Jonas and his son were skirting the edge of the Arènes de Lutèce, avoiding the center of the antiquated Roman arena. Alix lagged behind the distance of a teenager’s shame, exacerbated further by his father’s forearms bound in bandages.
“So,” Jonas ventured, straying a step closer to the middle of the ring, “how was school today?”
The question made the silence they’d been avoiding more pronounced. “You know if there’s something wrong, we can talk about it. Anything.”
“Like you talked to me about what was wrong?”
“No,” Jonas said, closing the distance to the heart of the arena. “Not like that. Real talking.”
“OK,” Alix answered. “Here’s something real I’m feeling. I really don’t want you to come and meet me anymore at the school. You embarrass me.”
Now they had reached the center of the coliseum. A wounded expression pained Jonas’s face like that of a man who understands the blow dealt him is most likely fatal. The look bled away before Alix could notice, then inspiration replaced it.
“Follow me,” Jonas said, afraid of opening his injuries when he grabbed his son’s sleeve. He led Alix across the sand to a wide stone passageway through which gladiators once rode their chariots. Mounting a narrow staircase, they rose to the stone stands overlooking the battlefield that had boasted combats to the death.
“Take a piece of paper out of your backpack,” Jonas instructed. Alix hesitated but eventually did as he was told.
“Write down everything you can think of that makes me a bad dad. It’s OK if you can’t think of anything, I’ve got a lot of ideas.”
The veil of disdain slipped from Alix’s face and through the cracks in the mask a glimpse of his innocence peeked through. Jonas added, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to read it. It’s a list just for you.”
“I’m a bad dad because I embarrass you,” Jonas hinted, to get his son started. “I’m too concerned with my work and not enough about you.” Still, Alix did not begin. “I’m not as rich as your friends’ parents. I’m distant. I shut down too often. I drink too much, I work too hard, I don’t sleep enough, I talk too little, I have bad taste in music…I’m weak.”
“OK, OK,” Alix said, and set about continuing the list of what made his dad a bad dad. He wrote consistently but not constantly for fifteen minutes. “OK,” he said, “I’m done.”
“Look at that list closely.”
Alix did as he was told.
“Everyone in the world has a list similar to that one. A common man sees a list of excuses, a great man sees a list of challenges. You have to choose which you want to be, because it is a choice. Your choice.”
Alix chose to close part of the distance that stretched between him and his father by shifting in his seat and tossing the crumpled list into the ring.
© Paul Prescott 2012 __________________________________________________________________