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Burlington Chocolate Fest

Some lessons shouldn't be so hard to learn

Halverson (click for larger version)
March 28, 2012 | 07:54 AM
Shoes or a book?

When I was a kid, I picked up the habit of reading while I walked. The Hardy Boys when I was going to the store. Or a newspaper, the sports section usually, when I was walking home from my paper route. People always figured I'd end up walking in front of a car. Hasn't happened yet.

A few days ago, I had this book vs. shoes dilemma because I've been walking to work lately. I usually carry a pair of dress shoes I put on when I get to the office. But carrying a pair of shoes and reading a book at the same time are incompatible. Usually, the shoes make the cut. But this morning I was reading a book I couldn't put down.

As I was walking, I called my girlfriend to tell her how excited I was about what I was reading.

"You're reading while you're walking, aren't you?" she asked.

"Ah, yes," I said as though I'd been caught with my hand in a cookie jar.

She went on to say how charming she thought that was.

"Everyone else probably thinks I'm eccentric," I said.

(So for all those people driving to work on Wells Street in Lake Geneva at 7:30 a.m. wondering who the charming eccentric is — well, now you know.)

The reason I was so involved in the story is that it was about a son seeing his father for the last time. It's a true story, so somehow it means even more. There was always a distance between the father and son until the father was hit by a car while helping another motorist and was confined to a wheelchair. After a series of operations he finally reached a calm in the midst of the storm.

"I'd stop on that highway again," he eventually told his son. "Even knowing what I was going to lose, I would. I've learned so much."

One thing he learned, both father and son learned, was the closeness that comes when so much of your life is gone and dreams have been dashed. But they didn't really have this revelation until one night when they got together to watch a boxing match on TV. The son was reluctant. He had things to do, but the father insisted. It would be the last night they'd spend together.

The father had gone into the Marines to prove to his dad that he was a man, so he was proud that his son had done some boxing. They had a lot to talk about during the boxing match, but that night the sharing didn't stop when the boxing match ended.

The son recalls:

"…as I sat on the couch at nearly three in the morning, my glass long empty, Pop talked about his own father as if he were simply another man in the world like he was, just another man climbing out of bed each day to try and do the best he knew how to do. That had been true of my father too, hadn't it? He'd done the best he'd knew how to do and if it wasn't enough, then we still had this, didn't we?

"Across from me in the window was my reflection lit by this artificial light of the TV, a grown man sitting by another man in a wheelchair. Nine miles down the river, my own children slept in a house without me."

"I stood and told my father it was time for me to go."

The next chapter begins: "The coffin was a simple pine box ..."

The story reminded me of my own son. We used to watch the Chicago Bulls back in the days of Michael Jordan, when my son was in his early teens, before the natural separation began. Back when he thought I knew everything, especially about sports. When Jordan made a basket we'd shout so loud that we'd wake his mother upstairs.

Now we text back and forth when the Packers play, but that's about it. I have my life; he has his. Our lives couldn't be more different. We live in different cities. He waits tables and has two young sons of his own. I'm divorced from the mother we once woke up, doing this for a living, with a girlfriend he's only met a few times. We see each other once or twice a month and usually don't talk about much; small talk between father and son.

As I closed the book on this particular morning, I reached a corner and looked both ways. A truck stopped and flashed its lights. I took that as a sign that he'd let me cross in front of him. I took it as a sign of something else, too.

I decided that I'd have to make a date with my own son. Soon. Over a few beers and a basketball game maybe. And bond like men do. Before I get hit by a car with a book in my hand. Reading instead of doing.

Some lessons shouldn't be so hard to learn.

Halverson is the general manager and interim editor of the Regional News.


Tags: Staff Editorial

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