My father never knew he was old, which was fine because no one else knew he was young. He didn’t quite run across the field, but he didn’t walk either. He sort of accelerated forward by hopping sideways, and then darted woodpecker-like and sudden at the ball. None of his friends understood why his body preferred alternate laws of physics, but that only increased their admiration for his youthful vigor.
“I don’t play like I used to,” he would tell me after I complimented his game, the same thing he told me last year, and every year of the past decade. If you’d listened to him tell it, my father had missed the train for his youth. But it wasn’t that he had missed it so much as he had disembarked a few stations early. By his late thirties white had overtaken the top of his head. In his early twenties he rode a motorcycle, back when he lived in a nowhere Egyptian village, before he drove it into a ditch and came away with a right leg as flat as polished wood. Teenager him found himself assaulted by waves of acne that shoddy village medicine couldn’t treat, and his face scarred. Village medicine let him down again when he was ten, deciding that the solution to a left eye busted by a soccer ball was no eye at all. He showed me what wasn’t there, once, his eyelids opening to reveal crimson nothing. I never asked again.
My father’s body was a lot older than his actual age, a fact he never accepted. He believed that if he ran fast enough he could hop back onto the train of youth in time. So he kept running on tread mills and taking penalty kicks and watching wrestling. He always took off his glasses for that, his nose shining blue as the iPhone hovered inches away, his eyes drowning in the sights of chairs slamming and men roaring and fans screaming. Most people, if they saw him, would think the spectacle bored him, but I knew the intensely blank look on his face was about the greatest compliment for which a TV program could ask. It meant he was living it.
My father lived it a lot. His favorites were action movies, especially the one he watched on the plane every business trip. It was about Denzel Washington and some white guy that looks like Matt Damon trying to stop a rogue bomb-laden train from crashing into a city and exploding everything. The movie never made clear whether its title, “Unstoppable,” referred to the men or to the train. I think my father liked to think it was both.