I’m sure all parents have a little bit of fear about how their child might turn out as an adult- or just as worse- an adolescent. I mean, could I really still love Arlo if he turned out to be a dickwad like Justin Bieber? I know I am supposed to say I will- and I will- but will I?
I remember seeing Justin Bieber on The Today Show when he was really young. His mom was his chaperone and she did most of the talking for him. Honestly, Justin seemed like a sweet little boy with an amazing voice. Excuse me while my embarrassment fades following my admission of watching The Today Show one time ten years ago. Hey, Matt Lauer was still cool then… No he wasn’t.
Anyway, back to the point- Justin Bieber is a dickwad. So, Arlo, if you ever come home with any haircut resembling Justin Bieber’s, I will punch it off your head.
Well, except for maybe this one- you can slide with this one.
Sorry folks, sometimes I digress. But lucky for us, I started with my digression today- I have a more serious type of fear to tell you about. I don’t even know what to name it- I don’t think anxiety would be correct- I’m not walking around feeling anxious all the time- it’s deeper than that, like way inside of me and most of the time it’s hard for me to recognize. It’s not necessarily worry either. I don’t know what it is- I know it’s there though- and it first started happening in conjunction with fatherhood.
I’ve never been one to live with much fear- being who I am I have always been overly cautious- meaning why should I be scared if I’m so careful. Ever since I was a kid, I have always taken too much time to analyze a situation before taking action- I think that’s why I could never learn to ollie. Instead of actually trying to ollie with the skateboard, I would sit and stare at the board and try to figure it out in my head- I mean why fall over and over when I could just figure it out in my head first- that approach probably ended my professional skateboarding career.
I can’t say that I have never really avoided dangerous things either- I mean, minus the ollie- that was just a case where the cost/benefit of ollie(ing) for the admiration of friends did not outweigh the possibility of broken bones (which I still have never had to this day).
I have done semi-dangerous things though. I motorcycled for a while- once even back and forth across the country. On a separate occasion however, I did have an accident with a pickup truck- it ran a red light- and I ran into it (that was five minutes from home though)- it totaled my bike and I got pretty banged up- but I bought another one and rode again. But I don’t ride anymore though- I traded that in for a welder (which can be dangerous if you look at the light).
I also fought forest fires for six seasons. While doing that I did not have an incessant fear like the one I have now. For the most part I felt safe while doing that job with the exception of a couple occasions. But there was never a wiggling seed of fear buried deep within me like there is now.
Here, I’ll give you an example by telling you what happened a few days ago…
On Wednesdays during the summer in Missoula there is an event called Out to Lunch. Arlo and I check it out about every other Wednesday. We like to dress up in bright outfits, ride our bike there, listen to whatever live music is going on, and split an açaí bowl while we people watch. Yes, we both like açaí bowls- we eat more than just sardines together.
Well, this story is not about the event itself, but what happened on the way there. We ride the bike path from our house to downtown- it’s probably three miles- it cuts straight through town at a diagonal and we have to cross many busy intersections and end up on the riverwalk. This particular day we were riding we came upon a transient- he was middle-aged and scrubby with sun leathered skin. He was sitting on a bench looking through his bag and talking to himself over the blasting music from his transistor radio.
I remember all these details because when I’m with Arlo I have a tendency to analyze potentially dangerous situations- I
usually (always) overanalyze and imagine every possible horrific outcome. (Like I said, I’ve never broken a bone)
Well, as we passed this man he looked up at us and gave me a bit of a crazed straggle toothed smile and said “Hey.” I looked over my shoulder and said “Hey” back and that was that. But then he yelled “Hey!” as if he wanted me to stop- I was ten feet past him now and thought about his crazed smile- nope, not stopping– instead I yelled back “Hey!” again and kept going. And then guess what happened? He yelled “HEY!!” again! I turned to look over my shoulder and he was running after us!
Yeah! With that brief glance I saw he was holding onto his lived-in filthy baggy blue jeans with one hand and his other hand was outstretched reaching toward us- running- not jogging- RUNNING!
I didn’t know what to do except pedal faster- and it’s hard to get some speed going when you are dragging a trailer with a kid in it who likes to collect rocks. Somehow (newfound dad strength) I gathered speed but I had to cross a road up ahead- but there was no way he would/could run that far that fast right? WRONG! He was still running after us- not yelling hey anymore, but screaming unintelligible words! And he was fast! Like former olympic athlete fast!
I readied myself for the road crossing- I either had to cross full bore and dodge a car or two- or slam on the brakes last second- Hopefully it would just be simple and there would be no cars coming and we could glide straight through to safety.
As I was about to hit the road I glanced back- he was still chasing after us and actually closing the gap. I turned back to the road and there were multiple cars coming each way- I slammed the brakes- well, squeezed them- it’s a bike- and there’s not much drama when saying I squeezed the brakes real hard. Anyway-
I jumped off my bike and let it fall- before it hit the ground I lounged for the bear spray I keep in the front of Arlo’s trailer- I stood up while pulling the pin ready to face my attacker who was just upon us.
“Hey man, I think this hat fell out of your bike trailer.”
He had a gasping but soft and reassuring voice. I looked at his outstretched hand that held Arlo’s blue hat. Arlo must have thrown it out when we were passing him.
I looked at the man. I looked at Arlo. I looked at the bear spray in my hand. I looked back at the man. He looked at the bear spray in my hand, “Don’t worry man, I’m an undercover cop- I used to run track.”
I sheepishly took the hat from his hand and put it in the bike trailer. I put the pin back on the bear spray and tucked it away. “Thank you,” I said, “You would never believe what I thought was happening.”
“Yes I can, I’m a father too.” He turned around and started walking back to his bench.
So, that was the happy ending that I just imagined right now while I was writing.
But the ending that kept going over and over in my head that day that I actually passed this guy was him chasing Arlo and I all the way to the river where the only way to get away from him was to plunge ourselves straight into the river where we were swept away to die tragically.
So, yeah, none of that happened except for riding by a strange transient sitting on a bench on the bike path on the way to lunch.
Sorry to take you all the way through that- BUT THAT’S WHAT IT’S LIKE FOR ME NOW IN MY HEAD! And that was truly the only way to make you understand.
I feel a tiny bit slimy and deceitful now. Sorry. Oh- and that’s actually Cate Blanchett, not a picture of the guy I was talking about.
I don’t know where this fear comes from. Maybe it’s biological. It obviously has to do with our new family sect and me not wanting to lose it. Before Arlo, I was fine walking down the street- now when I’m walking down the street I wonder if the next car is going to barrel right over me for no reason whatsoever. Maybe I’m not so crazy to be thinking this way though with all the random acts of violence happening everywhere.
Growing up in California we used to have earthquake drills at school all the time- alarm goes off, everyone under their desks. I’ve heard it’s changed- now it’s active shooter drills- lock the doors and hide. It’s scary to think I’m going to have send Arlo off to school in a few years and he’s going to grow up with these safety precautions as normal. Is he going to come home and ask me, “Papa, why do people want to shoot other people?” Or does/will our culture already have that answer ingrained in a five year old’s head?
Geez, I really just bummed myself out- I didn’t think I would actually feel what it might be like in a few years when Arlo asks me those kinds of questions- but I do. Maybe I’ll explore this topic at a later date, but for now I need a lighter ending…
I know at the beginning of this writing I said I would punch your Justin Bieber hair right off your head. I guess I just meant I don’t want you to become like Justin Bieber- you can still have a similar hairstyle as him. Also, it would be hypocritical of me to tell you that you couldn’t have a haircut like him, because I too, have had a Justin Bieber haircut. In my defense, it was sixteen years before he had it. I’m pretty sure he copied me…
Also Arlo, your Nana made me retake this Senior yearbook photo- don’t know why, but she did.
One last thing- this is how you are sleeping this very moment- it looks like you were struck down by a lighting bolt, and then it just decided to take a snooze on you.
Sweet dreams kid.