Saturday, February 7, 2009

Jeff Lindsay

"The More Kids Change, The More Dads Stay The Same"

I worry too much. I know this about myself. When I went to my college reunion last weekend, I worried that the plane would crash and leave my kids without a father. And when I realized how silly that was, I worried instead that the plane would crash and they would get a new father they liked better. And then I worried that I would have a lousy time at the reunion because either nobody would talk to me because they didn't remember me -- or else they wouldn't talk to me because they DID remember me.

I knew all this was dumb. My wife even told me it was dumb, which made it official. I worried anyway, and at the last minute I didn't want to go. But as always, my wife helped me think things through. "The tickets are paid for," she said. "You will go, and you will have a good time, or I will make you very sorry."

So I went. But just before I got on the plane and settled into worrying about engine fires, I worried one last time about my kids, Pookie and T.L. Bear. Bear was finishing up her last year of elementary school, which I felt was an important transition, and I didn't want her to feel lost or frightened. And because it was now summer, Pookie wanted to go into the pool all the time and she can't yet swim without her inflatable bathing suit. So as my wife shoved me out of the car at the airport, I said, "Hold Bear's hand a lot. And keep Pookie away from the water." My wife pushed a little harder, and before I knew it I was in the airport.

It doesn't really seem possible even now, but the plane was not hijacked and didn't explode. Even worse, I was about 20 minutes early all along the line. As a veteran traveler I knew this could only mean one thing: I was being set up. Somewhere along the line I was going to face a major disaster. I kept my eyes open -- and sure enough, my rental car was parked in slot #13. With a huge surge of panic, I knew this meant that something had happened to my kids.
I raced back into the terminal and called home. My wife told me that the kids were alive and unharmed and I would just have to believe her and why didn't I just drive up to the campus and have a good time like I had said I would?

So I did. But I couldn't shake the feeling that something awful was going to happen, either to me or the kids. And if they were okay, that left me. I finally arrived at my old college campus very nervous. I got out of the car and stood for a minute, waiting for a piano to fall on my head. It didn't; I wandered in to register. A lot of wrinkled, grey-haired old people were milling around in the room. They looked like they were all circuit court judges and investment bankers.

And then one of the circuit court judges shouted at me and grabbed my hand. It was my old roommate, "Stoner" Fleckman, and the shock of seeing him looking so old and conservative was much greater since I should probably just say that his nick-name, "Stoner," had nothing to do with an interest in geology, if you get my drift.

"Stoner?" I said uncertainly, still hoping he would say he was Stoner's father and had just come along because there was an open bar and a lot of people who liked to talk about real estate.
He flinched. "It's Representative Fleckman," he said. "Or just Arnold." He looked around the room and shook his head. "Good turnout, huh?"

I looked around, too. One or two people looked vaguely familiar. With a sinking feeling, I knew this crowd of balding, overweight people really was my class and there was only one explanation. An evil wizard had put a spell on my whole class and turned them into middle-aged people. Luckily, I must have cut class that day.

I stumbled through the cocktail party in shock and horror, relying heavily on the open bar. And then finally it occurred to me: Everybody in my class had gotten old -- that meant that something awful had actually happened now. I could relax and have a good time.

And I did. It surprised the heck out of me, but I did. And I discovered that most of my classmates still knew how to party in spite of the Republican disguises. We played the old songs and told the old stories and finally we all staggered to the dorm where we were staying and dropped into bed around 1 AM.

And around 4 AM the fire alarm went off. Campus security found Stoner and his old pal Muddy -- now a prosecuting attorney in Connecticut -- in the hallway. Apparently they had tried to light something -- it might possibly have been a cigar, I suppose, as Stoner and Mud tried to claim. Whatever it was, the smoke had set off the fire alarm, and there we all were, standing in the chilly pre-dawn in our pajamas.

It should have been very strange and uncomfortable -- suddenly, it is the middle of the night and you are in the middle of a large group of middle-aged people all wearing pajamas. I am pretty sure I saw something like that by Fellini one time. But oddly, it was not weird at all. I wondered why not -- and it occurred to me that I had already seen most of these people in their pajamas before, many years ago. The people were older and the pajamas more expensive, but nothing had really changed. For some reason, that was comforting.

And that weird feeling of comfort stayed with me through the whole weekend. It stayed with me all the way home, on two flights that were early. I finally got back to my house and sank into my chair, surrounded by my family. "Gotta go, Dad," Bear said. "I'll be late for my job."

"Your what?" I said as she swaggered out the door with a new grown-up air of confidence. Before I could recover, Pookie called out, "Daddy, watch this!" And she dove into the swimming pool and went right to the bottom. She came up a moment later, grinning from ear to ear. "I can swim under water!" she said to me, as my wife gave me CPR.

In all those years, everybody I went to college with stayed the same. And in one weekend, the kids were completely different.


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