DAD’S SHADOW

DAD’S SHADOW

From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Dad’s Shadow

Jeremy wriggled with excitement as he struggled to don his heavy laser-tag vest. “We’re gonna beat you, Mom!”

“What are you talking about? You can’t even get your gear on.” I smiled as I tousled his blond hair and helped him buckle a strap around his waist.

Jeremy picked up his gun and walked with his father to sit in the waiting area while his older brother, Brian, and I finished suiting up. “We’re on the same team, right, Dad?”

Stan grinned down at his munchkin partner. “You bet, Buddy. You just stick with me.”

A couple of minutes later, the Funplex employee walked in. “Looks like you folks are the only ones here for this round. Have you played before?”

We shook our heads.

“Okay, I need to give you a few instructions.” After going through the routine, he turned us loose into an enormous, dark room with walls and barricades painted black. Smoke hung in the air, giving everything an eerie appearance. Colorful lights flashed randomly, and loud music echoed from the high ceiling.

Brian and I charged our guns and located the base we needed to protect. The whole time, I wondered whether Jeremy would be afraid in this strange environment. I needn’t have worried.

As soon as the game began, Stan and Jeremy charged us and opened fire. Jeremy glued himself to Stan’s side and mimicked every move his dad made. Whenever Stan ran to another barricade, Jeremy ran with him. Whenever Stan shot at one of us, Jeremy shot, too. He became adept at hiding just behind Stan’s left leg, making it impossible to target him. In the dark room with his black laser-tag vest, he looked like a small shadow, a miniature version of his dad. Before I knew it, the fifteen-minute game was over, and I had hardly gotten off a shot the entire time. Brian hadn’t fared much better.

“We won!” Jeremy shouted as he and Stan high-fived each other.

After hanging up the equipment, we walked out front to get our scores. The computer had assigned each of us an identity.

“Hey, Jeremy, look what the computer called you,” Brian said, picking up the cards. “Shadow.”

Stan patted his young son on the shoulder. “You sure were my shadow in the game today, Buddy.”

Jeremy smiled. “That’s my nickname from now on. I’m Dad’s Shadow.”

True to his word, Jeremy remained close to his dad. Their shared fascination with technology offered frequent opportunities for them to work together. When Jeremy was nine, they assembled a computer. When he was twelve, they created a website for a local radio station. Whatever interested Dad, interested Jeremy. No matter what project Stan worked on, he could count on his Shadow being right by his side.

As is often the case during the teen years, however, Stan and Jeremy found themselves increasingly at odds. Too alike in personality, they clashed over the simplest things. Tempers flared whenever they worked together, and they rarely finished a project without one of them leaving the room in anger. The conflicts cast a different kind of shadow over their relationship.

The shadow lingered as the college years approached. Despite his aptitude with computers, Jeremy determined he didn’t want to be a computer programmer like his dad. Instead, he enrolled in graphic design. After one semester, he realized that field wasn’t for him and switched to computer networking, where he settled in like a mouse on a mouse pad. Occasionally, he even asked his dad’s advice about a homework assignment. As Jeremy neared completion of his networking degree, he decided maybe he did enjoy writing computer code after all and signed up for a second degree—in programming. The sun came out, and Stan could see his Shadow once again.

When Jeremy turned twenty-one, he bought a custom license plate for his Jeep. He didn’t even have to think twice about what he wanted on it: SHADOW.

Tracy Crump

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