There are many ways men attempt to reclaim their youth. Some get a fancy car, some go to the gym or the club or the wilderness.
I went to the orthodontist.
My son was getting braces, and I took the opportunity to ask the doctor about some unusual wear on my own front teeth. “I can fix that,” he said, “or you can get dental implants in about fifteen years. I’m a lot cheaper than implants.”
It’s funny how quickly your world can change. I don’t mean funny laughter; I mean funny like a paper cut. One minute, I was Dad Man, there to support my boy by going into painful debt on his behalf. In the blink of an eye, I was transformed into the Ghost of Michael Past. I was caught up in a swirl of images—canker sores…headgear…flecks of my spittle on the face of the kid across from me…and pain. Oh yes, pain that no amount of wax could ameliorate. And yet, the silver smile could have a silver lining. It could be my own personal way-back machine…
As you can imagine from the photo, I was extremely popular back then. I had a table all to myself at lunch, and a charming nickname. I’ll tell you about it someday, when we know each other better.
The braces take me right back to that time. There is something about carrying half your lunch around in your teeth that boosts a man’s sense of self-assurance. It’s like having an emergency food supply with you at all times. And if anything around you should need an emergency repair—why, you have a veritable supply chest in your mouth. Wire, rubber bands, screws, wax—you’ve got MacGyver mouth!
There are some real advantages to doing the braces thing. First, it may help me bond with my Jr. High students. At the least, it will give them a fresh, and less vulgar, source of graffiti for their desks. Second, I get to share the experience with Alec. As he moves into teenagerdom, he will know that I can fully empathize with him, at least in one area of life. Third, and I know this sounds pathetic, but it gives me one thing I can go back and do right. I can’t go back and take another swing at that Little League pitch. I can’t go back and get my twelve-year-old butt off the couch and start doing pushups. I can’t go back and invest in Microsoft instead of another order of fries. But I can do this right, and I can show my son how to do it right.
So I’m taking my toothbrush with me to work, and I’m staying off the soda. I’m flossing through the wires, and, when the time comes, I’ll wear my retainers. Braces may not be the ideal way to recapture my youth…but it beats hair plugs.