Today at naptime, I sat Bub down in the rocker with Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree. About halfway through, at about the point the boy starts needing the tree less and less, something unexpected happened. I started bawling.
Now I’m certainly no macho man, but I’ve never been a crier, either. Maybe once a year, tops. But this book was like a haymaker to the tear ducts that followed it with about a twelve-page combination that left me clinging to the ropes and sucking for air.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with Shel Silverstein’s story of the boy who befriends a tree and over the course of his life, strips the tree of everything, reducing it to a stump in the end. And yet nothing makes the tree happier. The boy’s unadulterated greed is counter-balanced perfectly by the tree’s unconditional selflessness. I always enjoyed the story as a child, but now, like every love song I hear on the radio, it has taken on a second meaning, new innuendos and nuances. The words surely haven’t changed, only my perspective. I call it The Father Factor.
Whatever you call it, this is an odd situation to be put into. Here I am, the cry-ee, suddenly going Jon Cryer all over my son. Imagine his confusion. Is Daddy employing reverse psychology here? Naptime usually ends with a stirring rendition of ‘On Top of Spaghetti,’ not an impromptu tear-bath. I didn’t know Daddy could cry!
Actually, Bub took it quite well. He was very gentle, soothing even, shelving his own discontent to look after me. He stopped fidgeting and grasping wildly at the pages, grabbed my thumb instead. He sat calmly in my lap, his head against my heart for several minutes, as though to say, “You don’t have to finish the story for my sake, Daddy. But if you want to finish it, I’ll listen.”
So he humored me as I croaked and snorted my way through the rest, to the inevitable conclusion, those initials still carved in that stump. I closed the book, put it on the table. There were no tissues in the room. I looked over at the mirror and Bub was staring at me. I wiped my eyes with a burp rag and stared right back, held him tight. Yes, Bub, Daddy is okay. Daddy is great, in fact. Thank you.