Having recently turned 54 years of age, I always find it fascinating when God presents moments of clarity that make me utter the words, "I am my father's son." Over the last month or so, I find it coming into play with an innocuous piece of literary wonder called...
As a small boy growing up in the Bronx, I loved when my father would return home from his overnight work as a city bus driver. I knew he would always have the latest edition of The New York Daily News tucked under the arm of his bud driver's uniform. My interest in this hallowed periodical was quite simple - I wanted to get my hands on the Funnies. For some reason, I had a fascination with Dondi and the other comical characters that were brought to life through pen and ink. But I digress...
You see, there was a fascinating piece of treasure buried in the pages with the Funnies...a small picture nestled adjacent to a string of mixed up words waiting to be solved. Even as a young boy, I loved a good mystery...and thanks to my Mom (who got a library card into my hands even before she ever put a tricycle under my ass), I found the Jumble to be an excellent way to sharpen my love of words.
There was one slight wrinkle in this educational frontier: my father owned the Jumble. That meant no one - no one - was allowed to complete it inside the paper before he did. As a rambunctious type of boy, I could understand the territorial enthusiasm he was showing...after all, he bought the paper, so he should be (and always was) the first one to read it and, by rights, complete the prize within...the daily Jumble. If memory serves me, there was more than one occasion where the fifth-floor Bronx walk-up became a battle zone because someone forgot the rules and did the Jumble before he had a chance to conquer it.
The Jumble may be child's play to some (i.e. your New York Times crossword puzzle aficionados), but to me in those years (I'm talking 5 to 9 years old) it was an amazing chance to test my intelligence and, on the rare occasion, even be a contributor to my father's victory. In his story, he never even finished high school and was always a man of few words. I even recall finding it fascinating to see him in his easy chair (think Archie Bunker and you know it was my father's chair), settling in and putting on his black-framed reading glasses, shuffling through the pages and readying his pencil to go to work. He was like a dog on a leg of lamb, sometimes smiling at the gift of deciphering the words with ease while at other times his face twisted into a snarl of frustration. Sometimes I would even get a chance, if I was in the room alone with him, to hear a few choice words that my Mom wouldn't want me to either hear nor repeat.
Even as a child, the frustrating part was this: he left the answers behind, like some sort of literary crime scene that I was both fascinated with and repulsed by. In the timing of my youth, I would return home from school just after he awoke in the afternoon; by that time - with homework and such - it was usually too late by that time to lay claim to the paper, if even for a few moments to copy down the Jumble for later investigation and completion. And, mind you, this was that late 60's and early 70's - well before the Internet could lend a hand in the need of any eventual word-cracking that left me stumped and stymied.
Flash forward decades. It's 2016, and I'm in the break room at my place of employment. I know, I know...the Jumble has been in syndication for decades, but it seems to me that after we moved from New York to Kentucky in the mid-70's my fascination with this wordy enigma completely disappeared. Maybe I was reading more and comfortable with my vocabulary. I know my father was fascinated with and completing the Jumble his entire life until he passed away in 1996. So here I am, looking through the copy of our local Courier-Journal here in Louisville and what do I stumble across? The Jumble...in all of its black and white, literary-mystery brilliance and beauty. I swept up the paper before any other employee could get it and rushed it to the copy machine. I'm not kidding - when I pressed the Copy button and waited for the print to exit the machine, I felt like I was 5 or 6 years old again, somehow challenging my father and honoring him in the same moment.
In the quiet of the morning office flow, I cast my eyes to both the small comic in the Jumble (which, through it's dialogue and picture can give the user some important clues about solving the final piece of the puzzle) as well as the list of mixed up words waiting on my courage. As an adult, have you ever had a moment where you were reintroduced to that younger part of you that is golden, full of joy, and not wanting to grow up so fast? I picked up a pen (always the boldest move a Jumble man could make...what if I make a mistake?) and dived in. Some of those first words came easy, my eyes and brain doing its best Russell Crowe-like A Beautiful Mind impersonation. With one of them, I found myself repeating the facial tics and f-bombs of my father from years gone by. Sweet!!
I confess...at one point, I found myself going to Google to rescue me on a word that, in the end, wasn't hard to decipher but had stumped my ass up and down the block. It felt like and was - in the memory and legacy of my father - cheating. And I haven't done it since.
That was weeks ago. My daily habit, Monday through Friday, is to now sit down at my computer, download a fresh copy of the daily Jumble, and be both a young boy and a man in the second half of his life...a wordsmith detective on the hunt to figure it out. The best part of completing it each morning? I get to smile, think about my father, Michael, and say these words with love in my heart: "I am my father's son!"
If you want to join me and learn more about my story and my heart for the spiritual and masculine journey that God has called me on, please visit MAXIMUS HEART - Stories from the Wellspring of Life by clicking HERE.