Me and my boy—who is 17 now—do a father/son trip every summer.
Normally, that involves a backpack, mountains, sleeping in the dirt, and digging a hole in the forest floor with a knife to use as a latrine.
We earn the views of mountain vistas that we see…lazy people don’t make it up here.
Weak people without a tolerance for severe discomfort and a certain amount of water discipline don’t make it either.
And nobody gets to come here on a senior citizens bus trip. You can’t drive to the kinds of places we go, and that makes the experience all the sweeter.
Particularly when you consider that, depending on the province or state, I am actually eligible for the senior citizen’s discount in restaurants and bowling alleys. (And BTW, when the hell did 55 become “senior?” I’m thinking about writing someone a sternly-worded letter…which, face it, is a real senior citizen thing to do. Damnit.)
What I remember from trips like this with my son is sticking my face out of the tent in the morning and seeing a doe cropping grass about three feet away from my tent cock her head quizzically at me and seem to shrug, and go back to eating.
When they grow up in U.S. national parks under a blanket hunting ban, and when they see about four humans a year, they’re not skittish at all—which kind of makes you feel like the ugly girl at the dance when they ignore you.
I remember the way the laws of gravity are suspended when, after six hours on the trail slogging up the mountain, you drop the pack to the ground and it feels like you’re about to float away.
I have led this boy up sections of trail so steep that as I stood on the trail I could lean forward slightly at the waist and touch the same trail in front of me with an outstretched hand.
And heard the angry shout from behind me: “Are you $#@^ing kidding me, old man!”
And grinned. Because this old man can still walk a lot of 17-year-olds into the ground.
I haven’t managed to exhaust the boy yet, but I have managed to annoy him severely.
Which, as a father, is a joy unto itself.
Other wonderful ways to annoy your 17-year-old son?
1) When he’s in the rec room with his girlfriend, walk quickly downstairs, flip on the lights and yell, “Hey! What's going on?” (All the while keeping your eyes closed. Cause…well. It’s necessary.)
2) Turn up at his sports games and hug him in front of his teammates, calling him, “Mylittlebabybunkerbunnyboo.”
3) When walking past a group of girls his age at the mall, hook your pinky finger into his and loudly call him darling, so the girls do a double-take and think they just passed a really creepy, May-December romance.
And that’s just off the top of my head…I’m sure you can think of more.
That is, if you’re the kind of parent who likes to embarrass their kids…and if you’re not, I don’t think you have any business having children.
Anyway, this year we were planning the trip and he said: “You know, it doesn’t always have to hurt.”
“What doesn’t have to hurt?”
“Our annual trip. We could…oh. I dunno. Have fun.”
“You’re saying our trips aren’t fun?”
“Well,” he said, “they’re satisfying. It’s fun to hang with you. But let’s face it. When we take on a week-long hike, how many other people do we see?”
I thought back to our last trip. “Four?”
“Right. Four in a week. And the season for hiking lasts what? Eight weeks? So that’s 32 people a summer go the kind of place we go to?”
“Doesn't that tell you something?”
“That other people are wimps?”
“No. That you’re crazy. The only other kind of people I see doing this kind of thing are soldiers on the news. Same size pack. Same nasty mountains. The only thing different is that nobody’s shooting at us.”
“So what do you want to do instead?”
He smiled. “Vegas,” he said.
So we went to Vegas. I was hesitant about it. One of the reasons I take my son to the mountains is, let’s face it, as a toughness test. For him and me. He’s getting to the age when he’s going to be out in the world on his own more and more, and I guess this was my last-ditch attempt to discover if he was tough enough for the world.
But Vegas it was. We went to a restaurant owned by Emeril Legasse and I realized for the first time that my boy’s table manners are impeccable. It was his first fine-dining experience and he loved it and fit right in.
He looks like he could be 21 so we played the slots for a while and he said, “It’s like a really, really boring video game. I’d rather play Call of Duty,” which was a relief.
We saw a comedian named Ron White. After the show, there was a nice, little guy about to get his teeth punched in for asking some drunks behind him to stop talking. Without saying a word, the boy and I stepped up and flanked the guy about to get punched out. And the bully drunk doing all the talking said, “You with him?” and my boy said, “We are now.”
Quiet. Firm. A little gravelly. And I thought: “Holy crap, when did the boy become Clint Freaking Eastwood?”
And the bully and his drunk friends backed down and my son looked at me and said, “Shut up.”
And I said, “About what?”
And he said, “You’re about to get all teary eyed and tell me how you’re proud of me and that you’re going to have to stop thinking of me as a boy and more as a man. And that you’re proud of me.”
And I said, “Shut up.”
Cause he was right, of course.
For years, I’d been taking him into the mountains to discover what kind of man he was going to be.
Turns out, I could have saved myself all the effort and just taken him to Vegas.â€‹
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