Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wild Dogs

My boys love to stop in one little room at our local natural history museum that features a rather old-school nature video. The museum's famous dinosaur collection has interactive screens, some of which offer quite cool learning experiences. The nature video, though, captures their attention despite a little screen, stentorian old narration, strange little scrolling video notations and the really uncomfortable, sunken upholstery backless bench you sit on to watch it.

The video shows young animals of several different species play fighting: monkeys, wild dogs, big cats. Many of the scenarios depict young animals playing with their parents, pointing out that the play fighting helps the young learn tactics and test their physical limits. The video came to mind after a fierce wrestling match with the boys the other night. We were doing pretty much the same thing as the monkeys and dogs. There are lots of things that either mommy or daddy can do with kids, but this wrestling does seem to be the special provenance of daddies. With the four-year-old, I know that I can do certain things but he gets scared and can get hurt more easily than his eight-year-old brother. The eight-year-old holds nothing back, and I can be rougher with him. He still, though, lacks any real sound strategy to defeat me besides tickling, and I can neutralize that because I'm still relatively stronger enough to grab his wrists and redirect them wherever I like.

When I joined my wife's family, the vigor with which my father-in-law and brother-in-law wrestled alarmed me. It produced a certain cognitive dissonance to watch them bash around a living room whose decor that tended to the anglophile antiques. It was the nature video with a different species and in a very different habitat. I wrestled and punched and fought that way with my brother, but never with my dad. I'm not sure why. I do know that we tested our mettle against each other in an activity that was not an option for my FIL: sports. He's just not a sports guy, but he was willing to wrestle the heck out of his son right up to college. It definitely stopped before my BIL joined the Marine Corps, which was a good decision for my FIL's health and longevity.

Although my dad and I didn't engage in the wild dog training regimen as I said, my brother, he and I did have a venue in which to test limits: one on one basketball. My brother and I played a lot of one on one in the church gym while our parents were upstairs doing, you know, church stuff. By the time I was in middle school and early high school, the three of us played a lot of pickup basketball. My dad had a map in his head of every playground court within five miles of our house, and we would drive from court to court looking for "comp" (competition). If we couldn't find anyone else or at the end of the evening, when everyone else went home, we'd play one on one against each other. I still remember a cold fall night when I was 13, maybe just 14 when my dad and I played a series of games in which he wasn't holding anything back and he couldn't hold me off. Although I believe he won the best of 3 or 5 games, it was toe to toe. As we traded baskets and defensive stops, we both knew the transition point that we'd reached, and it both exhilarated and scared us a little.

When I wrestle with the boys, they still seem relieved that they can't lick me. They like perceiving me as a wall that they can hurl themselves at without really getting hurt. It makes them feel secure. I like it too, knowing that I can master these two ineffectual ninjas. There will come a day, of course, when they're pinning me down, and I'm crying uncle. I hope when that day arrives, we'll notice it and mark it and share the thrill.


Graham said...

Thanks for reminding me of those moments with Dad, I really enjoyed the post.

Azure said...

I remember those lovely royal plates. Were any purchases made by your in-laws to commemorate the recent royal wedding?

JFo said...

Graham, glad you liked it.

Azure, no I don't think so; I think the royal plates they own are significant to them because they lived in England at the time.