Fathers and Sons

My six-year-old is wheeled back into pre-op wiping fresh tears from his eyes with hands noticeably shaking. I was not expecting to see him nearly so soon. In fact I didn’t expect to see him again for several hours yet. To the best of my knowledge, getting your tonsils out takes substantially longer than three or four minutes. Something has definitely gone wrong.

“We had a melt down,” my wife says with forced calm that tells its own story. “When they tried to put the mask on, he just …” she doesn’t say “lost it” and she doesn’t have to. I know what that panic looks like. I’ve seen it during enough blood draws by now to recognize that it’s an electric thing that takes on a life of its own. The anesthesiologist smiles from behind the elaborate gurney, frustration buried deep behind a practiced expression.

“We’re going to give him a sedative. It might help his nerves. Also, the medicine we’ll use will probably let him forget what goes on once it takes effect.” There’s a hidden message there that every adult in the room understands. If we have to hold him down next time we take him in for surgery, the message says, at least he won’t remember it.

“I just couldn’t do it, Daddy.” Fresh tears threaten to spill onto his cheek. I nod in what I think is a fatherly way, but I don’t understand and I’m terrified that he will see the horrible hint of disappointment that I am working so hard to hide.

I have always been worried about communicating with my sons. I worry because I have seen enough fathers and sons who go through agonizing decades of not understanding one another, both sides carrying shared responsibility for the insurmountable walls that are built across great landscapes of grief and guilt. I worry because of the relationship I had with my own father for so many years.

Though we have overcome most — not all — of those obstacles, the memories are still there. It is not that we are necessarily so dissimilar, in fact that may be the problem. Our mixture is a volatile one, a fiery and rocky thing that buries deep into our Irish heritage, or so we like to tell one another. Never violent, the hurts we have managed to inflict on one another, very often without ever meaning to, ran much deeper.

I do not want my own son and I to go through that long, potholed road to understanding, and yet I feel too often the seeds being sown. He is a challenging boy, just as I am certainly a challenging father, intensely energetic who struggles like no one I’ve ever seen to fight the impulses that seem to drive him, and when those impulses overtake him, he seems abandoned in a drowning sea of his own making. Worse, I am unequipped to deal with it. I too often interpret it as willful stubbornness, even as I can see in his eyes that he is begging for someone to give him the tools to overcome his impulses.

How can I tell him that I don’t have the tools to understand much less help? And so we both become monumentally frustrated for different reasons.

“One to ten, how bad?” I ask my wife.

“Ten.” She says. The fact that she doesn’t even joke with an eleven or a hundred confirms what I suspect. When they had tried to put that mask over his face, he must have become feral. My guess is that they don't wheel a majority of kids back into the pre-op area for a good solid reset.

I am holding in my hand a replica of the anesthesia mask that is the current source of my son’s deep fear. It is a soft and harmless looking thing, but I catch him eyeing it suspiciously.

I should be doing something. If I were the father I wanted to be, what would I do?

My father and I communicated through sports and music. It was not always ideal, but it was the way we could reset, get back to common ground. When the world had been cleaved in two, one half being the way in that I saw it and the other half being the alien, parallel, bizarro world that was his perception, the way to merge the two back into a jury-rigged functional place was through the lens of quarterback stats and southern rock.

For all the things I might be able to say about my father’s relationship with me, the dysfunctional years that seemed like they’d never end, he always tried. He was always willing to come back to the field, put on his helmet and see if we couldn’t bang out some kind of middle ground. As a father myself now, I know that’s just what you do, not because it’s noble and not because you’re trying to win an award but because it’s worth doing.

In front of me is a scared six-year-old who is putting on a brave face because I showed him where to keep the mask, and it’s my job to know how to help him overcome the fear that threatens to pull him under. This time, telling him to just put on the mask and not to worry so much about it won’t just be ineffective. It could be destructive. The fact that I don’t understand that fear in the first place is irrelevant, that I don’t understand why he didn’t just put the mask on like we’d talked about is just not helpful.

And, if my wife and I can’t do it, then they are going to hold him down and force him to breathe deep until chemical sleep overtakes his panicked mind.

“Let’s practice,” I say.

The medium for my son and I to reset is video games. When we reach those impassable waters where you can imagine your relationship being run aground in a tempest of wind and rock, we pull back to the familiar waters of Lego games and Rock Band. Imaginary adventures give us comfort, and when he settles into the crook of my arm as we sit side-by-side on the floor playing games that others might dismiss as meaningless, I realize that gaming has become important in my life like I had never expected.

I suppose often it’s true that you can only understand your own parents once you’ve become one. You can only really see who you were as a child once you have to look through the lens from the other direction. It can’t be a coincidence that my own relationships have been repaired at the same time that I’ve become a father myself.

My boy is wearing his practice mask, with his eyes closed. “Ok,” I say. “You’ve got your scuba gear on and you’re jumping off the boat. How many dolphins do you see? Count them out loud.” He counts out twenty dolphins with enthusiasm, pressing the mask to his face. “Can you keep up with them? Can you swim as fast as them.” He giggles a yes.

The doctors and nurses have gathered to wheel him back to the OR. They smile at one another to see my son wearing the mask and swimming with whales and dolphins. As they begin to roll him out of the room I kiss the top of his head, and remind him that the mask is his scuba gear, and he gives me a thumbs up. “Rock on!” I call out as they wheel him through the double doors, and the last sound I hear before the doors close is his laughter.

I suppose it all can be explained by the sedative, but I hold on to the idea that I was able to connect with my son when no one else could, and that gives me hope.

They tell me that he happily and calmly counted two dolphins before he was under.



Ding! Parenthood level-up.

What a great piece. Thanks for sharing Elysium.

Good article. Hope your son had a good op and recovers quickly.

I'm at the office this morning and literally holding back tears. Thank you, Elysium. Thank you for sharing this because it touches on more things than I can rationally comment on now. Maybe I'll come back after a walk around the building for some air.

Great one, Elysium. As a soon to be father with a similar Irish heritage, that really resonated with me.

You made me cry, you bastard. I hope he's doing better, now.

We're having our second daughter in April, and then that will probably be it. When we found out it was another girl, I had a hard time not feeling disapointed. Of course I'll love her unconditionally, but I think I'll miss on those special father/son moments. Thanks for sharing.

And *this* is why I follow this site, religiously for two years. This is my very first post, having been a long-time lurker and CC listener. Goodjers are gamers, but they are also workers, husbands (and wives), and parents. What a wonderful feeling to mix in this hobby with all of our real lives. I'm especially touched by the posts from parents, like Elysium, Rabbit, and Momgamer. I have a 1-year old daughter, and a 4-year old son who's obsessed with the Beatles because of B:RB, and these posts give me a little guidance on what to look forward to - and what to watch out for.

Thanks for the great read, and thank you for giving us articles like this that you can't find anywhere else.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

You made me cry, too. Beautiful article, Sean.

Aww. Great work. Got me right *here*.

Bullion Cube wrote:

Ding! Parenthood level-up.

I'll second that.

Connecting with your children can be a difficult thing to do.

Rock Band 2 with current music DLC on the Wii is one of my conduits with my 12yr daughter.

Great Article!

Reminds me of when I was 3/4 and my older by 10 years sister was babysitting my broter and I and I ended up having to get stiches while my parents were out to dinner alone. I ended up in a straight jacket. My parents got off easy as they only lost a meal as the rushed to meet us at the hospital, but didn't have to deal with me at the begining of the procedure - I think. The dude who was over dropping off some papers for the soccer club who was enlisted to drive us to the hospital with a screaming child bleeding all over his back seat is another story.

Fantastic read as always Sean. I completely agree with JFarside. I could get game news from any number of news aggregate websites, but it's articles like this that make GWJ so unique.

My wife and I just had our first son two months ago and I can't wait for the enjoyment of sharing gaming with him. Until then, I'll live vicariously through the writing of the GWJ parents. Thanks again.

Aw man...no, that's not a tear...(*sniff*)

Thanks for that, Elysium. It's this kind of connection that I look forward to as my child grows older.

Certis wrote:

You made me cry, you bastard. I hope he's doing better, now.

Seconded on both counts.

This article is a perfect example of what I love about this site. I'm not sure how you guys do this so consistently, but you somehow manage to tie video gaming into life and the real world in ways that are almost always fresh and unique. I have a 9 year old son, so I can relate to the bonding and "reseting" that can go on with video games. Lego Star Wars, Mario Kart, N+, and Little Big Planet consistently give us some common ground to work with, even during the challenging times. Thanks so much for helping me view video gaming with my son in yet another different (and positive) way.

This totally goes against the advice of "Want readers, be a dick!".

I like it! You sir, are a rebel!

Not a parent myself, but I got enough from here to better prepared for when the time comes. Thank you.

I'm one of the alien married grownups with no desire for children, so this doesn't have the emotional resonance for me that others obviously felt; but it reaffirmed my great respect for those like you who are good parents. It is not easy.

And of course, on topic to the site, it is a touching argument for the power of video games in our "real lives."

Thanks so much for sharing this!

Awesome. Please give us an update, if you will.

Will you be my Dad? Seriously though, great story! Thanks for sharing that. Love the podcast and keep up the great content!

Very good article...I barely managed to hold the water back. Hope he is recovering quickly.

What a fantastic piece. Thank you for this.

Wow, amazing...hope he's recovering quickly.

When my son was 18 months he had surgery to repair a hernia. I had to hold him down as they put the mask on him, and it is still one of the toughest experiences as a father. Ugh. So glad everything turned out ok.

great article. Your absence from the conference call is excused.

What a very tender, honest, and beautiful account of your experience. Please do keep us appraised. I'm literally in a chat right now with TheRealEdwin and he's just mentioned that the GwJ community is like a second family. You didn't have to share this Elysium, but thank you very much for doing it. It may sound trite, but I feel like I'm learning something about being a father from you in this piece.

We come together because of games, but we stick around because there's deep humanity here that goes beyond the B Button. I got nothing more than that. Thank you.

Wow. I... *sniff* ... I don't even have kids, but this stabbed way too close to the heart of my relationship with my father. Really great. *sniff* I need to call my Dad...

Fantastic, fantastic piece, Sean. It echoes my feelings and fears as a father (to a 6 year old daughter and soon to be 5 year old son) and reminds me a lot of the "A Day in the Life" piece you wrote years ago, when your oldest wasn't yet a year old.

I hope the recovery afterward went more smoothly!

Elysium- Thank you for this.

Rat Boy wrote:
Certis wrote:

You made me cry, you bastard. I hope he's doing better, now.

Seconded on both counts.


Somewhere in there, when you kid came out all terrified, and your article seemed to imply that you were locked into inaction by your own internal dialog, it felt like one of those nightmares where you're trying to scream a warning but no sound would come out. I wanted to scream: just hold him and tell him it'll be fine! But I was reading a written article. No screaming allowed.

I'm very glad to hear it worked out well in the end. I'm sure it was a big lesson for your son as well. Please do keep us appraised on how he's doing.

MoonDragon wrote:
Rat Boy wrote:
Certis wrote:

You made me cry, you bastard. I hope he's doing better, now.

Seconded on both counts.



Thanks for sharing, and, like many others above have said, let us know how things have gone.