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Experiencing a Poetic Role Reversal
Words from William Wordsworth’s poem “My Heart Leaps Up” came warmly to my mind recently – and with the coming of another Father’s Day seem worth sharing.
Wrote the wordsmith in 1802: “The Child is father to the Man.”
Perhaps more famously, given the influence of Hollywood’s silver screen, in the 2006 film “Superman Returns,” Jor-El – father of Kal-El, who becomes Superman on planet Earth – tells his boy: “The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.”
So it was when I visited my own Kal-El in New York City; in many ways the 27-year-old son and the 56-year-old father reversed roles.
I embraced this turnabout as happily as I embraced him at the airport. In fact, his surprise greeting at baggage claim was the beginning of “The Child is father to the Man.”
You see, I was going to take the subway from JFK and meet my son at his apartment in Lower Manhattan. However, he was worried about me navigating the subway system and thus covertly trekked out to meet me. A very father-like thing.
So it was the rest of my visit. My son insisted on carrying my luggage, gave me his bed, lent me the jacket off his back when the night air turned cold.
The most dramatic way my Child was father to this Man occurred my first full day there. Just as I used to take my son to Ventura’s now shuttered H.P. Wright Library, he was taking me to the venerable New York Public Library.
Getting on the subway, however, I got a “Welcome-to-New-York” shove from behind just as the doors were closing. Unable to shut because of the rugby-like scrum, the doors instantly jerked back open.
My right index finger, somehow, got pulled into the slit where the sliding door recedes. The result was like a carrot meeting a potato peeler. Quick pressure with a napkin largely stanched the bleeding.
We exited at the next stop and my son located a pharmacy so we could buy Band-Aids and tape. Removing the napkin to apply a proper bandage caused the red floodgates to reopen.
“I’m taking you to get stitches right now,” the Child-turned-father-of-the-Man demanded.
At Urgent Care, my son signed me in and did all the necessary paperwork – more accurately, e-work, on a touch-screen. He even accompanied me into the treatment room as I long ago did with him numerous times.
The first of two anesthetic injections made me curse; the second was threefold more agonizing. The whole while my son held my other hand and told me how brave I was being. He then made me laugh – kept me in stitches, if you will – as I received 16 stitches.
To be honest, the pain of it all was worth the experience of seeing this side of my boy-turned-man.
For the remainder of my visit he kept the tables turned. He changed my bandage. He focused our itinerary on me. He led and I followed.
Too, the son I have always tried to be a role model for, now stepped into this role. At a jazz club one evening, we arrived early and were rewarded with the best table in the joint.
Minutes before the performance began, however, the manager asked us if we would consider changing places with an elderly man who was physically too feeble to sit on a tall stool in the back of the room.
Because my son and I are tall, the manager felt we could still see the show, but emphasized: “You really don’t need to. I just wanted to ask.”
Without a beat’s pause, my son replied: “Of course he and his wife can have our seats.”
We went from the first row to worst row – and I could not have been happier or more proud.
Wordsworth’s poem also includes this line: “My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky.”
So, too, did my heart leap up beholding the Man my Child has become. I wish this same rainbow, one day, for all fathers.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …
- Personalized signed copies are available at WoodyWoodburn.com
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