A Dad, Right Down to the Jingle

We had just left the car and started walking across Centennial Park in Atlanta, on our way to "Wizard of Oz on Ice," when a chilly breeze suddenly caught us off guard.

Carol, my wife, turned to me and said, "Haley needs her jacket." We looked at each other in a competitive stare-down, raising our eyebrows, cocking our heads, both of us transmitting that silent message of persuasion common in marital life with children: "Well? Well? Are you going to get it or do I have to? Well? Well?"

After five seconds or so, Carol broke the silence with a painfully strategic move: "It'll be good exercise." And I, who had put on five pounds that month, was on my way.

I decided to sprint. It felt foreign and awkward at first, like brushing my teeth with my left hand, but I enjoyed the wind and sun on my face and the accelerating thunk-thunk-thunk in my chest. Then I heard another rhythmic sound - chink, chink, chink, chink - almost like a steady cadence of sleigh bells in an elementary-school Christmas concert, perfectly matching the pace of my strides.

The contents of my pockets had come to life, a melody of keys, quarters, dimes, nickels, pennies, and train tokens, all jumping around like Ping-Pong balls in the nightly lotto drawing. I stopped abruptly, and the sound instantly died.

"Oh, man...." I whispered to myself. "I'm jingling like my dad!"

It is the sound of Western-civilized manhood, pockets weighed with responsibility, the sound of a normally sedentary creature whose life now rarely includes whimsical, random spurts of running. Jingling pockets mean one thing: "Yo, watch out - older man coming!" You hear it in airport terminals: "Flight 423 to Denver now leaving from Gate 44."

I remember it also at Thanksgiving dinners, when the men would join the boys for touch football. After a few passes, however, my dad would tire of the ching-ching-ching-ching, and he'd scoop out the contents of his pockets and pile them on the sidewalk. Only then could he fly, unencumbered and silent.

Inside the Atlanta Omni auditorium, as the winged monkeys flew through the dark forest with a screaming Dorothy in their arms, I stroked the outsides of my lumpy pockets, recognizing - and smiling to myself - the ludicrous oxymoron of wearing rugged canvas Eddie Bauer explorer shorts filled with the weights of fatherhood.

In my mind I started to trace my acquisitions through the years. It seemed that one day I was free, the next I was jingling. The contents of dads' pockets accumulate slowly, unnoticed, like calcium deposits on a faucet. I began my life as light as a breeze, my pocket filled with a tiny shiny pebble, a bird's feather, or a love note. Then came money for soda pop in study hall during high school. Next came car keys. Later, a dorm key, then house keys, and keys to the office, keys to my grandmother's house, to my parents' garage and golf cart.

My corporate-president wife, who interviews many job applicants, says she can tell much about a person from the style and condition of his shoes. I venture to say the contents of a man's pockets reveal even more. My father's fingernail clippers and brass money clip implied order and neatness. He carried a bulky, heavy ring with nearly 20 keys, which implied access, trustworthiness, wealth. My uncle, a pragmatic Colorado farmer, carried a pocket knife. My brother, the insecure salesman, carries a bottle of minty breath drops.

But I'm refusing to build up metallic bulk, sticking exclusively with coins and a ring of five keys. I'm right at that fence-sitting age where I follow the mutual funds but still relate to college-age baby sitters. My refusal to build bulk in my pockets is no different than my friend's habit of growing his hair long at the temple so he can swoop it over a huge bald spot on top.

AFTER the show, after witnessing Oz float back to Kansas in his great green balloon, we returned outside, into the sun, where I saw a father take his empty popcorn container and toss it, with a jump shot, into the trash can 15 feet away.

Chink! I think I heard about $2.35 in change and a ring of five or six keys, maybe seven. As expected, he quickly landed back on earth, where his two waiting daughters each grabbed a hand, tethering him to terra firma.

The breeze from before the show had turned into gusty, random wind. We watched a woman's wide-brimmed hat bolt from her hair and fly through the air. Carol suddenly grabbed onto one of my hands, my daughter the other. Though I was light-hearted, the weight of my body - the contents of my pockets, thank you very much - grounded us safely for the moment.

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