A fond memory from my childhood is how my dad would arrive home from work at night and challenge my two brothers and me to a wrestling match. There were no rules other than the goal to pin him down and count to three. The three of us would pile on him and grab at his legs, take running leaps with knobby elbows and knees barely under control. When you’re a six-year-old boy, your dad is invincible, so we never managed to defeat him. Victory wasn’t entirely the point, though. What was more important were the barbaric war whoops, the halting attempts at teamwork as we tried to defeat our father, and the slow realization that he was a heroic presence in our lives. We wanted to defeat him in battle because we wanted to be just like him.
Now that I have two sons of my own, roughhousing is part of my life again. As a father, my perspective is different now and I’ve realized that at least half of my responsibilities during the wrestling match are to keep my over-eager sons from injuring themselves as they recklessly throw their bodies at me in kamikaze attacks. In the process of protecting them, I absorb more painful blows than I’ll ever admit to them because, just like my dad before me, I never lose and remain the undisputed wrestling champion of the household. The point remains, though, that wrestling is a particular form of father-son bonding, and when we play together we all win.
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