I knew this would happen. Back in the '00s, when my son returned from his fourth tour of duty - a dangerous year in Iraq - he sported a nicotine habit and a dragon inked across his chest and left shoulder. In a rare moment of discretion, I decided not to comment on the smoking. He was long grown and a war veteran, and I held my tongue about his addiction. But I casually pointed out that gravity might have its way with his tattoo by the time he hit 60.
I immediately wished I had kept my arrant presumption to myself, and a quiet rift opened between us. In truth, the dragon was beautifully rendered, subtly shaded and allowed to peek out coyly from an open collar or a short-sleeve shirt. But what's said can't be unsaid, and I lived with it.
Fast-forward six months to Thanksgiving dinner. Beers were consumed, times were good, and Erik was still smoking. I had what seemed an inspiration at the time and announced that if he would quit smoking, I would get a tattoo. I'm not sure what reaction I expected, but there was nothing. Nothing at all. I sensed I had jammed my foot still further into my mouth. Oops.
Six more months passed, and we hosted a pool party on the deck, with Erik and his friends among the guests. Beers were consumed and times were good. One of Erik's co-workers struck up a conversation. Then, from nowhere: "So, Mr. Newton, I hear you're getting a tattoo."
I have always been proud that I didn't miss a beat in my response. "Yes," I said, "Yes I am." I love simple declarative sentences.
Erik accompanied me to the tattoo parlor a few days later, not without a certain glee I think. And I sat for a portrait on the back of my right shoulder. I didn't need to worry how the tat would look when I was sixty - I was already on the cusp of that venerable age.
The design will be familiar to fans of M.C. Escher. I think it's rather fetching. And my relationship with my tobacco-free son has never been better.