I’m reading The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, to M-ito. I’ve been waiting to read it to him forever. Well, since I read it when I was ten or so. My friend Joe showed it to me and I read it and fell in love with it’s total sense of adventure immediately. I’m a sucker for a fantasy story. Dwarves, dragons, elves, hobbits, hero’s wizards – you can’t beat it. Since then I’ve read it twice but it’s been over ten years since the last time. I’ve told myself it would be great to read it to my son or daughter one day. Now that I have a son, I’ve been eyeing it each year, and looking at M-ito to wonder if it was time yet. This year since starting school he read How to Train Your Dragon by Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III (traslated from the Norse by Cressida Cowel) and a number of other books on his own that speak of adventure and new worlds, swordplay and dragons. With Hiccup under his belt I thought it was time for The Hobbit. It’s dark and there’s lots of danger and the tone is menacing, but so far he’s loved it.
Reading it has been hard, though, bitter-sweet to be exact. My friend Joe, who told me about the book after he’d read it, had been my best friend since we were both in 4th grade together. We met the first day of school – a new school for me – I left my lunch box behind and Joe took it home with him. He lived down the block from me. I went to his house to retrieve it and so a friendship was born on a sunny September day. We saw each other every day until, when we were both in seventh grade, maybe a month away from the end of school, he was killed. It was a freakish accident. He walked home from school early without letting anyone know. There were torrential rains. Crossing the rail road tracks he was hit. I can still picture the black sky, still hear the downpour against the school roof while I sat in math class. They announced his death over the loud speaker just before school ended.
So many things I do as a father remind me of my own childhood. I watch my son and watch myself as a child, or I watch my son and think of what was and what could have been. I have to remind myself, like so many other parents, that he is not me. Now that’s a challenge they never told me about in the school for parents.
The Hobbit is a wonderful book and I love the way my son pulls the covers up closer around him while I read to him about the three Trolls arguing about how to kill and eat good old Bilbo and his dwarven companions. He peers over my shoulder, snuggling in close. At the scary parts he covers his ears with his hands and closes his eyes. “Don’t read anymore!” He says, then takes his hands off his ears and asks me to read on. “Which do you want?” I ask. “Read on!” he says. I love being able to comfort him, being able to be his warmth when the story makes him shiver.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche says, “Hold the sadness and pain of smasara in your heart and at the same time the power and vision of the Great Eastern Sun. Then the warrior can make a proper cup of tea.” I try to remind myself of this, when my heart aches. I try to see the beauty of my son’s smile.
Today M-ito told me he wanted to write a new book of his own. In school they’re writing stories now – fiction. They’ve moved on from non-ficiton memoir and he’s thrilled because he loves to tell stories. “I’m going to write a story,” he says, “about a character I’ve had an idea about for a long time. His name is the Sizzler.”
All I can think of is the restaurant chain called The Sizzler, but I tell him to go on – to tell me about him.
“It’s about a Sizzler that has never had any adventures but he gets dragged into a bunch of them and all kinds of things happen.”
Now I can see the Great Eastern Sun.