It finally happened. The question finally came. Although it was my wife that got the first round of questions about my tattoo.
“Mom, does dad ever get tired of the letters on his arm?”
“The what?” She responded, unsure.
“You know, the letters, the black ones that don’t wash off,” he clarified.
“You’ll have to ask Daddy,” she expertly dodged.
The tattoo, they want to know about the tattoo. The almost 20-year-old tattoo, the one I got while home on leave. Thank God I just got the letters and not the demonic looking bulldog.
Fear wells up inside me. Not because tattoos are bad or because I have any regrets about the tattoo, which I don’t. No, the fear comes because the question marks a milestone. It marks the first time there is evidence of “Do as I say, not as I do.”
The tattoo has gotten notice before, but more in the context of coloring on one’s arm rather than pondering why I would want to mark myself permanently in such a way. And I see their gears turn and watch the unspoken questions begin to form in their minds… “Will I do that when I’m older?”
Being a man of imagination, I flash to images of my three sons, tattoo-covered complete with tribal facial tattoos. I see my daughter, 18-years-old with a lower back tattoo that welcomes visitors. All as a consequence from my abdicating the moral high ground.
The sense of foreboding has nothing to do with the topic of tattoos itself. Instead, it is the fear of correctly answering a question that will fall into a gray area. Eventually, I will have to address the inevitable response to the “Can I?” question, which will go something like, “but you did it.” And this won’t be true for tattoos alone. I’ve made a lot of questionable choices in life, so I’ll probably get that response more than I want.
For now, it turns out that my fear was unwarranted since my oldest son bought me time to work out a response. After my wife shifted the question, he weighed in (as only an older brother can do).
“Of course he’s tired of it! He’s had it for like 20 years… who wants the same letters for 20 years?”
This answer made sense to his brother and ended the discussion. For now.