About once a year, my dad will challenge me to an arm-wrestling competition. This normally occurred at the largest size family-function of the year, be it Christmas, the 4th of July or my Mom’s fiftieth birthday.
We always sit down on opposing sides of the coffee table of whomever’s house we’re inside of and move any magazines or food trays that are in between us out of the way. He’ll slam his burned elbow down on the wood, stretch out each of his fingers, individually, and complain about his arthritis. It’s my belief that he doesn’t actually have arthritis and he’s just complaining to show that he really is that strong when he inevitably beats me. I doubt his wrists actually hurt in the slightest. He just wants it to look like they do so when he slams my knuckles to the wood people will say, “Wow, that old dude beat that strapping young man in an arm-wrestling competition even though his achy, old wrists were hurting him. What a weak boy he must be to lose to his father like that.” Lying jerk.
After a minute of finger waving, he’ll usually ask me if I’m, “Ready, or a wimp?” To which I don’t verbally reply to. I’ll just sit down, move my arm around in it’s shoulder socket and slam my elbow down on the wood harder than he did. It hurts and doesn’t really make a point, but I do it anyway.
Then, I grimace my teeth to show that I mean business and ask, “You ready, old man?” At this point, I’m already 90% certain that I’m going to lose. The leftover 10% is the same percentage that allows me to watch Lost without breaking my television.
We both slowly reach across the table and interlock thumbs. My arm usually goes about 5/8’s of the way across because mine is longer than his, which actually puts me at a disadvantage, but I never say anything about it in fear of being branded a wimp again.
Out of all of the different moments in the twenty-three years that I’ve known my father, these are the times that I feel the closest to him. I can tell that he wants nothing more than for me to kick his ass, and yet he still has a primal instinct inside of him that makes him want to kick my ass. However, I also believe that the man is unaware of both of those insights and knows nothing more than the fact that he is currently involved in some sort of physical competition.
Next, one of my little brothers will cup his smaller hands around my dad and I’s and yell, “One…two…three…GO!!!” Everyone starts to yell, my right eye immediately slams shut, I look at the ground and I grind my teeth just like my dentist tells me not to. For what seems like an eternity, both of our arms get stuck exactly where they started. Square in the middle. No one is winning and no one is losing. We are just co-existing. Father and son. Both of us are pushing into the other one with the exact same amount of strength. Mutually exerting equal force. Our kinetic energy flowing into one another. For that split second, all of our friends and family members around us are silent. It’s the most peaceful part of the evening. Eventually, though, the moment fades away.
I open my right eye, look up and my dad says to me, “You gonna start now?” as if all of my previous arm-wrestling efforts went unnoticed to him. He’ll smirk a little bit and I can always tell by the tone of his voice that he’s struggling, too. After a few moments, though, the backside of my right hand will smack against the stained rings on the coffee table where people sat down cold drinks without coasters. My knuckles don’t bleed, but I always think they do.
“Maybe next year,” he’ll say, but I know it won’t happen.