Because I refused to accept a strong cocktail of ignorance and my own physical decline, I signed a contract that is not currently being negotiated. 100% I had to give my 9-year-old son $ 1,000.
Here’s the short version: Three years ago, I told my son that if he beat me in a leg race, I would give him that amount. Since then, we have been competing.
I did it because I thought it was funny. I did it because I was stupid. It was a journey and I learned a lot. About being a father. About how it feels to realize that your body has turned into a pile of ash and dust.
Now for the longer version.
The year was 2019. At the time, my 6-year-old son, who was addicted to Pokemon cards, was trying to earn money to buy packages from a local Kmart. It clearly provided a kind of learning opportunity, but my wife and I did not know how to proceed. Was he too young for benefits? Is child support a good idea these days? We were not sure.
I experienced a “moment of clarity”. I suggested that if our two sons set bold goals, fight, and eventually reach them, they would “earn” money? Any goal was appropriate: academic, athletic, artistic. As long as the persecution went beyond the limits, it was worth the reward. It was a system designed to teach endurance, the importance of setting goals, and hard work.
Great idea, my wife agreed. Let’s go.
We have set up a rough reward system that works on a scale. If the task could be easily accomplished, the reward was lower. At age 6, for example, he earned $ 5 for teaching him how to spell his favorite word “dragon.” A month later, after weeks of training, he earned $ 20 for sliding on a trampoline. Very impressive, I thought. Great parenting. I work well, my dear.
But soon my son asked me a question that has bothered me ever since.
– Dad, how much will it cost if I win you in the race?
Here is some context. My son is fast. He has always been fast. He learned to walk in 10 months and was able to run a month later. That’s right escape. Friends, neighbors, and strangers in the park would comment, “He’s fast, isn’t he?” “He’s really coordinated.”
“He gets it from his father,” I said proudly.
More context. I’m fast too. At least I am was fast. I don’t remember ever losing a sprint as a child in an unprepared race. In high school, I won the 100-meter, 200-meter, high jump and became a sports champion. and long jump.
That was a long time ago. I’m 40 now and I’m still in good shape – although my right knee is less explosive. But in my imagination, I am still a 15-year-old child, tying my former rivals like a sweet Scottish gazelle.
– Father, how much?
“$ 1,000,” I replied. “If you beat me in a race, I’ll give you a thousand dollars. You’ll never beat me. Never. I’ll crawl out of my deathbed to beat you.”
His eyes lit up.
“$ 1,000?” He almost whispered to himself, trying to analyze this impossible figure with childish astonishment. Or calculate how much Pokémon booster pack he will get.
“That’s right,” I said again.
“A thousand dollars.”
You are next
I thought – I hoped, I dreamed – he could forget our little deal. He didn’t forget.
Meanwhile, my son negotiated with my wife and mother to compete. One with slightly lower bets, $ 20.
And thank God for that. About a month later, shortly before taking a bath, my son invited my wife to an official race. He’s not a very sprinter, but he struggles. In the last 10 meters, my son threw a hammer. He moved towards victory. At the age of 6, he was the second fastest man in our house.
I will never forget what happened after that. He took a $ 20 bill from my husband and neatly folded it into a small dinosaur purse. He turned around and pointed at me with his small, determined finger.
“You’re the next one.”
We fought regularly for years, according to little-understood rules. First, the distance had to be agreed in advance. Second, it had to be mutually understood that it was a suitable race for $ 1,000. He could not deceive me without warning and claim that he had beaten me. Third, there had to be a sprint. It can’t be like a half marathon or anything – we’re talking about 50-100 meters.
I was 37 when I agreed to this deal, and there is still plenty of juice in the glutes. I have crushed him for years. I ran forward, showing him that he was closer than he thought. I wanted him to have a reason to target, to keep pushing himself.
And it worked. My son is thin and black with pistons for his legs. He is absolutely fast. He lives every second of his life like a Ninja Warrior, his brown hair fluttering from the kitchen to the garden and back again. It seems to me that this challenge has played a role in its development. I remember one day I was coaching his football team and he invited me to a competition after training. His teammates also joined. I won, but my son came second. No one else could keep up with him.
Then, more than a month ago, my son turned 9 years old. I don’t know how, but it raised the level. We ran 5 kilometers (3 miles) on one of the trails near our house, and I felt a difference. His steps were more purposeful and more coordinated. He could hardly keep up the pace he had never been able to.
I didn’t think anything of it. We had not competed for more than six months. I could not remember the last time noted $ 1,000. I was safe. There is nothing to worry about.
Then a week ago, after kicking on the football field, he dropped the bomb.
“Let’s race,” he said.
I took a break.
“For $ 1,000?”
– Yes, for $ 1,000.
“I’ll smoke you. Do you know that?”
“Maybe. But I want to try.”
We built it. Serious work. His friend counted back. I decided I wanted to teach him. I was going at full speed, at full speed. Show him how far he is from defeating his old man.
Bang. We were on our way.
I ran as fast as I could. Normally, this meant being relatively easily robbed of my son. Not this time. I looked back to see how far ahead I was in the middle of the race. This time I did not have a son behind I, he was right next to me.
A literal nightmare scenario.
When did he get to hell so quickly? I tried to speed up, but I couldn’t – I blew the gasket, there was nothing left in the tank. I went into full panic mode. This little bastard could really beat me.
In the end, I achieved this. Almost. In the 70-meter run, did I get half a meter ahead of him? I was the one who ran at full speed, no mercy.
I looked at my son in disbelief. How did this happen? He is just a child. A 9-year-old boy who almost beat me in a leg race. What happened to me? Did he leave too fast, or did I slow down? There had to be a combination of both.
At that moment I looked down and noticed: He was not wearing any shoes. He ran barefoot all the time. In a barefoot race, my son would almost beat me.
What if he wore running shoes? I do not know. I do not want to know.
To some extent, I knew this was inevitable. I knew my son would be faster as he slowed down. The lines drawn on this chart would one day pass, but this race – this hell race – drew double blind spots in my parental psyche.
First, refuse to accept the destructiveness of age. There is a difference between knowing that your body is slowly decaying really understand. That’s why punch-drunk boxers retire for the “last fight.” We always think that we are at the peak of our strength. Definitely in our heads.
The second part of this paradox: It is almost impossible to do really Imagine our children growing up, as everyone grows old. I think I’m still the same teenager, I run away from everyone quickly. My son is also frozen in my imagination. He will always be my baby boy, a 6-year-old who teaches him to get back on the tram all weekend.
Everyone is getting older every moment. This race is a physical manifestation of that great truth. Yesterday I was rocking my son to sleep in the dark of night, today he would almost beat me in the 70-meter run. Children are a living, breathing reminder of time. And our own death.
But today my inevitable defeat is even felt more inevitable. I thought there were a few more sciences. Probably a month or two. Tops.
Now my thoughts are on what to do when he wins.
I have to give him money, right? This seems clear. Should I give him $ 100 in cash and put the remaining $ 900 in a fund that he will receive when he turns 16? This was my first instinct, but I feel lame. Excessive “paternal action.”
My second instinct is, “Just give him the money.” Give him every cent straight. Let him fill a small dinosaur wallet with $ 1,000 and get the chips where they need them. Whether it’s giving to charity or blowing on Minecraft skins – it will be his choice. Maybe it’s a story he told his children, one of those “learning moments.”
Because it’s finally my son – my wild, fast little boy – learning to live with the consequences of his choices.
Just like my dear old father.