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The Wit and Wisdom of Nathanael: A Definitive Collection

Today is our second-born son Nathanael’s 17th birthday, and as I contemplate this his final year before official adulthood, I am reminded of the many times that he has surprised us, entertained us, and brought us joy with the unexpected things that often come out of his mouth.

What follows are his greatest hits, the moments we still talk about around the dinner table. Nathanael has always been a thinker, and one is never quite sure where his thoughts are taking him. Like that time I was driving, and I heard the following question from the back seat of the car:

“So Dad, what are some problems you went through as a teenager.”

He was ten years old. Nothing like planning ahead.

Roughly a year later we were once again driving, and he broke a long silence with the following question:

“So Dad, what are the pros and cons of living in Brazil?”

I didn’t answer immediately, so he felt the need to explain:

“You know, the pros and cons. Pros are things that are good about it, cons are things that are bad,” he said, patiently.

Of course I knew what pros and cons were, I just did not expect to hear about them from my eleven-year-old.

But Nathanael has often been ahead of his time. I’ll never forget the time we were at a church function and he was chatting with some friends his age. Out of nowhere he called over to me.

“Hey Dad, what’s that thing we studied in English where each word begins with the same letter?”

“You mean alliteration?” I answered.

“That’s it. Thanks Dad.” Then he went back to chatting with his friends.

Or when he, out of the blue asked me “Dad, why does English have so many useless words?”

When I asked him for an example of a useless word, he did not hesitate.

“Defenestration”

But for sheer randomness nothing beats the time he came up to me and said “Dad, there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

Preparing for a profound father-son conversation I asked “What is it?”

“What do you have to do to become Prime Minister?”

He has also been very quick with the unexpected answer, like the time we were driving through Ithaca, NY while on furlough.

“Nathanael,” I asked, “Who do you know who was born in Ithaca?”

“I don’t know,” he replied.

“I’ll give you a hint. It’s someone important, intelligent, and good-looking.”

There was a slight pause, and then, “Mom?”

This is, coincidentally, my wife’s favorite “Nathanael moment”.

Indeed, I’ve learned that Nathanael’s sincerity can come with a serrated edge. Like time he took it upon himself to explain a message I had preached weeks earlier to a church member we were visiting who had been sick. When I arrived some time later they told me about it, including long sections where he repeated almost verbatim what I had said from the pulpit. If there is anything that could possibly make a pastor/father prouder, I am unaware of it. On the way home I asked him if he also remembered my most recent message.

“No Dad,” he answered. “I remember the one from two weeks ago because it was interesting.”

Nathanael’s mother also has not escaped his quick answers unscathed. One time, around the lunch table Nathanael innocently asked “Mom, why do you say ‘I’ve told you a million times’ when you only said it once?”

Somewhat flummoxed, Itacyara responded “I’m emphasizing.”

Nathanael nodded, and seemed to let that explanation pass. A few minutes later Itacyara asked him, “Nathanael, is there any fish left on your plate?”

“Yes Mom, there is a piece of fish the size of a whale.” Then a sly smile spread across his face. “I’m emphasizing.”

Then there was the time she was helping him with some math homework

“That’s the wrong answer,” I heard her say from the next room.

“No Mom, it’s right,” Nathanael insisted

“I said it’s wrong!” said his increasingly frustrated mother.

“Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?” was the calm, and biblical, reply from my second-born.

Sometimes he uses flowery language, but he is also just as apt at understatement. I remember once going through the living room, where Nathanael was playing a video game at full volume.

“That music sure is annoying,” I observed.

Nathanael let out a little chuckle. “Yeah.”

Or the time he, with his trademark sly smile, “explained” math to his older brother:

“There are only three components of math, Michael: adding, subtraction, multiplication, and division.”

And then there are his jokes. Oh my word…his jokes. Here’s an example:

Nathanael: “Hey Dad, suppose you were in the jungle, and wanted to catch a tiger with a trap made out of sticks.”

Me: “Okay…”

Nathanael: “And let’s say you caught him, but he managed to get out, because, after all, your trap is made out of sticks.”

Me: “Alright…”

Nathanael: “So we could say that the tiger knew how to get out of a stick-y situation, right?”

Or this one:

Nathanael – “Hey Dad, what would you do if you had no hands?”

Me – “I dunno…use my feet perhaps?”

Nathanael – “You known what I would do?”

Me – “What?”

Nathaniel – “I would ask someone to give me a hand.”

Or this gem:

Nathanael – “If you were attacked by a bear, and you survived, what would you tell your friends?”

Me – “I don’t know…I survived being attacked by a bear?”

Nathanael – “Because I’m a professional, I’d say that I bear-ly survived.”

But I would have to say that some of the most memorable moments are the times when the only appropriate response possible to his antics has been to just turn around and leave without asking any questions, for fear of the answer.

Like the time I came home and found him wandering around the house with an ax made out of PVC and cardboard, and muttering “Bring me Thanos.”

Thanos beware!

Or the time I went in his room to see him at the computer, doing his homework, like this:

When, against my better judgement, I asked about it, he said it was “to keep the smartness from getting out.”

Some of our conversations over the years have revealed the generational gap between us. For example, the time I thought we were going to have a conversation about spiritual things, but it took a surreal turn.

“So Dad,” Nathanael began, “You know how bad things can become good things?”

“Like…what do you mean, Nathanael?”

“Well, like when I was playing Roblox with my cousin. He got a ‘legendary’, and I was jealous. But then I got ‘royal jelly’ which transfers into ‘legendary’, ‘epic’ or ‘rare’, and on the first try I got ‘legendary’, so then I wasn’t jealous anymore.”

I’m told by those in the know that the above statement makes perfect sense.

Video games have figured in other bewildering (for me) conversations as well, like the following:

“Hey Dad, what do like the best about the Wild West?”

“Well, Nathanael, I like a lot of things about the Wild West. What do you know about the Wild West?”

“I created a Wild West village in Minecraft.”

“I see. And what did it have that made it a Wild West village?”

“Three things: a bank, lots of gold, and cobwebs.”

Just like in the Louis L’Amour novels

There have been moments, however, when the gap has been bridged. Recently some reading I was doing obliged me to investigate the world of Japanese animation. Not wanting to waste time, I called on an expert.

“Nathanael,” I said, “Where should I start if I want to learn about Anime?”

There was a slight pause, then my son responded, with emotion in his voice, “I thought this day would never come.”

Some of Nathanael’s more memorable moments have been due to the fact that he thinks in both English and Portuguese. One day a friend commented that he was “looking tan”.

“I’m eleven” was his deadpan reply.

Bilingual kids often have to get creative when they can’t think of the word. One such episode with Nathanael still makes me chuckle:

Nathanael – “Dad, do you like those cebola donuts?”

Me – “Cebola donuts?”

Nathanael – “Yeah, cebola donuts.”

Me – “You mean onion rings?”

Nathanael – “Yeah, those.”

All of these conversations, and more, make the memories we have of the last seventeen years rich with laughter and good times. But there is one conversation I had with Nathanael that I will never forget, even if somehow I happen to forget all the others.

It was a Sunday night at the Ebenezer church, in 2018. The church was going through some major issues, and I had just preached a hard-but-necessary message that had touched on some of the points of contention within the body. I feared that it would not be well-received by many in the congregation, and the preaching of it left me exhausted. After I stepped away from the pulpit and the people had filed out of our little sanctuary, I sat down and leaned my head against the wall and closed my eyes, completely spent.

It was then that I felt a hand on my shoulder and heard the voice of my eleven-year-old son.

“You did a great job, Dad.”

____________________

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And be sure to read the action-packed adventures of Missionary Max: Missionary Max and the Jungle Princess and Missionary Max and the Lost City.

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing these special insights from Nathaniel. They are precious! Of course, we better remember his birth because Michael stayed with us. He had made fast friends with our new Great Dane puppy. Then Michael slept through the ordeal when it was attacked and died. Tough indeed, life and death. 🤗

    1. Oh I remember! I also remember that Nathanael was almost born in the truck on the way to the hospital!

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