This weekend I introduced my sons to the wonderful magic of the cap gun. I carefully threaded the pink rolls into two of their silver cowboy guns while they stood watching in awe, and then did my best impression of Clint Eastwood in “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” POP. POP. POP.
I looked over at the boys, expecting to see admiration on their faces. Caleb was frowning, and as the reverberation of the cap guns waned I could hear him yelling that the guns were too loud. Eli had managed to fold his arms over his head in some sort of standing fetal position. Isaac was red-faced and crying. It’s the special moments like these that you treasure.
As if my Worst Father of the Year award wasn’t already secure, I argued with them that the caps weren’t all that loud. Every time I waved one of the cowboy guns to help make my point, Isaac wailed, thinking I was going to shoot it again. I finally set the guns on the ground, carefully, feeling very much like a criminal, and Caleb the police negotiator. “Dad, they’re too loud. Put them down Dad. Don’t shoot them again.” These are the moments, as well, that our children recall to their therapists years later. He devalued our feelings, Doc. Let me tell you about the time he made us all wet ourselves while he played with our cowboy guns…
I picked up Isaac, who alternated between crying and fussing at me. They were all fussing at me. I am a bad, bad father.
But, being boys, they held a meeting the next day, and came to me as a delegation to explain that they wanted to shoot the “dynamites.” The older two volunteered to leave Isaac in the house, an idea he didn’t like at all. Then it occurred to me to put my heavy-duty ear muffs on him, the ones that I wear when I’m shooting the big guns, or when their mother is in her last weeks of pregnancy and snoring like an asthmatic freight train.
So outside we went with our cap guns, Isaac wearing massive head gear that left him completely unable to hear us, so that his brothers had to make hand motions to communicate. We had an old-fashioned gun battle in the front yard, the boys holding the guns far away from themselves and wincing as they fired, and me rattling off rounds like Doc Holliday, none of which ever seemed to hit, although the boys insisted that every shot they fired got me. I can only imagine what our snooty neighbors thought of this spectacle. Have I mentioned that we are our neighborhood’s rednecks?
Not all the caps fired, and so I separated them from their spent rolls and placed them on the strike points of Eli’s little double-barrel cowboy shotgun. Then it was me on the street-sweeper, ducking behind trees, trying to get little scraps of paper to stay in place so I could defend myself against those silver-gun wielding sheriffs, neither of whom have any qualms about sneaking up behind a man and shooting him in the back. It was a regular slaughter, which made for a good Sunday afternoon.
The nice thing about being a father of boys is that I can relive the best parts of boyhood, or maybe enjoy them for the first time. My sons give me new eyes with which to see things. This is what the man who was healed said, isn’t it — I was blind, but now I see. Our children can heal us, I think, if we will but see the world as they see it. We can only afford to do so for a few moments at a time, or perhaps that is simply what we tell ourselves, but those moments are like salve on a wounded soul, at least for me.