeps up on you.  For example, a few weeks ago, I hurt my leg and was walking with a noticeable limp.  This, in and of it self was not remarkable.  Rarely does a year in my life go by that I don’t cause significant injury to myself by doing something needlessly dangerous.  Try to fly off the roof with homemade “Bat-wings?”  Check.  Run and jump off a trampoline to dunk a basketball like Michael Jordan?  Check.  Try to leap over a four-foot hedge to impress my wife?  Check.

No, what set this injury apart from all the rest was that it occurred while I was walking around, looking around.  I didn’t trip.  I didn’t walk into a potted azalea.  I caused significant injury to my leg from the simple act of walking.

I believe that life has a purpose.  Every aspect of life is an opportunity to grow and learn.  Still, what practical purpose would an “age-inflicted” injury serve my life and those around me?  It took a while for me to discover the answer, and the meaning was revealed the moment someone asked me how I injured my leg.

It dawned on me that the answer I would give to that seemingly innocuous question would reveal the level of maturity I’ve attained over my life.  Would I own up to the fact that I had caused myself a nearly debilitating injury from the simple act of walking from my front door to the mailbox a half block away?  Or would I revel in my own state of denial by coming up with a more impressive and non-age related explanation?

In the end, I provided my questioner a very logical and reasonable explanation for my injury.  If I recall, the explanation included the presence of an oak tree, a beehive, a ladder and a rottweiler.

My own issues of denial notwithstanding, I did learn some things this year.

For several months now, my seven-year-old son has been writing ever more persuasive letters to Santa, beseeching him to get him an electronic toy called a “Roboraptor.”  This robot, which is basically a roboticized dinosaur that moves and makes monster sounds via a remote control, costs $120.00.

I mention the price of this toy primarily as a point of reference, for if I recall correctly, it was only a few years ago that this same son, when he was three years old, would have been perfectly happy if I had given him a box of bubble wrap for Christmas.

Still, my son isn’t normally a very materialistic person, and the years of bubble wrap for presents certainly served their purpose.  Besides, he had indeed earned a present with his grades and good behavior at school.  So, I figured, I’d splurge a little and Santa would have to lug around an extra “Roboraptor” for this year’s deliveries.

Christmas morning.  Excitement was in the air.  You could almost see “Roboraptor” straining against his box to escape and fulfill a boy’s wildest dreams.

When it came to his turn to open his presents, my son ripped open the package, and he immediately squealed with a shriek of delight.  “Roboraptor” was at last his, and he proceeded to act out all his prehistoric fantasies with his new robo pal in tow.

He played ecstatically with his new toy with joyous abandon and rapturous attention…for about 20 minutes.  He promptly spent the next half hour popping the bubble wrap that was packed around the “Roboraptor” box.

By my calculations, each minute my son played with “Roboraptor” cost me about six dollars.  As always, the bubble wrap was free.

Next year, he says, he wants a lava lamp.  I wonder what type of packing material they use for that?

Eliminating the Gray Area

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

It’s amazing where life’s lessons can unexpectedly come from.  In this case, my nine-year-old son taught me a lesson on the dangers of vanity.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not a vain person.  In fact, anyone who saw me walk into the International House of Pancakes last weekend wearing my standard issue tattered sweater, oversized sweatpants, and four day old stubble will back me up on that one.

The only exception to my own lack of vanity comes with the pride I have in my hair.  No, I’m not talking about spending a lot of money sporting the latest hairstyle (I believe you’d call my latest style “Roll out of bed crapshoot”), or combing in a sleek hair gel.

The source of my pride comes from the fact that unlike myself, the hair on most of my friends (and even my younger brother) are well on their way to turning gray if not falling out altogether.  I, on the other hand, continue to have a full head of hair, still as dark as when I was a kid.

I don’t know why my lack of gray is so important to me.  Maybe it’s a way of clinging to my youth.  Maybe the contrast of my hair compared to my friends allows me the enjoyment of saying, “Hey, you’re an old man!” without actually having to say anything.

The problem with this kind of vanity, of course, is that it is fleeting.  Time inexorably marches on, and sooner or later you have to face reality (or a good hair dye).

It doesn’t happen all of a sudden.  It creeps up on you.  The first gray hair I saw in the mirror a few months ago, I easily dismissed as a “genetic anomaly”.  It’s a one-off.  An imperfection in a sea of black, youthful goodness.  Besides, I kept thinking, it’s just one gray hair.

Then a few weeks go by, and alongside that one gray hair sprouts up a few new gray haired residents in what was before a perfectly youthful head of hair.  The truth is that these new sprouts of grey were virtually unnoticeable by any uninformed passersby, but due to my already established vanity and the fact that I’ve painstakingly categorized each follicle of hair, each withered strand was an assault on my already fragile ego.

Staring at the mirror, observing the gradual and inevitable mark of time, you discover an opportunity, a crossroads in your life where you can set aside petty notions of vanity, and truly value the life you have with all your lifelong friends and loved ones.  You can spend your days accepting the wisdom that comes with getting older, and realizing that the color of your hair is meaningless in the greater scheme of life.

Or, you can do what I did and frantically start pulling out those noxious strands of gray hair.

Which leads me to my hard earned lesson.

You quickly realize that staring at the mirror only allows you to pull out a few conveniently placed strands of hair growing towards the front of your head.  After that, the hairs toward the back of your head are nearly impossible to pluck by yourself.  A second mirror, a magnifying glass, tweezers, a complex series of ropes and pulleys…at some point you realize that you can’t pull them all out on your own.

Just as I’m about to give up, my son Tyler walks over and asks for some help on his homework. As a responsible father, understanding completely the importance of homework, I tell Tyler to put his books down and help me pull out the remaining gray hairs so that we can quickly get to his homework.

Tyler, always the helpful one, is exceedingly eager to help me out.  He stands behind me as I’m seated, and peers into the back of my head, literally digging through my hair, trying to identify each lonely strand of gray hair.

He doesn’t want to hurt me, and thinks that by pulling each hair out slowly it will hurt less.  I quickly correct him after the first pull by threatening to withhold his allowance for the rest of the year if he pulled another hair out slowly.

He quickly gets the hang of things.  A quick pluck here, a short yank there.  He’s pulled out four or five gray hairs in a matter of seconds.  At one point, Tyler says, “Hey, I’m your own personal monkey!”

So we come to the last gray hair, and it’s right on the back of my head, and it’s too short for Tyler to get a good hold of it.  So, he suggests, that he guide my hand to the back of my head, help me grasp that single strand, and let my stronger hands do the trick.

Once it’s ready, Tyler tells me to pull.  He says, “Now, Dad!”  I yank.

It was like getting your hair caught in the trunk of someone’s car as they were speeding away.  I had pulled out about 20 hairs, and as it turns out, not one of them was gray.

My son had inadvertently gotten me to voluntarily yank a big clump of hair out of my own head.

Tomorrow I’m spending his allowance on hair dye.

Crouching Child, Bedeviled Parent

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

Son I had a grueling day yesterday.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it, but I did.  Mentally, I was completely drained.  Physically, I was a wreck.

What one word best describes the experience?  Well, let’s see.

According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, the following is the definition for the word, “burnout”.

Burnout (pronounced, “bern’out’”): A state of emotional exhaustion caused by the stresses of one’s work or responsibilities.

A state of emotional exhaustion.  Umm, yes, that would be me.  That’s not quite concise enough, though.  I’ve come up with the perfect phrase to sum up how I feel as well as identify what I went through yesterday.

Disneyland Burnout (pronounced, “Augghh!!!”):  A state of emotional exhaustion caused by interminably long lines, exorbitantly priced food, and the inexplicable and sudden appearance of clothes wearing, human-sized rodents.

Now don’t get me wrong.  This is the same Disneyland I grew up cherishing as a kid.  It’s the same Disneyland I would have gladly traded my younger brother for to get a chance to ride on the latest ride.  And it’s the same Disneyland that I would beg my parents to take me to year after year after year.

Unfortunately, therein lies the problem.  It’s one thing when you are the beggar.  It’s a whole other thing when you are the begg-ee.

For those of you who think I’m exaggerating, let me give you an idea of how our little family outing went.

Let’s start with the afore-mentioned pleading.  My eight-year-old son Tyler, who is usually a bright, unassuming delight to be with, was great fun to be with when we were actually on one of the rides itself.  Unfortunately, each ride usually lasts for about three minutes, which is then followed by about 40 minutes of us waiting in line for to go on another three-minute ride.  It’s during each of these little interludes that we were subjected to my son’s version of “closing the deal.”

His sales pitch usually goes something like this:

Can we go on Space Mountain one more time?  Please?  I always love going on Space Mountain.  Oh please!  PLEASE???  JUST…PLEASE?!?  I just want to go on Space Mountain one more time!  PLEASE?  PLEAASE???  PLEAAAAASE???

Bear in mind that it’s during the second round of this that he’s clasping his hands in a tight grip, shaking his hands urgently with his eyes closed and slightly bent at the knees.

Apparently, he seems to believe that this elevated level of groveling has a chance at succeeding.  Anyone watching this scene from a distance might think that this was a starving boy begging for sustenance.

Speaking of food, being thrown side to side on some of the faster rides can leave you hungry, tired, and thirsty.  No problem there, because we can take a quick break and as a convenience, food and refreshments are all around.  A nice, cold, bottled water and some tasty french fries would hit the spot.

How much?  Eleven dollars.

Eleven dollars?  Eleven dollars for some water and half a potato?  Ah well, at least the french fries weren’t in the shape of Mickey Mouse.

For some reason, anything in the park that even remotely resembles a circle, like a balloon, waffles, and especially hats, must be re-designed to include two round ears protruding from the top of it.  I think it’s mandated in one of Disney’s bylaws.

Why, even the week before, as I was in Asia traveling from the Hong Kong airport into the city via their express train, I saw, out the window, another train with a big Mickey Mouse emblem stamped on it’s side.  This reminded me that, of course, this was the train to take some happy tourists to Disney’s newest Disneyworld, this one located in Hong Kong.

And if you looked closely enough at the train, you could see some parents, many of them wearing “Mickey” hats, seated on the train.  Right below them, no doubt, would be their kids, hands clasped, in the Disney “crouch position.”

Getting a jump on the competition, unless you’re playing checkers with your son

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

A few nights ago my eight-year-old son Tyler came rushing to me with tears streaming down his face, sobbing uncontrollably, with the most broken hearted expression I’ve ever seen.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, out of genuine paternal concern for an obviously traumatized and distraught young boy.  Looking at his face, a rush of dramatic images flash in my mind.  Who hurt my son?  How did he get hurt?  What do I need to do?  Do we have any ice?

“Beth beat me in checkers!” he said, choking the words out in between sobs.  Beth, by the way, is Tyler’s nanny.

Still not quite understanding the situation completely, I began asking a few follow up questions.

“And then what?”  I asked.  “What happened after that?”
“Nothing.  That’s it!”  he said, gasping for air.

“So what you’re telling me…” I continued, “…is that the reason you’re so completely beside yourself is because you lost a game of checkers.  Beth didn’t throw the board up in the air while celebrating and hit you in the head with it?  She didn’t scream ‘Tyler is a loser!’ and dance the chicken dance around you?”

“No” he said, sullenly, as if he had suddenly lost any reason for living.

“Then, the only reason for all of this is because you lost a game of checkers?” I repeated.

“But I beat almost all the kids at school!”  he said, beseechingly.

As a responsible parent, I immediately ascertain that an earnest “father/son” talk is necessary.  I spend the next few minutes explaining how important it is to be a good loser as well as a good winner, that he’s only eight years old and he should know that he’s at a distinct disadvantage when playing an adult because an adult has a lot more experience at checkers as well as life experience.  I finish delivering my words of wisdom by telling my son that as he gets older, he will also improve at nearly everything, including checkers.

At the end of my little speech, we hug each other as only a father and son can, he wipes away his remaining tears, and goes off on his merry way.

A few minutes later, Tyler comes back – smiling, but this time, he’s holding the checkerboard set in front of him.

“Ba Ba, would you play checkers with me?” he asks, very innocently.

As a responsible parent, I immediately ascertain that part two of the “father/son” talk is necessary.  I agree to play, but I spend the next few minutes explaining that if we are going to play checkers, I am actually going to try and win.  I explain that it does him no good for me to lose on purpose and that when I win, he needs to remember our earlier discussion about being a good loser.  At the end of “Part Two” of my series of checkers playing etiquette, he nods his head in agreement.

OK…I think you know where I’m going with this.

We begin playing, and I take each turn – with one eye on the board and one eye on the TV.  After all, it’s OK to win but I should at least keep it close – he’s still only eight years old.

I’m not sure when I realized I was about to lose this game.  Maybe it was when Tyler started rushing me.  “Hurry up, Ba Ba – what’s taking you so long to move?” he’d say.

Maybe it was when I got up to turn off the TV and started to brew a cup of coffee.  Maybe it was after I started responding to my wife by saying things like “Can’t you see we’re trying to play a game here?!?”  every time she said it was time for Tyler to go to bed.  Maybe it’s when I shouted, “He can do his homework tomorrow!!!”.

In the end, I accepted the situation, told him that he’d won, and carried him up to bed as he hugged me, as only a father and son can.

Needless to say, we played another round the following day, and this time with me carefully considering each move as well as frequently referring to the book “Checkers for Dummies”, I ended up on top.  Tyler, to his credit, took the loss well.

Now if my dad ever reads this, I know he’s going to sit me down for part three of the “father/son” talk – only this time I’ll be doing most of the listening.

Bruce Lee or James Bond – that is the question.

September 3, 2008 by trooce · Leave a Comment 

As an Asian American boy growing up in the 70’s, I spent an inordinate amount of time weighing the pros and cons of both men.  Most people watching a ten-year-old boy while his time away daydreaming about kung fu masters and super secret British spies might naturally assume the boy was placing his heroes into mortal danger in some adventurous exploit.

They would be wrong.  In my mind, these were not fantasies.  These were career options.

But, how to choose?  How could anyone not want to be able to completely disable a dozen bad guys using just your feet, hands, and an ominous stare?  On the other hand, how could anyone resist a tuxedo wearing secret spy who could shoot missiles out of his car or bust out of prison using a bomb set off by a watch/detonator thingamajig.

The biggest sell was trying to convince my parents.  If I recall, through all of “discussion” (if you can call it that), I kept hearing the words, “doctor” or “lawyer” bandied about a lot.

Fine, I thought – just show me a doctor who can remove tonsils wielding a laser imbedded scalpel or a lawyer who gets to have his way with the defendants at the end of the trial and we’ve got a deal.

At ten years old, you haven’t yet learned the word, “impractical”.  A ten year old never wonders why 20 bad guys surrounding Bruce Lee will politely wait their turn to fight Bruce individually instead of gang tackling him, which would seem to make more sense.  Likewise, while Bruce Lee at a minimum suffers a few cuts and bruises and always manages to have his shirt torn off his body, a ten year old never questions why James Bond can fly his boat through a building, have his body ejected from an exploding car and fall from a ten foot building yet manage not to ruffle his hair or crease his still crisp tuxedo.

After all, these are exactly the reasons why I wanted to be like them.

I would love to impart some cultural wisdom on how my being Asian American led me to face some questions of my own sense of identity as I struggled to parse out my feelings for the very western James Bond and the very Chinese Bruce Lee.  I’d love to say that the time I spent dreaming about my two idols helped me better understand the two cultures in my life and that I’ve been able to help my kids as they are growing up.

I’d love to, but I can’t.  Come on – Bruce Lee had numchuks and James Bond drove an Aston Martin!  What else do you need?

Yesterday, my son Tyler said he came up with his own superhero.  He’s nearly ten years old now, and he said that he was getting tired of the superheroes he’s been following – Superman, Batman, & Spiderman.  He calls his superhero, the “Shadowgripper”, a dark and mysterious hero whose special power is the ability to “grab” shadows and turn them into objects he can use and shape at will.

Grabbing shadows?  Kind of makes my thoughts of numchuks and laser watches seem a little underwhelming.  Well, I should let him have his fun.

I’ll even wait a few months before I start mentioning the words “doctor” or “lawyer”.