Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Soundtrack

Everybody’s good at something

Like everyone, my kids have their distinctive personalities and traits. My daughter is blessed with musical talent and at least a smattering of perfect pitch (ie. the ability to recognize tonal sounds just by hearing them). My middle son swings his Nerf N-Force sword around like a natural. His sister is guaranteed to drop it or smack it into something unintended, whereas my son deftly cuts and slashes with the grace of a master swordsman. He’s still laughably easy to parry and disarm, but he looks cool as hell when he’s swinging that foam blade around.

My youngest has a knack for making you like him, even though he’s naturally mischievous. He has these enormous eyes that just suck you in and make you want to hug him. Matched with that is a joy of life that’s impressive even for a little kid. He’s also the only one of my three kids who’s capable of entertaining himself. The other two have always depended heavily on their parents, siblings or friends, while my youngest can easily play for hours with whatever toys happen to be lying around. More, there is a soundtrack to his life.

You see, when my youngest is playing, he’s also humming and singing a generic action-movie soundtrack at the same time. He’ll pause occasionally to mutter dialogue or to produce the necessary sound effects – rocket engines, blaster guns and explosions – but the rest of the time there’s music. It goes on for as long as he’s playing, which can be quite a long time, and it’s adorable.

I had to work hard to win my son’s affection. He was born shortly before I took a job that had a horrible commute and required extensive business travel. So I wasn’t around nearly enough during his toddler years. All of my kids imprinted on my wife in a way that said, “Dad, you’re an afterthought at best,” but it was worse with my youngest. He has relatively little use for me. More, consistent with his mischievous spirit, he found it amusing to deny that he liked, or loved, me at all. It was, I confess, very painful to think that months and years might be ticking by where opportunities for him to sit on my lap or be held in my arms were slipping away, lost forever to time and the inevitable process of growing up and growing old.

That began to change a year ago. One result of my career shift was that for over three months, he and I were home together all day – just the two of us. This was probably more time than we’d spent alone together in all the years he’d been alive and it was wonderful bonding time. It didn’t completely heal the rift I felt between us, but it laid the groundwork for improvement. The rest of the summer – which now included his older siblings, too – reinforced the notion that it was OK to like dad, too. It seemed to take forever to establish the missing bond between us, but at last it seems to be there. He no longer squirms away when I try to hug him or when I just put my arm around his shoulders as he’s showing me a book or a piece of artwork that he’s created. He doesn’t order me to leave when I sit and watch him playing a game on the computer. And he comes to me – often – asking to be tickled. He’s one of those rare people who really really likes being tickled, but he never asks my wife to do it. Tickling is my job and it has become a key facet of our relationship. I tickle him thoroughly and mercilessly, usually until my fingers cramp up and I have to stop despite his pleas for more.

I had to really earn my youngest child’s affection. I had to work at it. Sometimes I worry that because it came more naturally from the other two that I’ll take it for granted from them. I console myself that if I’m asking that question it’s probably not a problem. But certainly winning the battle to build the bridge with my son has been richly rewarding for me. The soundtrack of his young life has become the soundtrack of my middle years.


  1. I am fortunate. My son is eight, and I've been able to be a stay-at-home dad to him for most of his life. It sounds like your constancy with your youngest son is paying off. How old is he now? I wonder what other activities he enjoys, or might enjoy, sharing with you. Excursions into town? Cooking or baking? Watching movies?

  2. So far, there isn't really much else he specifically wants me around for. I've tried to involve him in things like cooking or just sitting with me to watch TV, but no dice. We have had a decent time when we've gone out together to run errands or just wander around town, but with two older siblings around the opportunities for us to do that alone are few and getting fewer. Still, I'll take any amount of improvement over the cold shoulder I used to get.