Chicago, the city of my birth, was the destination of a Labor Day Weekend pilgrimage with my 13 year old son. It was a post-modern traditional journey, invented in our blended family as a means of celebrating the bat-mitzvahs of his stepsisters - a journey with the same sex parent to the city of choice of the child reaching the age of adulthood in the jewish tradition; now applied regardless of the faith of the child. Our eldest stepdaughter chose New York, which I lobbied for with him. He originally wanted to go to Miami, mostly having to do with the sports teams, but he ultimately chose Chicago, and, while the Cubs, White Sox, Redwings, Bears and Bulls had something to do with that, it also had to do with a city that means something more to him. What that is, I am not sure, but I was certainly relieved as it is a city that I know well - the city where my mother was born and grew up and a city where members of both my mother's and father's families still live.
We filled the weekend with two visits with family, trips to a skyscraper and four museums, and an afternoon at the ballpark. In between we wandered through the city, on foot, by car, and on the El, marveling at its size, its engagement with its citizens and visitors alike, its stores, and its jazz festival. But also we spent time in each other's company - with a quality that was different from the time that we spend when we travel with the rest of the family. We were, once again, and in entirely new ways, the dyad that we have always been; father and son.
Having a child was a radically different experience for me - it was, in the words of Bernard Lonergan, a Jesuit I am reading to better understand the relationship between psychoanalysis and Ignatius' spiritual exercises, a horizon altering experience. Lonergan proposes that there are horizontal and vertical exercises of freedom, and a horizontal exercise is is one that occurs within an established horizon. A vertical exercise is the means by which we move from one horizon to the next; and the unexpected and profound love for my child, an individual not yet formed, but also perfectly present, was a paradigm altering experience - it introduced entirely new horizons.
As the infant, pre-verbal son and I spent time together, I was enthralled by his development, by our shared experience. Then, as I have referred to elsewhere in this blog, he began to speak, and the profound experience that we had shared collapsed - the words actually interfered with a level of communication that had, at least I believed, been taking place. Instead of resonating with each other, we were talking about food, and the bathroom, and stuff - real concrete stuff, and our words were not adequate to address the spectrum of all that we had been sharing.
As the boy grew and developed, language provided more opportunities to communicate in new and more complex realms. Sports is an example. Playing video games, watching Sports Center, and reading the sports section quickly made him more knowledgeable than I about which modern players are playing for which teams in a host of sports (and who is good, who just mediocre), but also increased his knowledge about such things as strategy and gamesmanship so that, at times, he was embarrassed about what his Old Man didn't know. On the other hand, I retain an edge in knowing about the classic moments and players in sport (see the blog about Steve Bartman and the Cubs), especially during the era of my youth and before. I have a kind of reservoir of historical information that he is moderately interested in. We are able to engage in conversation, but it involves ferrying material across a river that divides two similar nations who speak a different dialect of the same language.
Wrigley field, one of the Grand Dames, along with Fenway Park, of Major League Baseball, served as a wonderful place for these two congregations to come together. The Cubs, who were so far out of contention that they were irrelevant, were playing the Giants - a team in contention, but one neither of us really care about one way or the other. We didn't have a dog in the race. But we were in Church together.
We arrived early. My son, who has a collection of baseball hats, was interested in buying a hat at the ballpark. We went to a stand and looked over the offerings. His tastes run to the modern. He likes the flat bills - a type of hat worn by rappers and a few baseball players. I have trouble making sense of them - I think they neither look as good nor function as well as the traditional bill. He also likes modern takes on traditional hats. So he has an orange Cincinnati Reds hat, and he has a Tennessee Titans Football team baseball cap that has modern writing across the front rather than the more traditional team symbol. In fact, most of his caps are caps that are trendy in one way or another. I am strongly attached to the age old design of the Cubs' cap; one of the simple, traditional caps that is blue with a red C on the front and a red button on top - it is a symbol, like Wrigley field, of the way things used to be when we were more focused on building a country - primary colors and declarative symbols.
There were other caps on display. There were pinstriped caps. There were caps that festooned various things about the Cubs or about Wrigley in various fonts and colors across the front of the cap. But most of the caps wore the traditional colors and symbol - in either bill style. He chose, after much deliberation, a flat bill traditional colored cap. This choice was a sort of compromise - a mixture of the tradition that I lean towards but with the style that he likes, and that I have grudgingly grown accustomed to. As we talked with the vendor, who told the story of an Alphonso Soriano home run ball that he had caught - and was till trying to get autographed - he mentioned where we could go to get a certificate for this being his first day at Wrigley (We had actually been here when he was two, but we agreed that pre-verbal trips to the ball park shouldn't count -especially because he was more interested in the El arriving at the station than a Sammy Sosa home run).
On our way to the seats, the scorecard vendor assured us, as I'm sure he had many others for years, that his Ouija board had predicted a no-hitter today... though he wasn't sure whether that would be at Wrigley or at a little league game somewhere in North Dakota. We picked up the certificate and headed to our seats, high above first base, but close enough, even though we were in the next to last row, that we were very much part of the game. On the way, we passed hot dog stands offering Chicago style hot dogs, something I remembered eating on an earlier visit and found exquisite. When we sat down, I offered to go get such a hot dog for each of us, but warned John that it would be laden with many things that he didn't like - but I thought it worth it because, in my estimation it was good local food and worth a try. Somewhat to my surprise, he agreed, even though he is a picky eater who frequently refuses my attempts to get him to try to broaden his palate.
As I loaded the all beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun with tomatoes, onions, a weird colored pickle relish, mustard, ketchup (I didn't know this didn't belong), peppers and a pickle, I thought to myself, "He won't like this - all of the condiments, with the exception of the peppers and maybe the mustard, are things that he avoids." Despite this, and manifold experiences of having my hopes dashed when I present new tastes, I believed that my own experience of this wonderful combination was something that I wanted to share with him. When I returned to the seat, my son had been traumatized. In my absence a huge spider had landed on him and then walked onto his program where he was able to throw it to the ground. Despite being shaken, he tried the hot dog and, what do you know, he liked it! He and I were both surprised. And we settled in together to watch the game.
It was really fun to be in a park where there were no blaring advertisements to interfere with the conversation between innings - where T-shirt shooting, scantily clad women weren't encouraging us to beg and plead to have them send a T-shirt our way - but instead of being constantly "entertained", to listen to the organ as it provided a gentle, though, as the game demanded, a more strident soundtrack. To notice the flags flying of players whose numbers had been retired - players whom I had seen play on this field in my youth (boy does that make me sound old). To have my son point out to me the odd and predictable batting stance of a Giant player, and to have him talk about the pitching styles of the current pitchers for both teams. To watch the game unfold. To notice the traditions of the park together - including the polite applause that welcomed the Cubs to the dugout after a particularly difficult inning finally came to a close (as opposed to the booing that a crowd in another town would have visited on their hapless players), and to cringe, together, at the noise that the Giants fans made in this home of the Cubs.
In addition to the conversation, to sharing our memory of hearing broadcasters characterizing the size of a particular gate onto the field as being determined by the size of the elephant the circus would bring to Wrigley field, to my learning about the modern teams and his learning about the ancient ones, there was an unspoken experience. A shared experience of being together. One that we didn't comment on. We talked about some of that after the game. We discussed the fans around us. We talked about the rhythm of the game. About our experience of watching a game where neither had a dog in the race. And we talked about how good it felt to be there.
And there was much we didn't talk about. Of being father and son. Of being on a trip together. Of relying on each other. Of being in touch with each other. Of enjoying the time we had together. Of feeling good about having a language that would serve to bridge a divide. Of feeling united, connected, on a level for which there is no language. Of sharing a perspective, and of appreciating the differences between our perspectives. Of acknowledging that the choices of the other would not be our own, but that there is a logic to it, even if it is not our own. And respecting that the other is who he is - that we share much, and part of what we share is respect for the other's experience, at least in our best moments.
The theme of shared and separate moments and experiences was played out throughout the weekend - as we searched for another dog as good as the first (couldn't find one), saw spiders all over the town, talked over what it was like to be with family members (sharing appreciation for the virtues of the people that we knew and the new ones that we met), looked at art, technology, and natural wonders, and shared the experience while also having our own experiences of them in the moment, and revisiting them in conversation after leaving them. Agreeing that this was the best of our trips together; not, I believe, just because it was the most recent. Nor because of the manifold virtues of Chicago. But because we continue to become better able to share both the verbal and nonverbal parts of our experience. To be in an experience together and on our own. I hope that this post modern mode of communication - this pilgrimage to a zone of proximal development, a place where we can both expand our perspective horizontally, and perhaps even vertically, together - is one that we continue to share for a long, long time.
Of course, the wish for the experience to stretch is partially because of a complimentary awareness - that we are in very different places. While John is on the verge of adulthood - including the chaotic swirls of adolescence - I can see, from my vantage point, not just retirement, but beyond. When John asks me whether I would rather play third base or first, it is a theoretical question - I will never be called up by even the hapless Cubs - but he is still dreaming of what will be. As my horizon moves vertically, I can see the edge of the world, while his horizons still stretch into countries that feel much warmer and beckon with promise.
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