Lately, I have been spending a good amount of time rounding the dirt track located up the street from where I live. It can be a lively place—especially on the weekends—as runners with cell phones, dogs, power walkers with cell phones, football players, football fans, malingerers, soccer players, soccer fans, cigar smokers, pee wee teams, mothers, tennis players, body builders, opera singers, and others converge.
This morning, I found myself walking behind a small, helmeted boy, four years old at most, who was riding a red bicycle with lopsided training wheels. His distracted father, at first walking slowly alongside his son, soon began to jog out in front, at which point the boy turned around to look at me. As he did so, the bike began to veer off the track and onto the uncut grass that bordered it.
“Oops! Oops!” I couldn’t help but call out.
Upon hearing this, the young father stopped, turned around, and trotted back to his child. As I caught up, I could hear the man say, “And, you were so fast.”
“Why?” the boy wanted to know.
How cute, I thought, as only a smug adult would think. Then, I began to ponder the question more deeply and was struck not by its seeming innocence but by its seeming genius. I came to understand that it wasn’t one of those “but why daddy/why mommy” questions every exasperated parent of a toddler receives. Rather, I think this child genuinely, and without any self-consciousness, wished to understand something about what it actually means—and why it even matters—to be fast.
“Why?” the father replied, apparently as disarmed by the question as I was. “Well, because you want to be fast.” And, in this one, nearly innocuous, moment, which could have been no more portentous than the one that came before or after it, the father told his son what kind of man he was expected to become.
Later, I saw the boy careening around a corner. “Look, Daddy!” he screamed. “Look how fast I am!”