To the Fathers Who Suddenly Lose Wrestling Matches to Their Sons

Every father hopes to see his son surpass him. But did it have to happen so soon?

My 12-year-old son keeps challenging me to hand-to-hand combat. First, we move the coffee table and place a few pillows so that no one loses an eye or needs stitches; then we wrestle in the living room.

It wasn’t that long ago that our wrestling would have been a balancing act between me showing him the few moves I know and letting him get the occasional win so that he doesn’t lose heart. But ever since I turned 50 and he played the junior league football Super Bowl — not to mention going through puberty — things have gotten difficult.

Here’s a pro tip: If your kid wants to play fight, always set a timer. Even when they’re very young, they have a lot more energy than you. The timer lets them know that playtime is over without too much whining. We’ve used one since my son was a kindergartner. I would playfully grab him by the neck and super-slam him onto the bed. He’d bounce three feet into the air, giggling the whole way.

Those days are long gone. Now, everything that my son lacks in skill and finesse, he makes up for in bulk — and he’s learned some things. For instance, draping 185 pounds on your aging opponent is tiring, even if you don’t know what to do once you’ve got him down. If you can pin that opponent face-first in the shag rug, with his arm under him, he’s going to have a bad day. If you can use a forearm to the back of his head as though you were attempting to push his head into the basement, you’ve got a good thing going, even if he still outweighs you by 80 pounds and yells at you about bedtime. You might even be able to make him tap twice in one short session.

A few nights ago, in the darkness of our bedroom, my wife turned to me. She’d fled to the rear of the house when the fighting started and later celebrated my son’s triumph with him.

“He didn’t really beat you, did he?” she asked.

I thought about it. “Not really,” I told her. “I’m only fighting at about 80%. And we’ve got to be careful. There are a lot of ways to get hurt wrestling in a living room. A lot of things to break, too.”

“Good,” she replied.

“Problem is, I’m not going to be able to keep a winning record fighting at 80% for much longer. And at 90%, I’m basically spearing him into the fireplace.”

“Yeah. Maybe don’t do that.”

I thought about it.

“I can’t make any promises.”

Sometimes it doesn’t quite seem fair that just as I am accepting middle age and the expected declines that come along with being on the back side of 50, I have to watch my boy grow stronger and more confident.

I know that’s not a curse. Really. I can see it for the joy that it is.

But just barely.

I write about masculinity, fatherhood, family, and relationships.

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