All things come around.
After an abysmal week at work, I slept not at all Friday night with a mind full of worries and regrets and strange dismal dreams.
I awoke with eyes feeling like sand had been ground into them, and all signs suggested that it wouldn't be much of a Saturday. A bad day, though, is the very best time to just get on with the chopping wood and carrying water, and so I did. There were dozens of routine chores around the house to take care of, and there is a kind of dignified elegance to tending to small details when you're feeling depressed. It's awfully good therapy.
Then, about noon, my son appeared downstairs.
"Hey, old man," he said. "Got anything we can build today?
Well, now, there was a thought. Not much better than tinkering with hardware on a bad day.
This is something of a joke around my house, the fact that I will try to fix and build almost anything around the home. My knowledge far exceeds my skill though, and it's a running joke that if you look closely, the signs of my imprecision and lack of motor skills are evident. My daughter likes to grab my hands and hold them up to new friends, pointing out the stitch marks and scars from various battles. My sons friends joke whenever they come over, wanting to know what I'm building now. "Can you teach us something?" one will say. "My dad can't even change a car tire."
Though he had worked the overnight shift at one of two jobs he tends while trying to make the leap from college grad to career man, Boy was rather bright-eyed and serene after just a few hours of sleep. He's now in job interviews and apartment hunting, as well, and so he has a fresh haircut and is generally clean-shaven, which also helps.
So on Saturday we added some roof gutters around a section of the back porch that has been funneling water into the window well for the basement egress window--which happens to the last building project Boy and I tackled a year ago.
So we listened to the ball game on a radio as we measured and cut and nailed and screwed. And we made a total of four trips to the hardware store, since no American man ever manages to get everything he needs in just one trip. And the trips to the store were actually the best part of the day. Men, they love their hardware. The last trip to the hardware store was a lark: we bicycled there to buy wrenches with which to tune up our bikes. Boy teases me about the old-man bike I've just bought--I no longer have any interest in being streamlined, and it's just fine to sit bold upright where I can see things and my back doesn't protest.
Sometimes I regret that my son and I don't share more interests. But then I pause and reflect on the fact that we'll occasionally go to rock concerts together to see guitarists we both admire, that we've been to action films together twice in the last two months. There is a pretty unique pleasure to having a 23-year old son who is a good, responsible man, well adjusted and friendly to people. And moreover, one who not only tolerates his dad, but seeks me out to do things. I couldn't say the same thing about myself at age 23. I never really did get to know my dad. Still don't.
Odd thing. People have asked me what was my favorite age as the kids were growing up, and upon reflection I always recognize that their current ages are always my favorite. I've never got more pleasure from parenthood than I do right now. I will admit, though, that it's the thought of toddler grandchildren, just beginning to master language, that I'm now looking forward to.
Then on Sunday, I drove over to the University to watch my daughter, a freshman, compete as one of the coxwains on the University rowing team. This is big time Division 1 college athletics, and she made the team as a walk-on, while also earning an academic scholarship and studying Chinese and global politics. So Sunday was spend with my other child, sitting in a comfortable chair on the banks of the Mississippi and reading buddhist philosophy in between races while sipping hot tea. Her team won three times.
This is very early spring in Minnesota, and although it was mild in temperature, the limestone walls of the river valley were still coated with glacial ice on the far side, where the direct sun doesn't shine. It's chilly over there. Then my eyes raised a little higher and I was startled to suddenly recognize the big brick building on the far side of the river, sitting high up on the bank. Riverside hospital. A gust of wind came up and I shivered. I counted up to the windows of the seventh floor of the hospital. More than 30 years ago, that's where I spent the better part of a year staring out at the world and not knowing if I would ever really emerge again.
How very strange. Only thirty years, and yet this is an entirely different river I see today.