127: “I Didn’t Get My Dad” (Benjamin Alire Sáenz)

                “I didn’t get my dad. I could never guess how he would react to things. Not ever.” –Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

                My niece, not quite two, was leading us on an adventure to the beach. It was a gentle day, with little swells licking along the shore. She wandered into the surf zone and plopped down. She looked out to sea. She looked at the sand, and stuck her fingers in it. Then a wave knocked her onto her back. She immediately twisted around to look at us–okay, not us, but at my brother standing beside me. My brother, her father, smiled.
                “Yay sweetie!” he said.
                Sometimes I think that young children live as much in our reactions to the world than in the world itself. Reading Sáenz, I don’t think that’s quite right: they live in the world, they’re hit by the wave, but they look to us to see what to make of those things. Their look asks, is this a scary thing? Is this a happy thing?
                As we get older–Sáenz’s Aristotle is in high school–we have more choices. The machinery of our own mind, our own evaluation, sits on top of what our parents see. But we still look at them. We still wonder what they see. I can’t shake the feeling that, in looking at his father’s reactions, Aristotle is wondering about one reaction in particular. What do you think of what I’m doing, dad? What do you think of me?

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