In the front yard of our house in Malibu, a modest home in a modest part of Malibu, there are two pine trees about six feet apart. A careful eye may see that the lower branches of the trees have been sawed off, and still more looking shows that there is thin string wrapped around the base of the trees.
This is the summer of 2002. The branches of the trees are gone and the string is there because in about 1995, our son, Tommy, who was watching me garden, wanted to make a “daddy trap.” So he took a little hacksaw and cut off the limbs, then strung string between the trees to catch me while I was absent-mindedly watering and fertilizing the roses and oleanders.
Now, as I say, it is summer of 2002. Our son goes to boarding school in New Hampshire. When he is home, he plays computer games with his friends, goes on casual “dates,” watches comedy on TV, and would not spend time watering with me or making a trap for me if I paid him a million dollars. I am allowed to “spot” him while he lifts weights and gets strong for his wrestling, and even to impress him the tiniest bit with how much weight his old dad can still “curl.” He makes fun of me for even trying, but at least I am with him for a few minutes.
About ten yards from the remnants of the “daddy trap” are two far more bushy pine trees. Tommy and I bought them when he was about five years old, maybe six, and planted them next to each other. They were so small that even a Sunday gardener like me and a small child like Tommy could make big enough holes in the poor Malibu soil for them.
One tree was a bit bigger than the other. Maybe one was twelve inches and one was eighteen inches. We called the bigger one the daddy tree and the smaller one the Thomas tree. We planted them about five feet apart. Now, the trees are each about fifteen feet tall, and they have grown so close together that you cannot get your hand between them, let along walk between them. They are one tree, for as long as they live.
I always start to cry when I look at them. Our son won’t come out to Malibu. When he’s home from school (whence he cannot wait to return), he has to be somewhere flat and paved to skate board or somewhere with a DSL modem to play Counter Strike. That means he stays at the house in town. If he saw me crying by the trees out here, he would laugh and walk back into the house and say, “That’s dad being silly again.”
Tonight, my wife wanted to clean out the kitchen cabinets. In one was a bottle of pink water that he bought eight years ago to squirt at me out of a squirt gun so I would think he had ruined my clothes when it really was like invisible ink and came right out. “Let’s not toss that away,” I said. “Who knows when he’ll ever want to pay enough attention to us again to squirt water at us?”
On my desk here, I have an immense pile of statements from brokerage firms. My losses are dismaying, to say the least. But if I live, in time the stocks may come back. I have a ton of work to do to try to get a new TV show on the air. In time, it will probably happen. And here in Malibu, on nine days out of ten, the weather will be perfect most of the day, warm and dry and balmy. Life will go on.
But my son will if he is well want to spend ever less time with me as he gets into high school and learns to drive (and keeps us up at night in terror). Then he’ll be in college if all is well, and who knows where after that, or even if we’ll be alive. At some point he will want to be with his Dad again, but who knows what kind of shape I will be in then? The “daddy trap” is still there, and the daddy and Thomas trees are now indivisible. But that time with him was precious and it will not come back for a long time, if ever. There is a lesson here about how to spend your summers: planting the trees, getting caught — forever — in the Daddy trap, getting squirted with pink water by your son.
My former student, Ferris Bueller, said, “Life goes by pretty quick. If you don’t slow down, you just might miss it.”
With kids, it’s the blink of an eye. I think I will just sit and watch him while he lifts weights and maybe I’ll lift a few, too. I’ll lift the small ones and let him laugh at me. The company I get to keep is well worth the price.
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