Life With My 10-Year-Old Son

First, this is a different column than the usual blah-blah-blah about politics, although I will try to link the topic to the name of my Washington Times column, “Purple Nation.” Just be patient. This column is actually about something important. This is about life with my 10-year-old son, Josh.

Let’s start with: Does anyone remember what it was like to be 10 years old? I try to. It was before I cared about girls, and cared a lot more about my baseball cards, Willie Mays (OK, I am dating myself), and Superman comic books.

I also thought my parents were becoming increasingly stubborn and wrong about things. Why did they disagree with me so much?

Today, my 10-year-old is interested in different things: For starters, he recently conquered the secret of the Rubik’s Cube, something I have long considered to be impossible. Mr. Rubik, by the way, was once asked why children could figure out the cube better than adults. His answer: “Because children don’t know it’s impossible."

For my 10-year-old, the priority cultural activity is watching the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) on TV. I actually allowed him to convince me to take him last week to the Verizon Center in D.C. to see a WWE match.

Did I know who John Cena, Rey Mysterio and Dave Batista were, and who was supposed to win and who was supposed to lose? No. But Josh knew everyone — not only their names, but who was the good guy and who was the bad guy. I must admit that among all the screaming and hooting people (for some reason I don't know, wrestling fans at various times let out a strange owl-like hoot), I spent most of my time on my BlackBerry. No, I am not addicted. Yes, I am addicted.

There was only one moment I decided to concentrate on the ring instead of my BlackBerry. And that was when the “lady” wrestlers arrived for their all-too-brief matches. I got out of my seat to move closer to the floor seats to where Josh was sitting — of course, only to check to be sure Josh was OK. The fact that we were closer to the ring and I was looking eye-to-eye, or eye-to-whatever, with Melina and Kelly Kelly, was purely coincidental.

I didn’t ask Josh who was the good woman vs. the bad woman, since they both looked good to me.

There are lots of other things in Josh’s 10-year-old world that I have a hard time keeping up with. He thinks T-Pain is actually singing when he is rapping “Low.” I try to argue that this is not music, this is speaking in rhythm, and that Stephen Sondheim or Richard Rogers songs are music. His only response: “Dad, get modern.”

(My oldest son, Seth, 38, had a different expression but same meaning: "Dad, if it's not on National Public Radio, you don't have a clue.")

Another part of being 10 years old is the word, “Why?”

At age 8, he didn’t use that word so much. He would use the word “OK” a lot more. But in only two years, the word “OK” seems to have been lost in his vocabulary. Now, in response to my making a request, a demand, announcing a rule, saying no, whatever — the response is, “Why?” If and when I try to offer an answer, the response is: “But why?” This can go on for a long time. If I finally try to end this interesting conversation by saying, “Because I say so — I am your father,” his answer will often be: “That’s not fair.” Or a variant, “That’s not an answer.”

That is very weird. I don’t remember ever asking my dad when I was 10, after he told me to do something I didn’t want to do, “Why?”

So I struggle to find something in common with Josh and, of course, what I found, like most fathers of 10-year-olds, is sports. And by that I especially mean baseball.

Josh loves and plays baseball, which is good, but loves the New York Yankees, which is bad. (My father, an arch FDR liberal Democrat (surprise!), taught me early on I could root for any baseball team but the New York Yankees: The Yankees were Republicans, he would say, because they had the money and usually won the World Series.)

Besides love of the game of baseball, Josh has come to share my love of one player from years ago — Willie Mays — who brings Josh and me together, something akin to red states and blue states coming together as the "purple nation." (See, I told you I’d get there.)

Willie Mays, my boyhood hero.

I have told Josh over and over again about The Catch in the second game of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and Cleveland Indians. The Catch — when Willie turned around as soon as Vic Wertz hit a powerful line drive high to dead center way over Willie's head, into the 600-foot alley in the old Polo Grounds. And Willie spun around, never looked over his shoulder, caught the ball, and threw back to the infield to keep the two Indians who were on base from scoring.

And when I first told Josh about The Catch, and told him I wished he could have seen it, Josh shrugged, took me to the computer, and, without saying a word, got us onto YouTube.com, typed in “Willie Mays" and "The Catch.”

And there he was: No. 24, turning around, running to some magic spot 100 feet or so in front of him, never looking back to see the ball, sticking his glove out, and the ball landing in the glove.

And Josh re-ran the clip on YouTube again and again. And we hugged. And watched again. And hugged. And watched again.

On the wall of his bedroom, in a frame, there is a biography and color photo of Willie Mays that Josh wrote for his fourth grade writing assignment. And on the front page of that biography is an autograph I got when I attended a fundraiser for Hillary Rodham Clinton in San Francisco in June 2007. The guest speaker that night was former President Clinton. And on the front page of the biography sketch Josh wrote is a signature: “Willie Mays, #24.” And just above it, another signature: “Bill Clinton,” and underneath: “I love Willie Mays too!”

Every night when I put Josh to bed, we both look at that famous photo of Willie and The Catch, back to home plate, the ball magically hovering just over his glove, about to be miraculously caught. And his autograph and President Clinton’s. And his words, “I love Willie Mays too!”

And the generations merge. And the years between Josh and me are vastly reduced. And I think:

Say hey, Willie. Say hey, Josh.



This article appeared in The Washington Times on Monday, Dec. 8, 2008.