- Not Sob
If a kid is known for anything, it tends to be one single thing.
Kids aren’t like adults that way. When you’re older, you might find that you have a neighbor who makes a slew of money as an ad exec and seems to golf more than he works, so you’re not sure, really, which defines him more. Maybe another is the guy who leaves his Christmas decorations out until March and always fights in the driveway with his wife.
Identity is more streamlined when you’re younger. It’s almost like you don’t have one, in some ways. But if you’re known for anything, it’ll be something like being the ace pitcher of the team that almost made it to the Little League World Series, or the piano prodigy who is written up from time to time in the local newspaper. Or maybe you’re known because you once set some kid-based record, like Bobby and Cindy tried to do on that episode of The Brady Bunch with the teeter-totter.
For the first three-fourths of the kid part of my life I was known for being science kid. I reanimated a frog corpse with electricity at one science fair; at another I presented a gradient of clay that I had dug up not far from our house that suggested the soil of that part of Cape Cod was more anaerobic than was previously believed. But mostly I was this mini-Galileo—that’s how the papers loved to put it—who stood in his parents’ backyard, telescope aimed at the heavens, discovering the odd star that had somehow, to date, eluded detection. At least according to the records at the Mashpee Library, which were held as sacrosanct. I think if you were a native Cape Codder, it was somehow inherently wrong to question library records, especially if that library [End Page 231] was suitably decked out in local artifacts, as the Mashpee Library was, with its display cases of early coinage, Wampanoag arrowheads, and, for a time, my father’s old football gear from high school.
My friends didn’t used to believe that those were his shoulder pads, or that was his actual helmet, or he had really worn those cleats. But the idea that I could “dork it up,” as they said, and gauge the absolute magnitude of Venus, or chart how faculae moved across the face of the sun, was entirely believable, probably because all of that was so boring to them. But it was because of my father that I came by my second identity as a kid, you might say.
My dad was a big football star. After making All State three times in high school as this bulldozer of a fullback (his thing was to lower his head into the gut of linebackers and knock them back four yards, earning him—or his head, I guess—the nickname “The Mashpee Masher”; so it went in the 1960s), he went on to star at BC, and got a bunch of tryouts for NFL teams, never making one of them, but, in family lore, knocking out the Vikings’ fearsome Alan Page on an end-around.
My dad and I were always close, and we were a happy family, I thought. Sometimes, in church, I’d be bored, and after I had finished trying to rank the Beatles’ albums, never sure whether Revolver or Rubber Soul—or maybe Abbey Road, as a dark horse—should be in the top spot, I’d ask myself which parent I thought I’d be closer to later in life, when I was an adult, maybe with kids of my own.
I figured there was a good chance I’d be wrong, no matter who I went with. Relationships change over time. They’re hard to handicap. I knew I was a bit different kind of kid. So I figured it made sense that I had a father who was a bit different as well. One who would cry watching movies that weren’t especially sad, or when the Patriots lost, as they always seemed to...