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Illustration by John Stricker
The questions come like wind-driven rain, relentlessly and without pause.
They pummel my psyche and show no mercy on my limited intellect. There’s no intended harm, of course, just a simple assumption of mental acuity that, despite my repeated demonstrations to the contrary, show just how deep a child’s faith in their father can go.
My son Sam is 11 and has a big curiosity about everything. Our other two kids had questions, but Sam is the guy at the front of class with his hand still raised after the dismissal bell has rung. And for whatever reason, he’s mistaken me for the professor. What he hasn’t yet realized is, I’m more like a losing contestant on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
His questions can be practical enough, like: “How much air should you put in a bike tire?” And answering can be easy: “Look on the side of the tire and it’ll say.” But then they’ll go a little deeper, like, “Instead of air, could you put water in a bike tire?” Still, somewhat answerable: “I suppose you could but then the ride would be squishy, like trying to balance yourself on a water balloon.” Sam will keep going.
Sam: “What if you used wet cement?”
Me: “I think that would make the ride kind of rough.”
Sam: “What about helium?”
Me: “Uhh, I guess you could…”
Sam: “Would helium help me jump my bike?”
Me: “I doubt it.”
Me: “Because you‘d be too busy inhaling it and talking in a funny voice to ever try.”
Frequently, just when he seems to be losing steam, he’ll re-energize and veer off in an unexpected direction.
Sam: “How fast would you have to pedal a bike to jump the Grand Canyon?”
Me: “That’s impossible.”
Sam: “But let’s just say it was possible...how fast?”
Me: “Look, Evel Knievel tried jumping a canyon on a rocket powered motorcycle and he didn’t make it. It couldn’t happen on a bicycle even if a guy was pedaling 600 miles per hour.”
Sam: “What if he could pedal 800 miles an hour?”
Me: “But nobody could…”
Sam: “You always say anything is possible”
Me: “Except that.”
Sam: “Who was Evel Knievel?”
Me: “He was a daredevil motorcycle guy in the ‘70s who used to jump cars and buses and things.”
Sam: “Did he ever use helium in his tires?”
Me: Head drops to chest. Heavy sigh.
Sometimes his line of questioning drifts towards the philosophical. A book called Would You Rather...? inspired him to pose either-or situations to me. It’s sort of a fun exercise in and of itself. But he’ll challenge my answers.
Sam: “Dad, would you rather eat nothing but earthworms the rest of your life, or have eyelids that squeaked really loud every time you blinked?”
Sam: “Ew. For every breakfast lunch and dinner, forever?”
Sam: “At least with squeaky eyelids, you can still eat whatever you want.”
Me: “But I’d be eating by myself most of the time.”
Sam: “I’d still eat with you.”
Me: “Aw, that’s nice.”
Sam: “And, I’d serve earthworms!”
And sometimes his questions will just pop up out of nowhere, like flowers from a sidewalk. “Is it possible for an elephant to be overweight?” “Do you think there’s such a thing as a vegetarian cowboy?” “What does the president of Coca-Cola do when he asks for a Coke at a restaurant and the waitress says all they have is Pepsi?”
I am impressed with the way his mind works. I just wish I was half as smart as he thinks I am.
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