I remember the first time I saw Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The movie opens with the young Indiana, played by River Phoenix, rescuing the Cross of Coronado from the hands of some malefactors. He conducts himself with equanimity and style, disdainfully tossing aside a snake with his bare hand, purveying the artifact behind the bad guys’ backs, and hoisting himself out of a cave by rope. Emerging into the sunlight, he finds his companions gone. In a tone of unshakable confidence, he mutters, “Everybody’s lost but me.”
I laughed and said to myself: “That is exactly like my son.” The adventurous spirit, the cool charisma, the innate sense of justice and responsibility, were the same. Daniel was two years old at the time.
Since he first learned to talk, Daniel has been an avid storyteller in the oral tradition. Every day as I worked, he would follow me around the house, regaling me with long adventure tales starring himself. The plot always involved his rescue of a ragtag ensemble of down-and-out, mistreated talking dinosaurs and other animals, who after their liberation would join his band. This has always reminded me of King David in the days after his anointing but before his establishment as king in Jerusalem, gathering downtrodden men to himself. “And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them” (1 Samuel 22:2). Daniel has always had a strong instinct for leading and looking after those smaller than himself, and to this day I often see him shepherding younger boys.
At age five he could read well. One day when he was seven, he thumbed through his unabridged copy of The Jungle Book, found his favorite passage, and read it aloud to me. It was a description of Bagheera the panther moving gracefully through the jungle, and it was beautiful. I never read this particular novel aloud to Daniel; he read it himself. He also read Louis Rhead’s Robin Hood entirely on his own and was greatly moved by the account of Robin’s death and Little John’s grief.
In spite of his appetite for good books, his academic journey has not been without struggles. He is easily distracted unless the subject interests him. But he has a marvelous capacity for retaining facts and frequently astonishes people by trotting them out.
I can’t recall ever seeing him turn away from any physical adventure that offered itself. At eighteen, he still regards every tall tree as a double-dog-dare from nature, to be conquered and climbed as a matter of honor.
Shyness is an unknown concept to him and always has been. He will open a dialogue with anyone. As a small child, he addressed adults with boldness and courtesy and made friends with strangers in grocery stores. He is ravenously sociable. Even reading is a social experience for him. He can’t stand to be the only person in the family to have read a particular book; he will hound his sisters into reading it too so they can discuss it with him.
When our family moved south, we gave up a lifestyle of relative affluence. The kids have had to pay their own way and do without many luxuries and comforts. Daniel, as the eldest child and only son, has borne the brunt of this. I have never heard him complain. He has shouldered the burden manfully and never repined aloud for past days of ease. In recent weeks, I have watched him bear other, harder knocks with dignity, grace, and fortitude.
Teenage boys are generally full of noise and bravado, and Daniel perhaps a little more than most. This doesn’t bother me. I know that behind his swank is an affectionate and compassionate heart, and I would rather by far that he begin his adult journey with abundant self-assurance than timidity and fear. Life will temper him, as it has many a man before him, smoothing away the bluster and leaving the courage. I have every confidence in the sterling quality of his character.