The Man in the Mirror

We got some news a few weeks back, the kind that generates a restrained, I’m-happy-probably-but-have-questions sort of, “Huh…wow…really?” response. Like when I was little and my parents invited friends over for supper and instead of bearing the typical potted plant or seasonal dish towel as a little gift, our guests presented Mom and Dad with two ducklings in a shoebox. “Huh…wow…really?” my Dad said. (My sister and I were, of course, thrilled.) So anyway, that’s the kind of news we got — not the “I have to sit down right now!” kind, but rather the kind where you’re suddenly contemplating options that a few minutes earlier would have seemed pretty far-fetched, like moving to Toledo.

The point of all this isn’t the news itself (which, as it turns out was quite delightful — like baby ducks, but without the droppings), but what happened after the news, which has a lot to do with how the men in my family lean against counters. I suppose I should explain that.

One day, probably 10 years ago, the three Lewis men (my Dad, me and my son) were all in the kitchen waiting for one Lewis lady (my lovely wife), to pull something delicious from the oven. During a lull in the waiting, I noticed something peculiar and shouted, “Don’t nobody move!” We men stood still, while my wife, of course, moved. She turned around and stared at us for a few seconds and then said, “Huh…wow…really?” The three of us, you see, were leaning against the counter exactly the same way: arms folded (right over left), feet crossed (left over right), shoulders tilted at the same angle, same slight smile, same far-away look in our eyes — three generations of Lewis men contemplating a pot roast. This may be the origin of the whole, “like father, like son” thing.

So, a few days after we all got the news I mentioned in the opening paragraph, my son (all grown up now, with his own lovely pot-roast-roasting wife) called to talk to me about it. Not to have a discussion, but to talk to me — this was going to be a bit one-sided. He felt I needed some shoring up and encouragement, some advice from a guy who’d been around the barn a few times and understood the importance of clear thinking, self-control, and a soft touch. “Dad, here’s what you should do…” he began, and for the next 10 minutes I was riveted. It was the most mature, most sensitive, most reasoned and measured, simply the wisest, most far-thinking and balanced counsel I’d ever heard. And after I hung up the phone, I got that far-away look in my eye again. “And he’s only 26,” I whispered into the empty room.

When a man gets a son, his first hope is that his new little boy will just survive, that he’ll simply live through the ordeals of boyhood (falling out of trees, blowing things up, girls) and come out the other side in one piece. But over time, that hope grows into something much greater, a dream that the boy will do well. Like the old P.F. Flyers sneaker slogan, we want our boys to “run faster, jump higher.” We want them to be better men, not just than their peers, but better men than we are. We want this because our sons are really just us all over again. They’re another chance for us to grow into the men that we wished we were.

I sent my boy a letter after he talked to me, and quoted Proverbs 1:5, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” I told him what an honor and a blessing and a comfort it was for me to know that if I ever needed advice, all I had to do was pick up the phone and call my son.

Mirrors made by man reflect only what’s in front of them — you get the clear, unvarnished truth, with all the dents, scrapes and defects, the wrinkly places and the receding hairline, unedited and plain to see. But if you’re truly fortunate, you’ll someday catch a glimpse of yourself in that mirror that is your son, and the reflection won’t be you, but someone better.

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