Dad’s Hands

His hands clamped completely over mine. The sheer size of them swallowing mine every time I tried to shake them. Each of his fingers were equal to two of mine. Maybe three.  They were coarse, but gentle.  Like pillows in burlap sacks.  

I was young but I was still strong. I was fast, I was active. I was great at sports.  He was older.

I would try to show him how strong I was, how fast I was.  I would race him to the entrance of the grocery store.  I would always win.  

I know now he would let me win.  I do the same thing now with my young cousins.

I would squeeze his mammoth paw with all my might to show him what a strong handshake I had.  He would tell me good job.  Then he would squeeze just a little.  

His squeeze would get stronger and stronger.  Evenly until I gave up.  I would hold on until I couldn’t take any more and quit.  He could go farther but never would.  He would let go and smile.

His fingers felt like the inside of a blood pressure test machine against my fingers.  It was like experiencing a blood pressure test for the first time, but he could do it to my hand.  My hand that I put all my strength into, every bit I could muster.  He could take all of it, and with an ever so slight of hand return it to me tenfold.  And he could do it so calmly.  So smoothly.  He smiled, and I quit.  He taught me well.

This was twenty years ago.  I am a man now.  I am two feet taller.  One hundred fifty pounds heavier.  I am a man in every sense that word can mean to me.

Now I can beat him in a footrace fairly.  I can hit a golf ball farther than him by at least twenty yards.  I can throw a baseball faster than he ever could.  I can lift more weights than him.  Hell, I can do most anything better now than he can.  I should be able to.  I am twenty eight and he is sixty.

This was months ago now, but I still remember it clearly enough to write about it at this moment.  He was sitting on the couch on a Saturday.  The sun was out and the sky was blue.  There were no clouds.  He was done riding the lawnmower cutting the grass, inside for his two o’clock nap.  Even if he didn’t do any lawn work it was still time for his nap.

I had been waiting twenty years for that moment.  I stepped quietly up to him as if I were sneaking.  I was going to surprise him.  He was laying back.  His eyes were flickering.  His right hand was in the air.  

I reached for it and started to shake it.  Shake it firmly.  He smiled either knowingly or charmingly.  I couldn’t tell, but it made me nervous.  It was a warm smile as if he was just waking from his nap and he hadn’t seen me in years.  I smiled too.  I tried a wry smile.  My fingers were now almost two-thirds the size of his.  

I planted my feet.  Again I began to squeeze.  This time I squeezed with twenty years of built-up reprisal.  Twenty years of long formed man strength.  My extra twenty yards.  My supercharged fastball.  My two hundred pound bench press.  My hands that were now almost the same size.  I squeezed with all my power again.

He never stopped smiling.  He kept the same smile.  

He nodded a little.  He began to squeeze.  

So calmly, so evenly.  So smoothly.  

And again he began to crush my hand.  

I panicked as if I was eight all over again.  I gave up just as quickly.

I smiled and laughed as if I was joking the whole time.  As if I didn’t just try to prove something essential to him only to be rebuffed like a child.  

He smiled as if he knew.  As if he knew I was a now a man, but still and forever his child.  As if he knew I would always be his child no matter what kind of man I became.  As if he knew he would love me no matter how long I tried to beat him.  As if he knew he would always have those hands.  

And he would always squeeze but never crush.

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