As the father of three teenage sons, I have to be constantly vigilant. At any moment of the day or night, I might find myself the victim of a sudden and violent attack.
Robert, coming down stairs to leave for soccer practice the other evening, was joking around with his older brother. I’m not sure how, but the jokes escalated into me picking Robert up. Though he is the youngest person in our family, Robert is also the tallest – a fact he is happy to point out to anyone and everyone, but especially to his shorter, older brothers.
So carrying Robert bridal style, I made fun of his enormous height. “Look!” I said. “I can’t get through the door with him!” And I smashed his shoulder into the door frame over and over.
It was all in good fun, and Robert, Harrison and I were all laughing. Nevertheless, I should not have picked him up. By initiating contact, I brought it on myself.
When I set Robert down, he immediately came after me, all arms and legs flailing in his patented “raving stork” attack. I dodged and parried his fists, and then I pushed him down onto the couch.
With him down, I leapt upon him, pinned him to the couch and then punched him one good time in the arm to give him something to think about the next time he’s feeling squirrelly and wants to try the “raving stork” on me.
But the trouble with Robert is that he doesn’t think. He just attacks. And he doesn’t give up. Even when I have my knees pinning his shoulders to the ground and I am punching him with one hand and tickling him with the other, he will not yell, “Uncle!”
“I don’t say uncle!” he will shout. And then he will wriggle and twist and push and punch and do whatever he can to try to break free.
Wrestling my teenage sons is exhausting work, and I quickly tire of it. My sons, however, think it is great sport to try to best their old man.
In my own home, at any moment, I might find myself in mortal peril. I feel like Inspector Clouseau, never knowing when my manservant Cato Fong might leap upon me from a closet or from behind a doorway.
The other evening I walked into the bonus room where the boys have the Game Box and thus spent the entirety of their summer. All three of my sons were in there, and Harrison’s girlfriend, Amelia, was also there.
When I walked in, they were all sitting around watching a movie or something. But in a moment, Robert was standing up and inching his way nearer to me. I could tell he was maneuvering for a position from which he might attack.
When it came, I ducked under his arms and then reached up, grabbed him by the shoulders and twisted him around to put him in a headlock. He spun to break free, but nobody breaks free from my headlocks, and so we both tumbled to the ground, his head still constrained in the crook of my elbow.
My oldest son, Harrison, like a wolf seizing upon a wounded prey, jumped into the tangle of arms and legs and headlocks. Then Nathan came in to help his brothers – all three of them attempting to get the better of me.
I’ve spent most of the last decade working out and exercising in an effort to keep myself stronger than my sons. But as they have grown into teenagers, I have grown into middle age, and all the pushups and sit ups I can do are little help when I have three young men grappling with me. I would never tell them this, but the truth is the three of them together are now big enough that they can take me.
My primary advantage is that they still don’t realize that their three-on-one odds and their combined weight is enough to win the day. Even collectively, they still view me as their dad who is bigger and stronger than they are. And I think it’s still true that one on one, I can beat any of them. But working in unison, the three of them can come together to form Voltron, Harasser of the Father.
So when they all attacked me the other night in the bonus room, I had no choice but to turn vicious. I struck out first at Nathan – the weakest link. Actually, Nate has always been built like a tank. Naturally tough, Nathan is the strongest of all my sons. But his temperament works against him. Nate doesn’t feel the burning desire to beat up his father and prove something. He’s too easy going. So his heart just isn’t in it. If I strike out at Nathan and give him the slightest notion that he’s about to get hurt, he’ll run like a kicked puppy.
So I lash out the hardest at Nathan, and he is the first to give way.
Robert, though tall like a giant, is still just a 14-year-old boy, and as such he is physically the weakest. His wingspan might be larger than mine, but he offers little challenge for me. If he weren’t so wriggly, I think I could still bench-press Robert.
Harrison is the real grappler of the group. At 19, he is a fully grown man. Though he’s skinny like I was at his age, he’s fast and aggressive.
So I kicked at Nate a couple of times and he went back to playing the Game Box. When Robert dragged me to the ground (still in my headlock), Harrison managed to get me in a choke hold. And Harrison is not afraid to choke me out. In fact, he’s had me in a fair number of choke holds where I was convinced he was indifferent as to whether I went unconscious or dead.
But keeping a tight hold on Robert, I twisted around and knocked Harrison off. Then I planted my knee on Harrison’s hand, pushing all my weight down so that he was crying out in pain, pleading for me to let him up, claiming I was breaking his fingers, and calling for Amelia to come and save him. Amelia, wisely, stayed out of it.
With Harrison’s hand pinned beneath my knee, I released Robert from the headlock and held him down with one hand planted firmly on his chest. Then I started punching Robert in the bicep, over and over, trying to teach him a lesson he will not learn.
“Stop!” I said with each blow. “Stop trying to fight me.” And I’d punch him harder. “Stop trying to wrestle me!” I’d punch him again. “No matter how big you get, I will always be bigger than you.”
Years ago, when they were all little kids, it was great fun for them to jump on me and wrestle with me, and for me to stand up and shake them all off. It was fun for them and it was fun for me. They were little kids who liked to wrestle their dad. They’d giggle, and I would shake them off. I’d laugh as they tumbled around. And I was always careful to make sure they didn’t get hurt.
These days, there’s no fun in it. They’re fighting to win, and I’m fighting for pride. Nobody giggles or tumbles any more. And I’m not laughing.
So most of our MMA matches go the full five rounds until finally my wife and their mother comes storming into the room like Ronda Rousey demanding that the fight end before she beats down all of us. And because they both respect and fear their mother (and I do, too), the fights mercifully come to an end.
Nevertheless, when Jean turns around to storm back out of the room, Inspector Clouseau-like I get in one last sucker punch.
Rob Peecher is the author of Four Things My Wife Hates About Mornings and is still just barely hanging on to his World Champion title.