Guest Commentator Donn Lashley considers the significance of holding hands with his son - and with his father. Listen above, and see Donn's extended commentary below. Donn is the father of two children and the son of one father; he lives in Wilmington.
Patina: the sheen on a surface produced by age and use.
I wish I could remember what day of the month it was that my son decided he was too old to walk hand in hand with me. Knowing the date is not really that critical, but still I kinda wish I knew for some reason. I do remember well, however, that he was 10 and it was late November. Clear skies, beautifully cool. Turtle heads were bobbing in the pond.
When it all came down that day, Kade and I were on a 200 yard walk to his classroom door, a walk the two of us had made almost daily since the first day of kindergarten, four years earlier.
We owned that walk, Kade and I, we owned it completely. It was ours and we knew it. No sisters, no Mamas, no carpools. Just he and I, and we would tell jokes and goof and watch the seasons change on the pond.
Is that an otter? Oh look, the irises are blooming.
We were never at a loss of things to discuss things, to analyze, things to observe. It was beautiful time spent and I relished every step of it and with all the excited optimism of my little boy, I knew he did, too. Each and every stride we made along the way through all the seasons and all the foul weather, under the blue skies and pass the budding crocus and turning leaves, his hand was always, and I mean always, fitted snugly into mine. And that is exactly the way we wanted it and it was exactly the way it was. Snugly. What a particularly appropriate word. Even now, years later, that description seems so perfect. So perfect it brings a smile to my face.
We were on the sidewalk halfway along just past our beloved pond. I recall that my son briefly released his grip so that he could fiddle with something, probably the straps of his book bag.
Once he had fiddled, it was only seconds later that his little boy hand, like always, shot right back into mine, and I smiled and we continued. We made it another 10 steps or so and then it happened. It was his decision alone and it was he who put it in motion.
It could have taken him days, maybe even months to think it through, or he could have decided at that very instant. Either way, it was implemented with resolute and with purpose.
With his outside free hand in one smooth and continuous motion, he reached across his chest, and to improve his angle a bit, he twisted slightly towards me, never missing a stride. With that free hand of his, my son loosely took hold of my wrist and then slowly and quite beautifully slid his encapsulated hand from mine for the very last time. There were no accompanied explanations, no follow-up of any kind.
He had thought this through and he knew what he was doing. Glancing down and realizing that the purpose of his release was to release, I knew at that very moment that an era had come to an end and hopefully a new one was about to start.
Based on the hand-holding timeframes of his classmates and their respective fathers, I had been fully expecting this day for almost 18 months. We were the very last of the holdouts and I can honestly say that I knew that I was on borrowed time. And for that I was grateful. So I was not surprised by his actions in any way, and as special as handholding was to me, neither was I sad. In fact, I smiled, mainly because I prepared myself. I guess I had read the fine print. We are after all, the father and a son in the western culture and handholding is finite. Always has been, always will be. And I'm pretty sure it's best this way.
I seem to recall it written down somewhere though probably in that parental were contract that all prospective parents are required to sign prior to having children. Pretty sure it was under the heading “Sunset Clauses.” It reads something like: a father, as it applies to his son, has between 96 and 120 months to hold his little rascal’s hand. Doing so is optional, but when your time is up, it is up. The rascal decides and it is non negotiable.
I guess my deal just expired that day, halfway to school, just beyond the pond on that unknown date in November.
Is that it? Are we done holding hands? I asked with a slight smile. When he responded with a simple, Yeah, he was looking straight forward, no turning of the head and definitely no eye contact. Metaphorically, I want to think he was focused on his new journey ahead. The one down the sidewalk and the big one beyond. That would be pretty cool if he was, but I really can't say for sure.
Is that right? Hmm. I said calmly pondering the moment. We made it a little ways further and 12 feet short of the crossing guard, as God as my witness, I stopped. I placed both hands on his shoulders and I turned him to face me. Kneeling now and eye to eye, I smiled and extended my right hand to him. Please shake it. I asked. I just want to thank you for all the years you've allowed me to hold your hand. It has always meant a lot to me. Thank you very much again. With locked eyes and locked grips, he said nothing in response. Just fidgeted a bit. Maybe he was finding it difficult to accept the compliment, or perhaps he was wrestling with my reasoning behind it.
I was fine with everything, though. Feeling pretty proud of myself for the seizing of the moment and on such short notice, too. Then I realized that I hadn't told him that I loved him right then, because as I stood up and we continued our walk, I remember I really wished I had, feeling a little less than I didn't. I quickly surmised that it was all in the handshake anyway. That should be good enough. Probably even better.
Like I said, an era was over and the handshake sealed the deal. It is now the era of shaking hands and we can both work with that. Besides, what I've gleaned from Kade over the years is that in his presence, he prefers the use of the word “love” in all its forms, very heavily rationed.
I bounced right back. We were on the move again, down the sidewalk and beyond.
Some years ago, I sat with my own father, unconscious pale and hours from death. Lifting his gaunt and sick the fingers, I slid the warmth of my palm beneath his until it met the frigid cold of the dying, my hands cupping and pressing his hand desperately wanting to eat the cancer, yet oddly at the same time in search or something - for warmth, perhaps, for minutes, for summary. To take something away or give something back. But as I sat in silence, all I could manage to do was to hold him firmly, lovingly, no, so snugly. Reflecting now, I hope in those wordless last moments that what I was telling my father was exactly what I had told my son that day: Thank you for holding my hands all these years. It meant everything to me. Thank you so much.
And I hope he smile like I smiled- contented, bonded, validated, ready for the passage. With my hand in his hand one last time, the gift had been re-gifted, first from loving father to his wanting son and now from loving son to his beautiful father. Little boy and his iron man once again. My hands returned as received, unwrapped, well-used and with a fine Patina, no worse for the wear, he would say with a smile. It was all honor, and it was all love, and it was everything. Nothing was ever said that day nor needed to be. And then he was gone. The ultimate sunset clause, non negotiable. One era ended, one began, and though I embraced the latter, I can't help but cling to the first.
I miss him so. I miss my father's hand.