Brad's Got A Gun
My son shoots guns. He has since he was big enough to hold one with a little help. He's had toy guns that loaded like the real things and he's been taught to handle them safely. It was expected that he would shoot but it was never forced on him. He's loved every bit of it and we've had to slow him down on it from time to time. He's a boys' boy and he loves things that go boom.
I don't remember the first time Brad shot a gun but I remember the look on his face because it's the same look on his face that he gets anytime he shoots. There's Brad's look of intense concentration, brow furrowed and eyes narrowed and mouth set in a Clint Eastwood tough guy pose, that he gets whenever he really cares about being really good at something followed by the shot and then either a huge smile if he hits his target or a look of comical disappointment followed by grim determination if he misses. He doesn't miss much, though. It's a foregone conclusion that he's going to be a better shot than his dad. He may already be.
It's been a disappointment to me that he hasn't wanted to play baseball but shooting has pretty much replaced the father son bonding of teaching baseball. There's working on the stance and teaching the little things that make the difference between success and failure. There's using encouragement, celebration, or stern lectures, the carrot and the stick, depending on what the situation calls for. Mostly, there's the time with him doing something with both enjoy and making memories that are bigger than either of us realize.
I haven't been his main teacher, though. Almost anytime we shoot it's at his Uncle Jerry's and Jerry has been his main instructor. He knows more about guns and shooting than I'll ever know if my lifetime so I defer to him. Jerry is a large, burly man, nicknamed Big Ugly at deer camp, that has for most of the twenty years that I've known him sworn he would never get married and have kids. Still, seeing him with Brad I can see that someday he will and I can see him realizing slowly that someday he wants to. It's amazing to see this sensitive, patient side of my friend. It's wonderful watching him make small corrections and talking softly to Brad and thinking about how to explain things and smiling like a father when Brad gets it right. The moment that is clearest in my mind is one of the first times Brad shot with us. We were trying to teach him to always stay behind the shooter while they were shooting but in his exuberance he kept running out right after a shot was fired to see where it hit the target. I was getting quite fed up with this, it was life or death after all, and was starting to yell at him. Jerry kind of shook me off and then he crouched down to look Brad in the eyes and put his hand on his shoulders.
"Brad, if we can't trust you to listen to us we won't be able to let you shoot with Dad and Uncle Jerry," he said softly but firmly.
Brad's eyes got big and he promised he would listen and he has ever since then. It was a small moment but it was easy to see what it meant. I wanted to sing in a mocking tone "Jerry's gonna be a daddy" but for once I kept my mouth shut and didn't ruin the moment. Even if Jerry never has a son or daughter of his own, though, he's making one heck of a second dad to my son. Brad's a lucky little boy. He's been blessed with two awesome biological uncles on my side, but please don't tell my brothers I'm talking good about them, and a some damn good uncles on his mom's side, too. Still, after all that he gets the family friend uncle too and he's as awesome as Jerry is. When you make friends with someone at twelve years old because you both smoke at way too young of an age you aren't thinking about friends being the family you choose and you damn sure aren't thinking that friends are the family you choose for your children but either I got lucky or my twelve year old self was a pretty good judge of character.
Brad's Got A Book
I've talked about reading and wrestling already but one day they came together for Brad and I in a beautiful way. I love wrestling and I love watching Brad wrestle but the wrestling tournaments can often be excruciating. We have to be there by eight and Brad will usually have a match every two hours after that but it isn't exactly two hours. It depends on how quickly the other matches go and how many wrestlers show up at each tournament. So we pretty much can't leave in between his matches for fear of missing his next match. Over the winter we spend a lot of Saturdays and Sundays in gyms filled with sweaty kids and grumpy parents for over eight hours at a time.
Brad and I pass the time with the most effective time killer I know; books. One tournament in particular I remember looking up from my book and looking around at everyone else in the stands. There were plenty of kids and adults with there noses in screens of one sort or another; smartphones or portable video game systems or tablets. There were plenty of kids and adults arguing with each other. There were plenty of kids running around like lunatics while their parents slumped in their seats in exhaustion and defeat. Brad and I were the only two people with books in our hands. I got Brad's attention and pointed this out to him and he gave me a quit bothering me look and went right back to his book. I smiled in recognition and then laughed when he had to go to the bathroom and almost fell three times because he was trying to read his book while walking there. The expression he is his father's son never seemed more appropriate and I was able to take one of my favorite pictures of him.
As much as I love that picture, it worries me a little too. It's almost the perfect embodiment of my life. A kid in a wrestling singlet, pushing open a door with his nose in a book, and not caring what he looked like to anyone else while doing it could have easily been me. I've always sort of lived in between groups. I played sports but I wasn't a jock. I wasn't quite nerdy enough to be a full fledged nerd but I was geeky enough to not be anything else. Even now, when I lived around Belleville I was considered a redneck and now living in a more rural area I'm thought of as a city boy. I hunt and listen to country music but I'm not quite country enough to attract the country girls. I'm into politics and philosophy but I'm too aware that there's more to life than intellectualism to have a decent relationship with the more urban women around here. I don't fit in completely much of anywhere and I don't really care what people think about it.
That doesn't mean I want it for my son, though. I love that he's confident enough to be who he is and not care but it doesn't make life easier. I know full well that sometimes it's hard to feel settled or content when you live in between worlds like I do. Still, Brad has a gift that I don't. He has an outgoing personality, he's comfortable in groups of people, and he has an innate ability to connect with people and put them at ease around him. Through some kind of combination of genes from his mother and my father he has the perfect personality to where he won't feel like he doesn't fit in anywhere. He'll feel like he fits in everywhere. So I guess I shouldn't be worried about him. I should probably be jealous of the little bastard.
Brad Has Secrets
I meant for this to be about deer camp but I can't write it without breaking the first rule of deer camp; what happens at deer camp stays at deer camp. So I'll just say that Brad has fun with the guys and fits right in with Old Boy and Big Ugly and the Great White Hunter aka Goat Slayer and Big Gay Ray and Fud and all the rest. Brad doesn't have a nickname yet but I'm certain it's just a matter of time.
Of course, being guys, we all break that first rule of deer camp whenever the opportunity to embarrass each other presents itself but that's another reason I can't share the memories of Brad at deer camp here. Having the stories on the internet would kind of steal my thunder when I go to tell his first serious girlfriend about his first deer camp. So I couldn't make a list of favorite memories of my son without mentioning hunting but I can't actually share the stories here. I have to hoard them for the moments of maximum possible embarrassment. Besides, one of the best ways to bond with a kid is to let him think there are secrets between him and you that can never be told.