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I was holding Jude when I realized why I steal babies. We were at Jace and Carly Davis’ wedding and Jude looked like he wanted me to hold him so I held out my arms and he held out his and we sashayed about the dance floor doing the Baby locomotion. More about baby stealing in a moment…

It was during the trip to the Davis wedding in Little Rock with two of our adult children and their dates this past weekend, that I told my wife something I had shared with no one else. It was about a waning feeling as a young man while losing the Samson-like invincibility grown from long hair and vanity. It was the feeling of power Springsteen sang about in Born to Run, “…girls comb their hair in rearview mirrors and the boys try to look so hard,” which is really difficult to pull off when my barber is cutting my hair and referring to the recession again and again before I realize he isn’t speaking of the economy.

It sounds comical to me in my mellow years since I rarely try to look hard anymore, as I once did in my raging Springs-teens. I’m more into comfortable quirky, like Andy Griffith wearing Sanuks and strumming Suwanee river on the front porch swing. And my ego is unaffected by insult because there is none left to shatter when my wife says to me, “You are the hippest man I know, from the ankle down.” “Thank you,” I reply, before the subtlety of the insult becomes clear. (This means I have great taste in shoes and socks…and nothing else)

I am no longer invincible and it’s a relief to be unburdened. Once nothing remained to be admired in the window of shallow self-reflection, there still remained my teen Geist masquerading as a father, doling out wisdom like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation. (Good talk Russ) Some of the most useless advice I’ve given to my children over the years, although stolen and shallow, is nevertheless memorable, which often returns to me in remarkable ways wearing the garments of profundity.

When my son left for college, I told him what Steve Martin’s father told him. “Always carry a trash bag in your car, it doesn’t take up much room and if it ever gets full, you can just throw it out.” And I’ve also passed along to my son a love for colorful socks and advice on wearing them. One Sunday morning we were loitering in the garage waiting for the girls as they put the finishing touches on their Sunday go-to-meeting outfits. Four year old Brandon was wearing a Lord Fauntleroy outfit with shorts and dress shoes and I envied his dapper look, the socks-on-full-display style I couldn’t pull off due to my age and social convention. He sported a black sock and a blue sock, which I advised would be frowned upon by those who devise the color matching rules. He said that mattered little to him. He told me, “You can’t really tell in the garage, it’s too shadowy. Besides, I don’t go by color, I go by thickness.”

Youth is indeed wasted on the young.

And when Jenna was seven-years old, I took her aside before a soccer match and said to her, “I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.”

Of course, that’s Ty Webb telling Danny Noonan how to excel at golf in Caddyshack, but Jenna didn’t know that. A ball is a ball is a ball and there does seem to be a cosmic force connecting the ball with the feet of the greatest players. As Jenna grew older, I shortened the pregame admonition to, “Be the ball.”

So, back to baby stealing. As I was holding baby Jude at the wedding, my cousin told me that just for a moment, he caught a glimpse of me holding my own son, 22 years earlier. And I realized that I was still holding my son, because these moments with our children are not restrained by time. They move freely in and out of our consciousness like the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision crying “Holy, Holy, Holy,” to one another. And so I remember those moments when Karen and I left the kids with Nammy on date night and returned to find them snuggled up in pajamas and we raced to get to them first, literally knocking each other down to be the first one in the room upon our return. So I guess stealing babies is about returning to those moments on some level.

We watched Carly and Jace kiss after saying “I do for as long as we both shall live.” And I thought about how happy Jace and Carly looked as they danced among family and loved ones. I remember Jace Davis and Drew Taylor and Brandon Taylor just a few months old, rolling on their backs on the carpet together like upside down turtles trying to get upright, to get on with it, this business of life.

And when I see my grown children, and understand that they have survived my dim and strange advice, it’s like looking beyond time and seeing the glory of God flowing like wine, as they discover for themselves the force in the universe that moves mountains. It’s amazing how the Good Lord can make something good out of advice like Be the ball.

I sometimes struggle to describe what it means to be a Dad, because I feel like I’m cheating, like somehow I get more than I give. My kids are all grown now, and I find myself at a wedding holding baby Jude and I remember my own children, like it was yesterday. There goes my daughter walking onto the pitch. “Be the ball,” but how can she possibly know what that means?

Yesterday I opened a mysterious package thinking it could be a bomb, so I opened it slowly so the bomb would detonate slowly…but no, I realize my birthday is only a few days away. Maybe it’s a gift.

It’s a gift from my 24-year-old daughter who is now a soccer coach in Nashville.

And I find my stolen words have returned to me written on a shirt.

 Be the ball Jenna

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