Game Over

They asked her, “is there anything I can do?” and she always said “hold them close.” I imagine they understood this as a kind of cliche, a way of saying “count your blessings.” To think that would be a mistake: it’s an admonition.

We work, we relax from work, we pester them to do their homework, we lecture them when they screw up, sometimes we shout at them when they inconvenience us. We vaguely know that we’re leaving something out.

In his case, it was board games. He always wanted to play board games. I had forgotten that I enjoyed them too as a child, but as an adult I found them tiresome and time-consuming. What was the ratio of the times I made some excuse to avoid the tedium to the times I gave in and played a board game with him? A dozen to one? Two dozen to one? And it wasn’t just tedium: you pretty much had to let him win too, because he felt losing like a wound. Crystallized in these episodes of play was his refusal of all the loneliness and all the humiliation he had ever felt; and in all the episodes where I made some excuse, the distractedness and partial indifference that is how we parent now (unless we’re Amy Chua, which is, I must say, essentially the same thing in reverse, since both are rooted in our own self-absorption ultimately).

I wish I could say that the memory of those few episodes of Monoply are all the more precious to me now, but honestly, there are so few that I cannot remember them. It is thought that sins of commission are worse than sins of omission, but the truth is, anyone can suddenly act out of character and do harm, and for most of us, our clean conscience is a matter of luck. But sins of omission are an expression of our refusal to alter what is our standing and continual condition, and in that sense they are not acts which can be excused by circumstances and context, but rather define our very being. I know I am a man who would rather read a book of philosophy than play Monopoly with my son. At moments, like this one, this tears through me with an inexplicable savagery, and I think that if there is a hell, that is why I am headed there. And then I realize, no, this is hell: across a table there is a child, and he looks at me, a board game whose rules I cannot understand laid in front of him, his eyes imploring me: come play with me. Come play, father. But he never speaks, and I never play, because he is dead.

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2 comments on “Game Over

  1. Pliny the Elder says:

    There is a completely forgetable movie called Autumn in New York where a character is lecturing Richard Gere’s character about romance and says something like, “There are only two possible endings: guy loses girl or girl loses guy” (Gere has a love interest with a fatal ailment). The sad truth is that this extends to other relationships without the current presence of illness. Ignoring the possibility of simultaneous death, either children lose parents or parents lose children. I had to watch as my parents dealt with the death of one of my sisters, and then I had to deal with my father’s death, and then my mother’s. Someday, my children will have to deal with my death (or me with theirs). This may be one of the least pleasant truths imaginable. The only thing left is to value the time and hope that there may be something else where we are all reunited. (While I am a Christian, concrete discussions of Heaven, Paradise, etc. have never really resonated with me. So while I do not disbelieve in the possibilty of something else, I remain skeptical as to every specific description.) And I do pray with my kids and kiss them good night. Every night. (Even when I was in Iraq, once I mastered the communications logisitcs, unless I was in the middle of something, I called them every morning and every night.)

  2. skholiast says:

    Thank you for this.

    Your meditation on sins of omission and commission puts something into words I’ve been struggling with for a long while. And now that you have phrased it, I can’t evade it any more.

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