The boy and I meet Obama: He’s no Thunder Mountain, but he’s OK

img_3822Island Packet — Everyone’s got an Obama story this week, or a friend at the inauguration, or an iPhone picture from the parade; for days they’ve been flittering around cyberspace and traded like baseball cards before the price guides, mostly by pinheads like me vainly trying to attach themselves to a moment in history. So because I’m a sucker for peer pressure, here’s mine, and, not surprisingly, it relates to the child I’m not as nearly as worried about leaving things to as 
I have been.

About a year ago the boy and I got a quick, breezy handshake from Obama in Beaufort. This is basically the definition of no big deal — it would have been way better had I scored the fist-bump I was pulling for — as Obama held the kind of rallies he had in Beaufort in untold rooms across the nation for what must have felt like several consecutive lifetimes. I get weary if I have family in town for 36 straight hours; Obama and the other candidates had to maintain enthusiasm for stretches that would, before long, leave me sobbing in a Holiday Inn bar somewhere.

Still, last January the boy and I found ourselves at a hastily assembled rally — late, of course. Given that the boy makes my natural tendency toward arriving irrationally early impossible — I think we had to stop along the brutal 20-minute drive for apple juice and at least one potty break — we got there late, and spent a good 45 minutes in a slate-gray drizzle with a bunch of other people who also didn’t care about the slate-gray drizzle. As such, we were shuttled directly to a satellite auditorium where we watched the show not live but on an oversized movie screen in the school’s auditorium, which, in retrospect, probably made Jake think that going to movies was the single most boring activity you could imagine, but it’s cool now that he knows they occasionally have Wall-E in them.

So after the speech Obama made a trip over to shake some hands, say a quick thanks to us latecomers. It was, as you’d expect, important-feeling and sort of nuts but also extremely quick, so quick that despite my best efforts to snap the future president and a squirmy, bored 4-year-old in the same picture, which required contorting my body in a manner that probable would have alarmed David Blaine, I came up empty. Got a nice shot of Obama by himself though, which is 85 percent teeth but still coveted.

And frankly, I thought that was a pretty good story, until I found out soon after that my sister-in-law had a full lengthy conversation with him in Indiana, and another friend in Jacksonville took part in an in-house dinner visit, while yet another scored an Obama video birthday greeting for his wife. Basically my lousy little story was trumped in minutes by my inner circle of Facebook friends alone, which is, of course, fantastic, because it’s that kind of story, the kind that people want to and can share. And it’s one of the finest achievements of short and extremely spotty parenting career that Jake not only can identify Obama by sight — although now he does it with a four-second-long sigh, because I make him do it like all the time — but knows that his election is of reasonably great import, and that he had a chance to see him, for one blink of a moment, in a little gym somewhere in the swamps of South Carolina.

Of course such things are fleeting — on Sunday we watched a few videos of Disney World before streaming the We Are One concert online, which resulted in my son pretty well abandoning his civic interests in favor of a continuous storm of Thunder Mountain videos. I tried to work out a compromise during U2’s performance — one song, one video, etc. — but that didn’t work out because he found that each U2 song, and I’m quoting him here “goes on FOREVER” (which is sort of true). And by the time inauguration night rolled around, about the only time in recorded history that Dad had the remotest interest in cable news, Obama had become considerably less important than my son’s bicycle video game, which, of course, had to be played that very second or else the house would burn down.

So I’m settling for doing what I usually do: taking hundreds of pictures, writing little journals, keeping little pieces of memories, so I can prove to him in a few years that yes, he was there, and so was everybody.

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About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

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