Written as a response to…

My son laughing at me after winning a game of Othello 61–3

Coming of Age

A Father’s Day Memory

There is a very special time in the life of your sons when they cross the threshold of adulthood. For most people, that moment comes as a shock, well after-the-fact, and is often traumatic for all parties involved — the father, because he has hung on to his title of protector/strongest man in the house for too long, the mother because she has lost her baby, and the frustrated son whose case for adult privileges has fallen on deaf ears for far too long.

For me, the moment was beautifully encapsulated in three incidents taking place within a two-month period in the summer of 2000.

Event #1: June 14, 2000

On this night, the Los Angeles Lakers won their first NBA championship in twelve years. I had missed most of the Show Time years, because my oldest son became my number one occupation after he was born. As he and his brother became more self sufficient (translations: “get out of my room!” “yeah, I did my homework, can I get back to my game?” and “I got some friends coming over, can you get some snacks on the way out?”), I began to rediscover the passions of my own childhood, like my intense love of basketball. When the final whistle blew and the Lakers were crowned World Champions (suck it, Celtics fans), I wanted to celebrate in a special way.

Since I don’t drink, the only appropriate way to celebrate involving liquid was to throw my older son in the pool.

This seemed entirely logical at the time, since one of our oldest and most beloved family sports was pool-jitsu, where I would stand facing the water’s edge and my sons would try to push me from behind into the pool. Because of their lack of size and my lower body strength, they always ended up in the pool, while I yelled out my fake karate “kiais.”

But tonight was different. My son was four days short of his fifteenth birthday and already close to my size. A year had gone by since the last time I had been in the pool (I require 85° water before I will dive in), so I didn’t realize how much larger and stronger my son had become. Needless to say, there was an epic struggle, and with the aid of my wife, we finally got him into the pool without being pulled in as well. It would be the last time we would succeed in this feat.

Event #2: June 18, 2000

We had a pool party for my son’s 15th birthday. I was doing BBQ duty, and it was the highlight of my cooking career as I turned out massive quantities of chicken and burgers grilled to juicy perfection. You know you’ve hit the big time when, years laters, your sons’ college friends ask “is your dad going to be barbecuing?” Sadly, I’ve never repeated that performance, but it lives on in my memory. I had stumbled into a zen-like grilling zone — without the use of a cooking thermometer.

Because I was the chef, I was not dressed for any pool activities. So, when the inevitable game of pushing kids into the pool started

my feet remained firmly planted in that remote, far flung Southwestern border of Swiss sovereignty, a backyard in the San Fernando Valley.

I watched as some of his friends tried to throw him in the pool. Like me, he used his leg strength, and lowered his center of gravity as he gallantly hung on to some outdoor furniture without budging. In their frustration, they called on more friends to help lift him and toss him in the pool. When the reinforcements arrived, my son introduced his unique power, a combination of the sinuous musculature of a tiger and the impossible flexibility of a worm. His twisting and turning defeated the efforts of the larger group, and they called me to help. But I was proud of his strength and resolve, so I raised the Swiss flag and remained a neutral observer.

Event #3

Somewhere around the middle of August, 2000, our family went to Magic Mountain, the Six Flags park in Southern California known for having the most extreme roller coasters in the chain. They regularly battle with Cedar Point (located in Sandusky, Ohio) for the title of most roller coasters in one park in the world. One ride, the Tidal Wave, is a fairly tame coaster with a 50-foot descent into water. Here’s a POV video of the ride:

Everyone who takes Tidal Wave exits the ride by crossing a bridge situated above the landing zone for the coaster. The single most exciting thing about the coaster is what happens to the spectators as the ride finishes its 50-foot descent:

As we left the ride, my entire family ganged up on me, and held me in place to take the brunt of the next tidal wave to sweep over the bridge. I was laughing so hard from the tickling and wrestling and insanity of the approaching situation that I couldn’t put up much resistance and got soaked. My wife and younger son walked across the bridge, but I grabbed my older son and positioned him in the same location to return the favor. As we watched the next coaster approach and make its descent, he tried to squirm out of my hold. We laughed, as I thought that revenge is a dish best served sopping wet, while he thought of something completely different.

At the moment the coaster crashed into the tidal pool, my son used his super worm powers, twisting one way and then reversing the twist to use my own strength and momentum against me, like a true practitioner of pool-jitsu. The student had become the master, and the gong of the temple bell was replaced by the sound of the second tidal wave as it crashed over me.

Now some people admire my perseverance, and others just call it stubbornness, but I’m a little bit of a cynic, so I only believe things when someone can show me solid facts or data.

Like Odysseus, bound to the mast so he could hear the siren’s song without regard for the attendant madness, I held on to my son — listening to the siren’s song of revenge — without regard for the consequences of my own madness. Again, we jostled for position, laughing the whole time. Again, I held him in the face of the oncoming wall of water. And again, he twisted at the perfect time so I was the one who got drenched.

There is an old French proverb, jamais deux sans trois, and like a Greek hero with a tragic flaw, I laughed and held and laughed and held and laughed and held, until I was twisted again into the path of another oncoming tidal wave.

At this point, I surrendered and we crossed the bridge to rejoin the rest of the family before I got soaked again. My fifteen year old crossed another bridge as well; to me, he had symbolically killed his father and passed into manhood. As the fallen king, I was drenched in both water and humiliation at being bested by this young teenager.

And I have never been prouder of him than at that moment.

Like what you see? We’re having more adventures over here. Join us.

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store