From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Over the Top

We are made to persist. That is how we find out who we are.

Tobias Wolff

My dad and I had arm wrestled for years. Sundays were typically battle days. I looked forward to testing my strength against his. When I was young and we began arm wrestling, Dad pretended to be barely able to “take me over the top.” As I got older and stronger, the pretense of struggle faded, then eventually disappeared. He had to work to beat me.

The moment for the test arrived. It was halftime in the Lions game. “C’mon,” he said, pointing to the floor. We found our positions on the carpet, poised to lock hands and wrists. I inhaled deeply, letting my breath out slowly. Putting on my best game face, I looked into Dad’s eyes. I recognized the “Not today, kid!” stare he shot me. Even though I stood a full six inches taller than Dad, I knew his years in the paper mills had developed his muscles.

I made the first move, pulling his hand toward my straining face. The challenge was immediately met with force. My arm involuntarily drew backward, stopping just short of the floor. Aching from the awkward position of my arm, I concentrated on my right wrist. Ever so slowly, the momentum started to shift. Sweat beaded on Dad’s forehead, and his face took on a deep crimson hue. The veins in his neck became pronounced. Again, I was forced back. Looking through eyes blurred by perspiration, I studied his face. This was no longer a game. Summoning every bit of remaining strength, I stopped the retreat of my arm.

We stayed locked for what seemed like hours, neither of us willing to give in. My shoulders throbbed and my back complained. My hand and wrist were numb. We had never engaged for this length of time.

Then something happened. I could almost sense the strength leaving my father; or maybe my determination multiplied my effort. I don’t really know. Whatever the reason or cause, I took my dad down. Neither of us said a word. We both knew something was different now. The funny thing was that I didn’t know I would feel so sad.

We never arm wrestled again.

Now as I look at my son, so young and strong in the bloom of youth, I am my dad, and I understand.

Donald Verkow

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