When my father was the age I am now (51), he had a fairly healthy, fairly vigorous, and fairly compliant 17 year old son (me) to help him with certain labor-intensive tasks. “Timothy,” he told me on numerous occasions after I’d helped with one job or another, “I appreciate your [fill in here with appropriate chore of the moment, including-but-not-limited-to raking the leaves/mowing the grass/carrying the suitcases/shoveling the snow]. I knew we had you for a reason.” He always had a hint of a twinkle in his eye when he said this, so I assumed back then that he was teasing. Now that I am a middle-aged man with children of my own, however, I’m not so sure.
In any event, a few days ago—after the first blizzard of the winter deposited 10 inches or so of heavy, drifting snow throughout Darke County—I marched outside to clear off our driveway. Krista was busy fulfilling a variety of indoor duties and our three children are still too young and small to be of much help with such a physically demanding activity. So I retrieved a shovel and began to work on a small section closest to the garage. The 30 mile-per-hour wind lashed my body and caused certain shovel tosses of the dry, powdery top layers to boomerang and pepper me in the face. The bottom layers, meanwhile, were wet and heavy, like waterlogged clothing, and they stuck to the shovel’s surface. The weight of it taxed my back and shoulders and heart, so I had to stop every couple of minutes to rest and stretch lest I leave my wife a single parent. Widowhood she can manage, I know, but raising our brood by herself is a fate my conscience can’t bear and, besides, I know she’d somehow exact a particularly ugly revenge in the next life.
Against this backdrop enter Daniel, our autistic nine year old, who joined me after I’d been at it for twenty minutes or so.
“Hi Daniel,” I greeted him.
“Hi, dad,” he responded. “I came out to help. Is that okay?”
“Of course! I’m happy to have you! How are you going to help? Would you like to grab a shovel and move some snow off the driveway?”
“Well….ummm…no, I think I’d help you more if I just played in the snow and made you happy while you worked.”
“I see. Interesting theory. That’s not how I used to help your grandpa, but I suppose we can give it a try.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, too. Good idea. You’re very smart!”
“Why, thank you. Same to you.”
“Awww, thanks dad!”
Daniel pranced away, pleased, and I resumed scooping snow. After a few minutes I stopped again to stretch and catch my breath. By this time Daniel was fully engaged in his pretend world—running through the drifts in our side yard, barking orders and engaging unseen (to my eyes, anyway) enemies in combat. I watched closely and turned my head so I could make out portions of his play-by-play.
“Come in sector 7! Come in! The evil Hoth animals are approaching, but I can hold them off for a little while,” he chirped. He waved an imaginary light sabre, slaying (I think) some adversaries whose qualities only he could perceive and appreciate. “But I’ll need reinforcements soon. Hurry, the fate of the alliance is in your hands!” Whoosh, slash. Down went more “Hoth animals”. The momentum soon changed, though, as Daniel obviously sustained an injury to his midsection. Whether it came from a laser blast, a light saber thrust, or a sharp claw or tusk (I don’t know what properties “Hoth animals” possess, after all), who knows? But Daniel was in dire straits, that much was clear, and I had to come to his aid. I dropped my shovel and ran to him.
“Sir,” I told him, “I’m from Sector 7. How can I help? Are you alright?”
“Ooooh,” he groaned. “I think I’ll be okay. Thanks for coming…just in the nick of time, too.”
“My honor, sir. I know the fate of the alliance is at stake. I’ll do whatever I can!”
Daniel gathered himself, rose to his feet, and together we proceeded to fight the vicious, evil enemy with courage and skill. Within a minute or two we vanquished them completely. We breathed heavily and surveyed our snow-covered battlefield with satisfaction.
“Wow, thanks dad. You really helped me out there.”
“No problem, Daniel. You did the same for me,” I told him truthfully, and returned to my task with a spring in my step and a renewed appreciation for the power of a healthy imagination.
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.