Monday, January 17, 2011
He smiled big at me as I sat down on the subway across from him.
I laughed. "It's my hair, isn't it?" I said. "You're smiling at me because of my hair..."
James Tapuano, I would come to know in our fast 15-minute friendship, does not shy away from the truth.
"Yes, it's fun, very charming," he said of my Princess Leia look ("an OLD Princess Leia," according to my own young truth-teller, Eli).
I have noted recently that the two silly buns sticking out from either side of my head give off the impression that I am a slightly-touched person, someone free and childlike and non-judgmental. Who would I be to judge? The style makes people, like James, smile and feel friendly. It's a good thing, like a gold star in a hairstyle.
James, it turns out, is a construction worker/sage. When I told him I was a writer, I wrote sometimes about parenting, he told me he was a father of two, and a grandfather of two.
"I started young," he said apologetically.
"Maybe that's a good thing," I said.
He perked up, like maybe he hadn't done the wrong thing. "I was a kid along with them...it was hard to separate and be the parent," he said.
"That's great, you have to be a kid with them I think, then they trust you. I always wonder, otherwise, what the dividing line is, when you're the disciplarian parent and then, all of sudden, you want to have a friendly relationship with them."
"That's true, that's true," he said. "But I didn't know anything..."
I laughed. "Does anybody, at any age? Please. At least you didn't feel like you should know anything...you probably let yourself off the hook. I think that's the problem with parenting, we don't know exactly what we want to achieve, we have no objective."
James sat up and leaned forward eagerly. "Exactly! How do you get to a place when you don't know where it is?"
I asked the difficult question. "Do you have a good relationship with your kids?"
He paused, long paused, and I started to retract but then he spoke.
"As far as love and communication, yes. Was I the best father? No." He laughed. "It was more like, 'this is my life as a cowboy, watch me. I'll be the sacrificial lamb so you can learn what not to do.'"
I gave James a gold star and my card and told him to keep in touch. I hope he does. I could use some cowboy advice, some real truths about what it takes sometimes to make things work. Construction workers know best what it really takes to build things.