I watched from 100 feet away as my 5 year old son jumped again and again reaching for the lowest branch of a sycamore tree. There were 2 boys, older…maybe 9 or 10, up in the tree and two more of their friends on the ground near Daniel. It was too high for him, but I could not help but feel pleased by his determination to grab that branch. The older boys began chanting “Midget! Midget! Midget!”. My son does not know what a midget is, but he knows when he is being teased. When something of this nature happens at home with his sister, Daniel’s typical reaction is immediate violence. So, I was surprised to see a more rational response. He asked the bullies a direct question. “Who wants to get punched in the face?” Of the two boys on the ground, one took off running, which I guess meant no. The other (about a foot taller than my son) remained, so Daniel, obliged, clenched his fists and moved in to strike. I yelled, now from 50 feet away. DANIEL! He stopped and the older boy ran away. Daniel turned to me and gave me a dramatic “but Daaaaaaaad”. He started crying. We sat down near the playground of this sycamore treed, southern Oregon park. I wiped away his tears and told my son how happy I was watching him try to climb that tree. We covered the other bases of not punching others in the face and what midgets are. After about one minute and forty five seconds of sharing my fatherly wisdom, Daniel asked if I could be done talking so he could go play on the tire swing. This whole incident could’ve been a scene in a Jean Shepherd movie.
As I watched him play on the playground, the tears and teasing already forgotten, I wondered why he cried. Was it because I prevented him from exacting justice on his ridiculers? Was he scared that I would punish him? I started to empathize with him. Daniel is a young person of strong faith. Why did he continue to jump for that branch? He must have believed he could reach it. Frankly, I would have called it quits after one or two jumps. Is that because I’m smarter and more discerning? Maybe, or have I just lost faith.
As life goes on, my risks of belief are more calculated and mitigated. My courage lessens and complacency grows. It becomes easier to mock and ridicule the foolish and naive believers than to empathize with them. Think about the culture of sarcasm in which we live. Uninformed or contrary opinions and ideas are met with mocking criticism. This destroys courage and kills creativity and growth….and it’s happening everywhere (politics, education, all forms of media (blog posts), at the dinner table). If sarcasm is oppressive in nature and sincerity is liberating, why do we exercise the former and not the latter?
When I was young, I was extremely competitive. I wasn’t a jerk and I didn’t take my ball home if I didn’t win, but I did believe that I could win or succeed at most everything I tried. I see this quality in Daniel. I think that’s why he cried. He believed he could reach that branch. His faith led him to jump and he was made to feel foolish for it. Kids are cruel, and I expect my son will continue to deal with bullies and name-callers as he grows up. When he becomes an adult and perhaps a father someday, my wish is for him not to join the ranks among the scoffers, the arrogant, or the naysayers. My wish for him is to be a man who believes he can move mountains.
We drove back to my father-in-law’s house from the park that day. I looked at Daniel in the rearview mirror. He was staring out the window at houses and cars passing by. This was our exchange:
Me: Do you want to go back to the park tomorrow?
Me: Are you going to try climbing that tree again?
Daniel: Yep…but it might take me a few tries.
Me: That’s ok.
Daniel: Yeah…it’s gonna take like a million plus five tries.
Me: That’s ok.
Daniel: I know.