Older, Slower, Weaker, Dumber: When Will Your Kid Overtake You?
Neil is 7, and he thinks I’m beatable. A few months ago he started boasting that he thought he could beat me in a race to the mailbox. I immediately said “HA! I might be old, kid, but you won’t beat me until you’re at least 13.” Being pretty much just like me in spirit, he said “Oh, yeah? I bet I can beat you before I’m 10.” Come on! I know I’m getting older and everything but can’t this beating-dear-old-dad thing wait a few more years? I’m not over the hill yet. “That’s pretty bold of you, shrimp. What makes you think you can do it?” I put on a brave face about it, but the reality is that he might be right. I race him to the mailbox (about 50 yards) almost every day, and I’ve seen how determined he is. He knows he doesn’t stand a chance now, but he never fails to announce that he’s getting closer. He is, too. I used to beat him by 20 yards. Now, after a year of this, it’s more like 10-13 yards. He’s right, he’s probably going to beat me sooner rather than later. I’ve been thinking about the implications.
Time to Reassess my Goals:
I’m 36. I still have plenty of good, athletic years left in me. I’m not going to throw in the towel just yet. However, I should probably start acknowledging that my kids are getting bigger in the rear view mirror and that it’s only a matter of time before they surpass me. How will I react to it? I think I know how I won’t react. When I was in high school I knew a guy on the track team whose dad kept comparing his old times with his son’s times. I remember him saying “Oh, you ran 1:59? I ran a 1:58 when I was in school.” Then, the next year, thinking nobody remembered his previous lie, “You ran a 1:58? That’s pretty good! Soon you’ll beat my 1:57!” I’m not going to be like that guy. I’m not going to compare my past accomplishments with those of my kids or, worse, lie to stay ahead. I’m enthusiastic about them getting better than me. When the day comes that they beat me, I’ll be the first one to congratulate them, no reminiscing about the past, no caging their accomplishment, just plain happiness for them.
The first thing to go when we get older is our athleticism. First the muscle tone goes, then the knees. It’s easy, then, to focus just on that aspect of a child’s growth, but I’m also anxiously awaiting the day that they become noticeably smarter than me. It won’t be as obvious as, say, crossing a finish line first, but I want it to happen just the same, the sooner the better. Just like running to the mailbox I can see how quickly their intelligence is gaining on mine. I talk a pretty big game, and they think I know everything, but soon they’ll realize I’m within their reach. When they do figure it out, they’ll work that much harder to get better, and my days as leader of the pack will be truly numbered.
Out to Pasture? Hardly!
This is where parents sometimes fail their kids. We had our day in the sun. Our lives are far from over, yet they must be readjusted to fit a new reality. Parents can have a hard time admitting that they aren’t the strongest, fastest and smartest members of their pack anymore. Remember this though: Akela, the wolf pack leader from The Jungle Book, got deposed from his throne because he wasn’t the strongest anymore; but, he’s the one on whom Mowgli relied in the end to kill Shere Khan. While everything else fades away, one trait that will never be diminished in the eyes of our kids, the one trait that will forever ensure for us a prominent role in the lives of our kids – is loyalty. You can’t hang on to your youth and wit forever, but that doesn’t mean you’ve outgrown your usefulness. When all else fails, my desire to support the boys won’t. I have a lot of dominant years left in the tank, but when the day comes to turn in my crown, I’ll do it willingly.