Took the sixteen year old to the optician’s this morning to replace the new glasses he got last week. Frames looked sharp on him but they were too small for his face—he has his mother’s great big eyes---and he complained that he kept seeing around them and under them and over them. Optician made the switch cheerfully. Which was good because it said “NO REFUNDS” on the receipt and I was afraid I was going to have to argue them into ignoring their own policy.
This is not one of my talents, arguing with anyone---clerk, bureaucrat, repairman, black jack dealer, loan shark---who decides to stand on policy and make a principle out of adhering to the fine print.
I start out reasonably enough but the second the policy-obsessive starts to dig in his or her heels I go right to DefCon 2.
Sometime I’ll tell you about how I went all Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces on an assistant manager of the cafe at Barnes and Noble who refused to mix Oliver a chocolate milk.
But as I said, the optician was cheerful and helpful and we’re picking up the new new frames on Thursday.
On the way back to the car I started to laugh. The sixteen year old asked why and I said, “I’m thinking about Pop.”
“Well, no matter how old you get, there’s always a part of you that stays the kid you were,” I said, “And whenever we go on errands like this I can’t help feeling that it should be Pop and me and not me and you.”
“So, sometimes when that happens I start imagining that I am Pop and you’re me.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
“I’m not Pop.”
“How are you not Pop?”
The question threw me. I’m not sure why. Might have been his baffled tone. It sounded as if he didn’t see a difference between his super-competent and brilliant grandfather and his lovable but bumbling dear old dad. I was so baffled myself by his bafflement that I almost told him the truth, which is, Your Pop is really good at these things!
And he is. At least…
It always seemed to me that he was. At any rate, I don’t remember my father having to go all Jack Nicholson on someone making a principle out of reading the fine print. In fact, what I remember is that whenever there was trouble, officious store clerks, bureaucrats, and repairmen would always back down when Pop Mannion stepped up to the counter. And as far as I recall, he never yelled, he never even raised his voice. He just explained the problem, listened closely when they explained their position, and then explained why their explanation wouldn’t wash, and they would think about it for a moment and then agree, it didn’t wash.
“Ok, Mr Mannion, let’s see what we can do.”
Invariably they would see that they could do what my father had asked them to do.
Today, thanks to the sixteen year old, I began to wonder. Was this how it happened? Or was it only how it appeared to my hero-worshipping eyes?
I felt bumbling and incompetent this morning, as usual. I was worried that the optician would stand on policy. But that’s not what the sixteen year old saw. What he saw was that he had a problem with his new glasses and his father walked casually into the optician’s, stepped up to the counter, and solved the problem.
From that point of view, his question “How are you not Pop?” is practically rhetorical. I was in his eyes what Pop was in my eyes. Dad. And solving problems is just what dads do.
By the way, Oliver got his chocolate milk that day.