“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” I ask my son at the dinner table. Normally, when such a powerful fatherhood statement like that comes out of my mouth, he’ll freeze. But not today.
Today, my boy has decided that it’s time to become a man. He grips the slice of pizza tighter.
“Mine,” he says. Such a simple statement but it is as loaded as that slice. He knows this. That’s not something you say to your father and expect to NOT to mow the yard. He doesn’t hand over the beautiful hunk of meat lovers pizza. Instead, he puts it on his plate. It lands with a challenge.
“You want to rethink that?” I tell him.
Such moxie for an 11-year-old. I’ll admit, my respect for my son grows. Not enough to give up the pizza, though. You can’t ask a man for the impossible.
“I suggest you consider what you are doing,” I say.
“I’m having dinner.” His voice is cool.
“With that gigantic piece? Are you sure you want to do that?”
I’m trying to give him a way out. It’s simple. That slice of pizza has all the best toppings, and there are so many of them. When he picked it up, the weight of the sausage and pepperoni bent it in the middle and only the cheese prevented a disaster. That’s a dad slice.
In reply to me, my son takes the a tiny and embarrassing piece of pizza out of the box and slaps it onto my empty plate. A sausage rolls over ham and onto the floor. There is hardly anything left on this piece. It’s the consolation prize of pizza slices. It’s the “thanks for participating” trophy.
I look down at the puny thing and then back at my son. This has gotten serious.
“Boy, you need to tread real careful here,” I say. “Some decisions you can’t take back.” There’s a threat in my voice, and I know he hears it. He doesn’t react so I also know that he doesn’t care.
His defiance to my authority, to my position in the family, has come quicker than expected. It was only a matter of time before the youngling challenges the adult’s position. We all know this. Fathers count on it because we all also remember when it occurred with our own tribal chiefs back in the day. But so soon? No, I was not prepared for that.
The boy takes a bite. Sauce pushes into the corner of his mouth. He savors it, pulls the pizza away as the cheese makes a magical bridge to his tongue.
“You’re pizza is going to get cold, Dad.”
I consider my options. The traditional way to approach this is to go out in the front yard and slam our heads together until only the victor stands. There is something to be said for tradition. I’ve always been better at brute force. I could also stand and beat my chest real hard, thus proving my manliness to the point that he is overwhelmed with the display. Then he will hand me the big slice of pizza. I can only assume that his mother will be impressed as well.
I stand and put my hands on the table like the family CEO Gorilla that I am. I make sure my forearms are nice and flexed. Total power move. I take my plate and slide the small slice of pizza back into the box. It lands with a wet whimper.
“Son, give me that slice of pizza. That’s dad’s slice. It’s bigger. I’m not going to eat this weak thing you handed me. You’re not big enough to pull this off.”
He pauses. Looks at his sister who is no help at all, and then takes another bite. My chest muscles flex as a show of dominance.
My boy has always been smart, there’s no doubt about that. But he seems to have miscalculated here. You do not take dad’s big slice of pizza. It’s just not done. At least, not until you are ready to back it up. There’s a betrayal in the very act. I taught the boy how to play video games, throw a baseball, and held him when he was sick. Those acts require loyalty, not whatever this is. Not this … complete disrespect.
“I can’t give you the pizza, Dad,” he says. His tone is better; more subservient.
“You will give me that pizza,” I say.
“Mom says you have high cholesterol and that pizza isn’t good for you.”
Betrayal takes on many forms.
There’s a moment in Return Of The Jedi where Luke cuts off Vader’s hand. We all cheered because when we saw that movie back in 1985, we were all sons rebelling against our fathers. “Take that!” we all felt. Now Luke is free! He has become the master! But in this scenario, I’ve had my hand cut off. Somehow I’ve evolved to the point that I’m Vader.
I sit back down. The boy is right. I’m not supposed to eat pizza and when I do, I’m supposed to take it easy. It’s not healthy. Kale salad is healthy. My world has gone dark green and is covered with some sort of crap olive oil dressing and not pizza toppings
I don’t know what to say. My boy beat his chest and has won. Where do I go from here?
“Love you, Dad,” my son says, and I think he means it even though the family dynamic has obviously changed. The large piece of pizza no longer goes to dad.
“Love you, too, boy,” I tell him. I know I mean it because as a father I see Vader’s story arc different than I did so long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.
We never consider the pain that Vader felt. He’s just a dad that wants what is best for his son and is willing to give up his hand for his boy. That I can understand. If he can give up a body part, then I can give up the last piece of pizza. Maybe one day, my boy will do the same for his son.
My boy has become a man, and I like what I see before me as he gnaws on what was once going to be my crust.