Following our Monday weight workout, my 15-year-old son and I bid the ladies manning the desk a good night as we headed for the door of the Medina Community Rec Center.
As we approached the doors, my son chirped, “Hey, Dad? I was just wondering. What does it feel like to be old, fat and bald?"
“If I could lift my arms right now, I’d show you.”
Then I smiled, clapped him on the back and opened the door.
I’ve told this story to many of my friends and, by happenstance, their wives.
Invariably, the dads roar with laughter and, if my son is nearby, clap him on the back or riff on his line by making fun of my other deficiencies--the way I laugh, the way I tell stories, and so on.
The wives, especially the ones who may not know me well or don’t have boys of their own, always look confused--they seem to be of the opinion that my son was being rude or mean.
Of course, the exact opposite is true--and the dads intuitively understand. My son wasn’t actually calling me fat, bald or old. Instead, he was telling me he loved me and really enjoyed that bit of time we spent together.
When the other guys chimed in, they weren’t actually saying my laugh was weird (well, actually they might have been), but the larger issue was that they liked me and were reminding me that they liked me.
My wife thinks this is all weird and stupid. She’s constantly reminding me that I am not 15 and that I shouldn’t reinforce my son’s “bad behavior”--as in laugh when he tells a slightly off-color joke or hits me or his sister or his friends with a good comeback.
Unfortunately, I’m a big believer in the art of constructive needling. I believe it’s a fundamental male survival skill. It’s one way we who make up the uncivilized half of civilization communicate everything from affection to apologies. The other way? We actually apologize and say “I love you.”
It’s true. We are capable of this type of communication. It’s just that, in the ebb and flow of daily life, it’s more enjoyable to tell your wife you love her by gently chiding her for the dinner she prepared, the restaurant she chose or the color of the shirt she’s wearing to your kids’ soccer game.
It’s even better when your wife gives it right back to you.
I bring this up because the aforementioned rec center is doing a great job of helping me teach my son these essential skills. Since he’s been old enough (i.e., mature enough) to lift weights, we’ve been using the weight room three times each week.
Almost immediately, other patrons took notice and went out of their way to introduce themselves to us. As time went on, a kind of camaraderie developed--they’ve given my son a nickname (“Superstar”) and tease about how much weight he’ll be able to lift when he actually grows. And, without intentionally doing it, they’ve given him a great gift--self confidence.
I imagine this type of encounter is happening at rec centers and sports fields all over the country on a daily basis.
I bring it up now because as you start selling memberships to all those folks who are making New Year’s resolutions, maybe there’s something you can do to foster this type of interaction for new members to ensure that they come back several times a week for the rest of their lives.
My son and I started going for the workout, but we continue our regimen for the interactions with friends.
Till next month…
Rodney J. Auth