I like being in the second half now, as the first was a bear-wrestle from time to time, and I’m the kind of guy who keeps his hopes high. Life has slowed down for me; I’ve settled into a pace — into a way of life, and I like it. Cormac McCarthy wisely points out that this is No Country For Old Men, and what’s more: you can’t stop what’s coming. Embracing the inevitable is the most sensible thing and keeps your vanity in check. Sure the world’s changing, always has been and will be, but if you forget that you’re a part of that change, like it or not, it’ll crush you. That pretty much sums up what I think kids these days need to hear.
Noodle doesn’t know that he’s got a good 77 years left in him, if the chips fall into a neat stack. He doesn’t even know what a year is, except that he’s got three of them, as he’ll proudly announce to anyone who will listen. They say that ignorance is bliss, but I think what they really ought to say is that we find bliss in simple expectations. That’s one thing I’m learning from this little guy and his toddling wisdom.
The other day, Noodle got up, walked into our room, poked me awake, and said, “Oh, there you are Daddy.” He’s a loyal alarm clock, that one. He comes in figuring I’ll be there. He expects that I’ll spread out his peanut butter and honey sandwich every morning, pour his glass of milk, tune in Sesame Street, wipe his bottom, cinch up his pants and tie his shoes, turn off the bathroom light, pack a few snacks, drive us to the playground, gather him back up when he falls….
Noodle’s life is circumscribed by trust, which I suppose you might say is more a lack of expectations than anything else. It’s not something you think about or cogitate on in your free time; it’s pure belief. Noodle is the proud possessor of an unshakeable trust that I will act in every scene on life’s stage. But I know something that he doesn’t yet: that mine is a supporting role in his play. I’m the wise old wizard, but he’s the one who’s got to slay the dragons.
Still, at least I know that I’m going to leave an impression on Noodle. He will be the average of us. He will be me, tempered, exaggerated, and amplified. He will be all that we dreamed for him, and for ourselves, but yet more that I couldn’t even have imagined; he’ll invent more as he goes along. He’ll see my flaws because I’ll show him how; I won’t be his Superman. He’ll hone skills that I can conceive but not possess, and even some beyond my conceptual capacities. He’ll improve on what I am, reflect it in himself, and leave me a better man than I started.
Then one day, I’ll die.
It’ll be the first time I’m not there to squeeze him when he needs it. It’ll be the first time he’s on his own — at least in a way that he couldn’t have imagined up to that moment. It’ll be the first time that he will have to respond to a catastrophe without me. It’ll be the beginning of a new phase for Noodle — and I’m sorry that I’ll miss out on this one, because he’ll be at his strongest. I’m sorry Noodle, that I’ll miss one of the great moments of your life — when you remember out loud all the things we should and shouldn’t have done. When you tell everyone who cares to listen about our ups and downs, our secret mornings when we ate whole boxes of cookies for breakfast; when Daddy didn’t stop you all those times you climbed the walls of the “enclosed” playground, because it was so damned impressive a sight to behold; when I barked at you even though the problem was me, and cuddled up closer when the problem was you; when we ate our broccoli together because Mommy’s right that we always should eat our green food; when I let you lick beaded up rain off the car because the mystery of you loving it so much trumped my worries about dirt; when we used our rude words in traffic because fuck them anyway; and all those times that I really didn’t understand you, chose not to reel you in but to cut you more slack, because maybe I’m not such a rule follower as I try to make you out to be — that’ll make sense to you one day. And there’s one thing I can promise you right now: this list is only going to get longer and longer because I’m sure as hell never going to quit.
I don’t mean to come off as melodramatic, and especially not egotistical. It takes a village, I realize, and I’m not the only influence in his life. Surely there will be plenty of others by the time he’s 43, and odds are his mother will be standing right there next to him, still making her own impression as my final sun sets. But I take more than a little pride in this future fact: when I wonder who will be there to pick him up this one last time, to dust him off, and to show him how to best get on with things — well I guess it’s a comfort knowing that even though I won’t be there, it’ll be me.