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ValueSpeak: Wrestling with relationships

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It started out normally enough.

My eldest son, Joe, and I had been arm wrestling on a fairly regular basis for almost as long as he has had arms. I can remember propping up his elbow on a stack of encyclopedias so his hand could reach mine. Of course, his elbow never stayed on the books for long. He always ended up wrapping both arms around my arm and tugging away with all his heart and soul. Most of the time I let him win, and that was OK because deep down inside we both knew who was strongest.

From time to time through the years he would start feeling his oats again and he’d challenge me to another match. I’d grunt and groan and tell him how much stronger he was becoming. Then he’d grit his teeth and say, “OK, Dad — now do your best!”

“Really?” I’d ask.

“Really. Don’t let me win.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Let’s do it for real.”

“OK,” I’d say, and then I’d push his arm down easily, and physical superiority among Walker males would once again be clearly established. (It should be noted that this was strictly a guy thing. Although the females in our family occasionally participated in our arm wrestling matches, we chose not to take their involvement too seriously — especially since Amy could beat Joe like a drum and Anita could usually defeat me if we wrestled left-handed).

So when we started arm wrestling one evening when he was 16, I expected more of the same. Sure, he was a strong-looking young man, and his shoulders were already broader than mine have ever been. But he was still just a kid, and I outweighed him by, well, let’s just say I was still considerably bigger than him. I really wasn’t worried — at last, not until we clasped hands and I noticed for the first time how big and strong his hand felt in mine.

I knew I was in trouble as soon as we began. Joe quickly pressed my arm down to about two inches above the tabletop. That was nothing new — it was part of our established routine. I always allowed Joe to get me into this position when we arm wrestled. But his time I couldn’t get out of it. I was pushing back with all my might, and I couldn’t budge him. That’s when my arm started to tremble, and Joe began to smile. He knew that I wasn’t holding back, and he knew that he had me. A few seconds later it was over — both the match and a significant phase in my relationship with my son.

Of course, I had always known that this time would eventually come. I just didn’t think it would come so soon, or so suddenly. To tell the truth, it was a little disconcerting. My son and I had a relationship based on a certain set of assumptions. And now those assumptions are no longer valid, so we had to reconfigure our relationship based on new realities and circumstances.

Today, nearly 20 years later, we have a very different relationship than we had back in those arm-wrestling days. The process of change hasn’t always been easy for either one of us. In fact, there have been times when it has been downright difficult. But I wouldn’t trade this new, improved, evolved relationship with my son for anything in the world.

The same could be said for my relationships with all five of my children, as well as with my wife, Anita, my brothers and sisters and with all of the most treasured relationships in my life. It has been my experience that relationships change and grow and evolve with time because the people involved in those relationships change and grow and evolve.

“Times change,” said the philosopher. “People change. Situations change. Relationships change. The only thing constant is change.”

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr