“Power is as power does.” Patrick A. Howell races against his son on a cold spring day where monarchs reign and kings rule.
Red hummingbirds darting in and out. They dip long beaks extended by longer necks into vases of flowered nectar. Mourning cloak caterpillars and snails. A dream home in the valley; quaint SoCal town called Carlsbad, right down the road from LegoLand. Rabbat ul Bait* at my side, king to sire & serendipity in the dead of winter. The last 10 years have been the fulfillment of many dreams, visions and ambitions I harbored for myself as a boy. And when I say ‘Dream’—I mean lifelong visions that were divined from within a long, long time ago.
I married the woman of my dreams and we gave birth to a beautiful son. We also birthed a successful business from the bowels of the Great Recession—a business engineered to be instrumental in building the American Economy from the ground up.
Like regal black panthers chasing for the hunt we leap from the paved sidewalk to the concrete street.
My son and I are jogging the neighborhood block which becomes a winding road through fields of crops—grapes, tomatoes, vine fruits and vegetation. The first part of the prowl from the house to the gates of the trail is less than 400 meters.
He keeps up with me effortlessly—or is it? The 7 year old is already huffing and puffing, a stern consternation on his face, a sideways glance askance to make sure I do not overstep my boundaries. He’s not going to let his old man pass him, not this time. “Chris, remember inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth controlled and slowly. You control your breath.”
I don’t know if he is this competitive organically or it is something I have bred in the young prodigy. Does it matter? We sire our offspring to be kings tomorrow and sometimes a king must dominate by sheer will or display of naked aggression. “Power is as power does”, I often say, having adapted Frederick Douglass’ “Power never conceded anything without a demand” as my own.
Past the gate is a downhill dirt path betwixt fields of vines, tomatoes and strawberries, I use my 200+ pounds as well as long stride to roll past the young Hussein Bolt aspirant. ‘Not this time around sarcastically’ I think, glee and pride populating the cavity of my chest. My joy is overcome with worry that he does not give in.
“Chris, never give in. In this life, you get what you give yourself. Remember, the only time you truly lose in life is when you give up.” I’ve said it to him on previous runs—that one I adapted from my father, who oft quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt long before Tony Robbins was ever en vogue, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The downward hill levels off into a winding path around the creek and I have to rely, now, on my own hubris and internal motor.
As the song goes, ‘it never rains in Southern California’ but those svelte brothers* were up in the Bay Area in the 90’s minting albums and, quiet as it is told, global warming sometimes makes the Southwest most corner of the continental USA feel more like the most Northeast.
Past an old abandoned concrete damn system to a 200 meter up hill where the lactose acid begins to burn and my quads* contract; my long stride whimpers to a simper. He devours me alive; consumes me whole. And save for my pride in his accomplishment, mining his grandfather’s edict of success, he breaks me. I am left wheezing up the hill and wondering, dubiously filled with fear, and the sentiment, ‘How do I expect to compete next month in half iron man triathlon when I can’t even finish off a single 1 strong’?
I hear the pint-sized motivator bellow earnestly, “C’mon Daddy—finish strong!” I lift my knees now burdened by the 200 +lbs and the ache of knees laughing deliriously at me for my former hubris. ‘It never rains in Southern California’ I am self-defeating, ‘damn near 50 degrees in this sunny San Diego. Feels like its 30’. I am barely hopping the sand sacks littering the concrete road uphill and pounding the pavement only to see the pint size motivator disappear over the hill completely. I guess he waited long enough. When I reach the summit I see he is barreling down the dirt track past the gates of the dirt track onto the adjacent El Camino road over a side bend path of weeds, uneven land. I imagine him saying, “I’ll motivate you and beat you old man.” My barrel is bigger than his.
I am a panther running down its pray at full speed.
I imagine it so vividly, I bellow out loud, “Beat you like I am your daddy kid!” I lift the aging Pac 10 conference legs and extend toe to heal, stride long and rhythmic—there is no tension and no pain, only form and speed—and I see him look over his shoulder, brow furrowed with determination and his feet stepping smart over all sorts of turbulence without a single misstep. I have the highland of the road though. He has no idea how talented he is but I am his daddy and beating me is a right of passage.
“You are my daddy, daddy”, he says as I pass him on the trodden path.
As frigid as the temperature is, I feel the beads of sweat breaking from my forehead and trickling down my back. We, panther and cub, are on a gilded path from the main road to our community. I am tempted to stop and cheer him on before I turn the corner, but I want him to experience the disappearance he gave me a few moments ago. I turn the corner in rhythm, just like the bend of a track curve, nice easy stride, nary a worry – We lying down on this bend, relaxing here—definitely no crisis of conscience. America is elemental capitalism baby: ‘In God We Trust, In Cash We Pay’ daddy used to always say. And the Wall Street lessons gotta’ come sooner or later.
Pungent scent of scented flowers punches my nostrils.
I look away from sidewalk in front of me. At my left is a wall of flowers in full bloom. The weather is confused, inverting Spring ceremonies at the dead of winter. But then I see it. Not that it is an aberration but it is eerie, even shocking: The visage of a flock of Monarch butterflies hibernating and blanketing a pined bushel. The appearance of this supernatural bushel possesses my mind. My black panther lies down, resigned, quietly, at the shade of the bushel, licking his paws.
I stop running. We turn around to find my son sullen, shoulders sunk, frown on his face. “Dude, what? You thought it would be easy? C’mon! Pass me – and NEVER give up. When you feel that break. When you feel your spirit break? That’s when the race has just begun. That’s when you get up and go and don’t be afraid. Go! Go! Go!” Inspired he finds his pace and smiles giving me a one two rhythm upon passing. He doesn’t even notice the Monarchs in their Winter.
Before it is done, I am yelling at the top of my lungs, “Go Chris Go!!!” The boy is a strong runner and I don’t give a damn about winning. A couple of the butterflies with patented black and orange pattern wings serendipitously and lazily circle my head as if a haphazard halo. ‘I give up the race for you my son’. I guess I’m talking to my old man, answering his query as to the only time you lose in life. “Go Chris Go!!!”
And like that, all 3 of us, generations, smile a cosmic smile together. There it is: knowing. That is how our spirits are at their most elemental, pure energies.
“How did I do today Daddy?”
“You did good King.”
“Yeah, I did well Daddy?” He wears the crown well.
“You did well King.” Power is as power does.
*Rabbat ul Bait means queen of the house in Arabic. Her home is her Kingdom, her children are her nation and her husband her king.
* The quadriceps femoris, also called simply the quadriceps, quadriceps extensor, or quads, is a large muscle group that includes the four prevailing muscles on the front of the thigh. (Wilkepeida)
* Tony! Toni! Toné! is an American soul/R&B group from Oakland, California, popular during the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s. It Never Rains (In Southern California)” peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart in 1990 for two weeks, and thirty-four on the Hot 100. (Wilkepedia)
photo courtesy of author.