My Dad always wanted to travel through the Panama Canal. We were close to going together at one point, but his Parkinson’s disease had the unfortunate edge from time to time. He passed away just under three months ago and would have wanted to hear all about our trip through Panama city, the rain forest and the Ping Pong my son and I discovered at the resort. Today of course I wish we had taken the risk and gone on the trip. So much of what we do and don’t do is motivated by fear and unwillingness to ignore the contingency of our day-to-day lives. Tragic really what we miss out on.
My Dad traveled through the Suez Canal in the 50’s on his way to Malaysia, but had always been drawn towards Panama for some reason. I have no idea why. Lots I don’t know about my Dad and I guess that’s mostly my fault, but he wasn’t really that chatty about his past. Mike and the Mechanics said it well in the Living Years and it’s true that I really didn’t get to tell him all the things I had to say. But we did okay. Regrets hover. Mistakes come and go. It’s a little bit of both in my case. He served in the RAF at Seletar air force base in Singapore in the 50’s. My Dad was proud to be a part of a colonial force protecting against a major communist threat of the day. He had a crazy story or two – one involving a 10-hour train ride on his own armed with a 303 rifle and 10 rounds of ammunition. Have a safe trip.
Spencer and I discovered ping-pong, a pool table and video games in the teen play room at the Sheraton, Bijao. It wasn’t long before we could hear the tick tock of the ball as it tapped off the paddles and hit the table – a light clicking sound similar to a small cuckoo clock. A soothing and hypnotic sound to be sure and took me back to our basement at 97 Stavely Crescent in Rexdale, Ontario. K’naan grew up there as well. Not sure Rexdale has much else to offer. Although it’s where I lived for many years and where my Dad taught me how to play the game. Spencer immediately gravitated toward the table and ignored the 4 large screen TV’s complete with Wii and Playstation consoles. My son looks a little like Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films when his hair is slicked back.
Ping-pong is not an easy game and even on day 2 Spencer is starting to show some skill. He has plenty of hand to eye coordination and a confidence required to face your opponent. We’re working it out together. A little like Vader and Luke except with no light sabers. Spencer asked about Papa and his love for the game. We haven’t talk about him much since he died, but I’m grateful I’m passing a little of my Dad on to him. The sins of our Fathers are handed down for sure, but so are the teachable, memorable moments of grace. We have to hold onto these and enjoy them for all we can. Whenever Spencer and I spend focused time together like this and just play, laugh and connect we bond and talk and develop trust and mutual respect. For the next few hours he always stays a little closer, holds my hand and is chattier than usual. These days we talk a lot about Clash of Clans.
I’m no world champ, but my Father taught me a few tricks. I do have a mean backhand and may startle you with the spin I can sometimes apply on a serve here and there. I remember Dad affirming some of my shots. “That was a good volley,” “tricky shot” or “good rally” and sometimes “robbery,” when the swing didn’t quite deliver as planned. Memories are peculiar. Amazing what stays with you and what you lose along the way. Every one of them stacked up, connected and interacting to make us who we are. Parenting is a tough job. Ping Pong is the easy part, but remarkable what is communicated when you just play with your kids.
Ironically I hurt my shoulder playing “real” tennis on the Wii. Table tennis was fine, but my 20-year-old shoulder dislocation couldn’t handle the digital muscle required. It’s sore. May have to go for a therapeutic massage tomorrow. Bet the doctor would order that. I might even ask for aromatherapy. Works wonders I hear. May have to choose digital from now on. You know the hyper-real.
My dad loved table tennis. He wanted to travel to Panama and there we were as a young family in the country playing one of his most loved games.
Passing it on.
I’m thrilled my son ignored the electronics for the crisp sound of the ball hitting paddle, then table, then floor. My Dad would have been pleased and proud. Don’t remember my Father ever really getting too worked up about anything, but he sure did love a good game of Ping Pong.
“Dad? Do you think Papa would have been impressed”, asked Spencer after only a few minutes of play and a couple of affirming words from me.
I know he would have been. Papa, Panama and Ping Pong. Not a bad memory.
Finally Spencer and I can rule the galaxy together as father and son.
David Peck – March 2014