I often wonder how different my own kids childhood will be from my own. There are the obvious things to consider like the dominating presence of the internet, cell phones and Donald Trump, but there are smaller things of bigger concern to me. This post isn't about predicting what the future will look like for my children/children of the next generation, more so an ode to a very specific aspect of the community that brought me up: my neighbors.
I watched a video of a comedian other day talking about how different it is when someone rings your doorbell now as compared to 20 years ago. There's a million differences one might point out, but it boils down to the fact that doorbells are an almost outdated technology; they simply don't serve the purpose they use to. In my recollection, doorbells served two specific purposes. First, the hilarious and ever classic ding-dong-ditch, in which the joy of the game always seemed to be very one-sided. Second, as a kid you quickly learned doorbells were the gateway to friendship. If you wanted to play you rang the neighbors doorbell. There wasn't any other choice. Then one of two things happened: either your friends parent looked through the door and called their readily available child to answer it for them so they could go play or the parent themselves answered and said something to the effect of, "Brad can't play right now because HIS ROOM ISN'T CLEAN!" With the last part being delivered in a particularly intense fashion to their now moping child hiding walking solemnly back to their room.
Soon after I moved to Happy Valley, Oregon in the 3rd grade and started attending Sunnyside Elementary (I know... I know) I met my friend Jordan who shared a bus stop with my older brother Ben and I. Ringing his doorbell became a daily habit as we'd gather the kids of that block to play 500 (click here for official rules), flag football or wiffle ball in the grassy cove of nearby Megan Park. However, for me the most memorable days were spent in Jordan's driveway shooting hoops with him and his dad, Tim.
For seven years of my upbringing, my Mom was essentially all on her own. She reared us four kids, all involved in sports, showing livestock and general hell-raising, as well as being a full-time agricultural educator. She's the epitome of the word legend. This isn't to say my dad and step-dad haven't done a heck of a job making me the man I am today, because they have, but from age 5-12 I didn't necessarily have any notable male role models. Even though I am still a long ways from becoming a father, I am beginning to grasp the enormous impact those days shooting hoops with Jordan and his dad had on my childhood. In a lot of ways, he changed my 4th grade subconscious view on fatherhood from, "Dads are never around," to "Dads play basketball with their kids." It seems simple, but this has been a foundational revelation for me and provided guidance on how to play the role of a father that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
I go back to thinking about the childhoods of the next generation. What role do I play? I can't imagine Tim laced up his sneaks before hitting the court each time thinking, "I can't wait to go provide mentorship and lucidly demonstrate the virtues of manliness to this poor fatherless soul." I can't imagine Tim even knew my Mom was raising me on her own. But that didn't matter. He was my neighbor and he was simply doing what neighbors did. What will neighbors be like when my kids are growing up? I hope to be a father figure for those kids in my neighborhood, regardless of if they need it or not. My biggest fear in this regard is that I'll never hear my doorbell ring, having been silenced by an ever inclusive and fearful world. Who knows what kind of father I might be had I not been able to round the greenhouse, jump the fence, cross the street and ring Jordan's doorbell?
For anyone in my neighborhood reading this, know that my doorbell doesn't have an off switch and you're welcome to ring it anytime... even if you're playing ding-dong-ditch because I will never stop thinking that it's hilarious.