When The Roles Reverse

Tristan (age 10) is really into origami. I am not. Not even a little bit. In so many ways he and I are alike. Same scruffy brown hair and eyes. Same stalky frame. Same stupid sense of humor. Same off beat social skills.

In fact, he is so much like me that he sometimes drive me nuts. Helping him develop into a young man feels like I’m starting over again. All those irritating qualities I worked so hard to iron out are right there, in his gap-toothed sly grin.

But that quiet attention to detail he uses when folding origami, he didn’t get that from me. His mother maybe, but I don’t have the patience. So when he asked me to help him make 20 origami stars Saturday morning for some church thing, I initially said, “No.”

Not because I didn’t want to, more because I didn’t think I was capable of it.

Eventually I did sit across from him. He showed me the folds. I got lost in them. He never laughed at me. Instead, he calmly showed me again. He looked at me with calm blue eyes, his hands like my hands, and helped me iron out every wrong crease.

As he did, our roles reversed. He became the teacher, and I the student. Every time I grew frustrated, he talked me through it. He stepped in, just like I did when I taught him how to tie his shoes, ride his bike, wash and comb his hair, pour a bowl of cereal, button a shirt, act in public, and everything else that made him who he was at that moment.

I never did actually finish one of those stupid things. At the end, when you put both pieces of paper together, I always screwed it up, and Tristan always had to fix it.

As he helped me with the last star, I realized that as I’d been teaching the simple tasks that all fathers teach their children, he’d also learned a few things about teaching others. And in that moment, I imagined him sitting across from his future children, teaching them.

I couldn’t help but smile.

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