We said good-bye on Monday evening.
The last of the cicadas in our neighborhood were on life support. I snatched one off a tree and handed it to my 4-year-old son.
“Is it real?” Roman asked. Translation: Was it alive? The cicada crawled slowly on his hand.
“That’s probably the last one you’ll hold, buddy,” I said while snapping an iPhone photo.
“But I want them still,” Roman replied.
He then threw it up in the air to let it fly away. It went about two feet and torpedoed to the sidewalk.
The nightly cicada “hunts” were over.
I miss the cicadas already.
They brought my son and I together like nothing ever had before. Since the cicada “hunts” started on the evening of June 6, Roman and I have had our best run of days together. It feels like a winning streak.
I read a lot of cicada stories leading up to the 17-year invasion. A lot of headlines like: “Here’s everything you need to know about the cicadas.” But those stories didn’t provide everything I needed to know. None of them talked about how Brood X could be an X-factor in a father-son relationship.
Raising Roman has been a challenge. A good challenge, but a big test nonetheless. He’s replaced writing as my biggest daily challenge – and writing hasn’t gotten any easier 23 years into my career.
Raising my older son, 8, has been easy-peasy. But Roman is hard-headed, hot-tempered and persnickety. (Lots of family, friends and editors are chuckling right now, I know.)
He’s the kid who refuses to eat anything regularly except mac ‘n cheese, chicken nuggets, fries and Skyline three-ways. He consistently argues with his parents about what clothes to wear each day. He fights going to bed every night. He defiantly laughs at you when threatened with consequences for misbehavior.
Roman constantly picks on his older brother. He’s deft at the sucker punch and turning the calmest moments into total chaos.
Most of our activities have ended in him huffing and puffing and storming off. It’s usually over something trivial such as me not throwing him one more pitch in backyard batting practice so the other kid can have a turn. It doesn’t matter that I’d just thrown 20 pitches to Roman.
It seemed everything erupted into crisis.
I love Roman unconditionally. I love his toughness, sense of humor and go-for-it spirit. I've never been one to run from a challenge. But looking back, I had fallen into a daily rut of trying to avoid a conflict with Roman. It was the last thing I wanted to deal with after a day of covering politics.
That was the wrong approach.
I hate to admit, but it took Roman to initiate the breakthrough. He asked me to go on a cicada “hunt.” That’s what he called it. No cicadas were killed or captured. These were walks around the neighborhood.
I’d just gotten home from an 11-hour drive back from South Carolina on June 6. Ro was waiting at the door. Like most people, I was annoyed by the cicadas – and especially irritated by the incessant news coverage of them. But I reluctantly went on our first “hunt.”
And then there he was again the next day ready to go when I got home from work. Then again the next day. I’d pull up from work. Ro would coming running out to my truck or be waiting at the front door.
“Dad, let’s go on a cicada hunt!”
By the third day, I was all in. We had two routes around the neighborhood, both with lots of large trees. We’d stop at every tree, every night. We’d each pluck a cicada off the tree. Sometimes, I'd put Ro on my shoulders to grab a cicada from a high branch.
Ro would hold a cicada up to his ear to listen to it screech. He’d let it crawl on his palm. Sometimes, he’d pretend like he was going to eat it. And then he’d throw it up and let it fly away.
It was a simple, half-hour venture. It was our time. It was special. My older son hated the cicadas. Baseball has been the one-on-one bond for us. The cicadas showed me how important it is to have that one-on-one time with my other son, too.
It took a red-eyed bug to hammer that home. I guess mating isn't the only purpose of a cicada's short life. What a legacy.
Roman and I have found other things to do together since Monday’s final “hunt.” He came rushing out to greet me when I pulled up after work on Wednesday. We took a bike ride, just the two of us.
We have to find something else. Roman will be 21 years old the next time we see Brood X cicadas. I hope we're still as close then as we've been the past few weeks.
Contact political columnist Jason Williams by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @jwilliamscincy.