Dad tries to keep up with 10-year-old while on wheels

features@islandpacket.comMarch 9, 2014 

Every now and again the boys and I visit the Bristol Skate Park on Hilton Head Island's south end, a wonderful resource that's free, close and often empty. We're not professionals -- the 10-year-old and I will grab our vintage Target skates (my son's from Christmas a few years ago, mine from like the summer of 1945) and a few hockey sticks and zing around the rink, absent-mindedly whacking away at pucks happily thrown around by my 2-year-old. Sometimes I'll even pick the little one up and skate around with him in my arms because no one ever taught me about safety.

But there's a second component to the skate park: the, uh, skate park, with the ramps and the half-pipe and the dangerous-looking metal objects you're supposed to ride on, or over, or through, I think? In recent visits, my 10-year-old has been drifting over to the dangerous hemisphere more and more, quietly vanishing after a few obligatory minutes of father-son-little brother family time to explore the area that offers independence, solitude and several thousand ways to injure his own head. I let him do it, of course -- he's the sort who learns best when nobody's monitoring him, or shouting orders, or running drills, or dangling rewards or levying punishments. Just him off on his own trying, falling, learning, falling, trying again, falling some more. It works out fine, since there's not a lot I can teach him about skateboarding anyway, other than how to be vaguely afraid of the skater kids in high school while secretly wanting to be one of them because their band T-shirts looked cooler and weren't advertising Aerosmith.

Anyway, during one such visit a few weeks ago I ambled over to check on the 10-year-old and make sure he wasn't bouncing his head off too much pavement. And I found him skating the same loop on repeat, practicing it over and over again -- down the big ramp, up a smaller one, down the other side, up a curved hill that allowed him to turn to the opposite direction, up and down another small hill, then up to a fairly big one to where he began. "Try this, Dad," he said with genuine enthusiasm, after spotting me. "Here, I'll do another demonstration." And he was off, down, up, down, up and around, up, down, back. He was getting it, and liking it.

Well, what could I do? Faced with needing to maintain my presence as a primary role model yet knowing that it hurts to break bones falling down sloped things, my brain went into panicked decision-making mode, throwing words out into my field of vision like "Sherlock": "He's into skating." "He wants to share his enthusiasm with me." "I mustn't show weakness in the presence of my 10-year-old son." "You say that now, but you're also a 38-year-old father of two who is pathetically undercovered by health insurance." And finally, and this part is key, "You don't skate, you never did skate, and you wore Aerosmith T-shirts."

(Also this was several weeks ago, and I was being fueled by a scorching case of Olympic Fever, and all those awesome probably now-unemployed people flinging themselves at high speeds into beautiful Russian airspace. Three weeks ago I didn't even know what snowboard cross was; 20 seconds into it, I was essentially ready to abandon my work and dedicate myself fully to learning its intricacies.)

First, the good news: The first four skates were fine -- a little wobbly, but successful. The fifth involved going up that bendy loopy part, coming down awkwardly and crashing into the ground with 98% of the front of my body. Happily I was wearing wrist guards; unhappily I wasn't wearing rib guards, which are the parts that seem to have absorbed most of the blow if how it hurts to breathe is any indication.

Luckily, my son didn't see my spectacular thuddery, and neither did the 2-year-old, who if history is any indication would have run over and said, "Daddy, what are you doing?" and waited patiently for me to regain the power of speech. Once it returned, I'd have said something like, "Lying here," followed by three giant nourishing breaths, followed by, "Shifting into that phase of late-30-something life wherein one begins to confront the very real terrors of his own mortality. Now please bring Daddy a juice box."

eff Vrabel's second concert ever was Aerosmith. It's where he got the awesome shirt. Follow him at twitter.com/JeffVrabel and read more at www.jeffvrabel.com.

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