He’s nine now, a beast of muscle weighing more than seventy pounds, but my son still jumps. Most times it’s designed to catch me off guard—when I come home from work, maybe, or as I’m walking into the living room. I’ll catch a blur out of the corner of my eye, a small, fuzzy flash, and then he’s airborne. Reflex takes over from that point; whatever may happen to be in my hands gets dropped or tossed or fumbled, and I stretch out my arms. Next comes the entire force of his body crashing into me, driving me backwards. He wraps his arms and legs around me and pauses, leaving the two of us slowly rocking. It reminds me of how Navy jets land on carriers.
I don’t ask him why he still does this. To the best of my recollection, that act remains one of the few holdovers of years now gone and never to return. My son’s Fisher Price toys are collecting dust in the attic and his teddy bears are gone and so are the Lightning McQueen footie pajamas, but for some reason jumping into my arms isn’t considered childish at all. And given the frequency of these flying sneak attacks, I’m even led to consider that such a thing is important to him. Necessary, even.
Still, I don’t ask why. I suppose some of the reason is because I’m afraid broaching the subject will somehow end things. Maybe the next time my son gets it in his head to leap from the couch and aim for my chest, he’ll think twice. Maybe he’ll wonder himself why he’s doing it, or wonder if the reason I asked in the first place is because I really don’t want him doing it anymore. It’s a complicated thing, having a son who’s nine. Those are boys who want nothing more than to be men. I don’t want to mess this up. And to be honest, I’m not too anxious to see him as a man just yet. I’d rather keep thinking of him as my little buddy for a while longer.
He told me once that he can’t wait for the day when he jumps into my arms and bowls me over. He’ll know he’s big then. I don’t doubt that, but I also don’t think that’s the whole story. I think it boils down to something deeper than wanting to have muscles like The Rock (my son says this often) and to walk around all tough like Chuck Norris (which he says just as often).
I think it comes down to faith.
He’s a smart kid, my boy. Knows more about the world than I think he does. The television is still largely off in our home, especially with regards to the current goings-on in the world, but he still knows. His friends talk at school, as do his teachers. And even if he’s young enough to still be kept safe in a small-town bubble, he knows there is a shadow over the larger world. My son hasn’t seen evil yet, but he knows it’s there. And even if he’s brave enough and old enough to have discarded the notion that there is a monster in his bedroom closet, he’s beginning to see there really are monsters out there, and that most times they look just like people.
He knows that many of the kids in his school don’t have both a mommy and a daddy, and that some of them don’t have either. He’s seen classmates shuffled in and out never to be seen or heard from again, scattered here and there through divorce or job loss or so much pain that their tiny minds simply broke into pieces. A notion like grace is still somewhat foreign to him, but he can grasp the truth that all of those kids could have been him in another life.
That, I think, is why my son still jumps. Because he wants—needs—to know that when he does, his daddy will catch him. His daddy will drop everything and stand firm and hold out his arms, and even if it’s scary flying through the air the end is always both soft and hard and full of love.
That’s what I think. I don’t know if that’s right or not, but I know this—I’ll always catch my son. Every time.