STARSKY PAUSED at the entrance to the living room. Hutch
was seated on the couch with a large hardcover book propped open on one knee and a clipboard on the other. His pen was poised
above the paper as he intently watched his infant son. Jack gripped the edge of the coffee table, trying to reach a blue fuzzy
poodle standing in the center. He stood on his toes, lost his balance and staggered back several steps before plumping down
heavily on his well-padded rear end.
With a grunt of annoyance, the infant rolled forward onto his
hands and knees, pushed himself back up onto his feet, and stomped forward a few steps to try again.
"Walking," muttered Hutch, making a note on his clipboard.
Starsky moved into the room. "What are you doing to that kid?"
"Ssh!" The pen jabbed in his direction once, in a peremptory manner,
before returning to the paper. Hutch looked at his son. "Jack! Hey, Jack!"
The baby glanced up at his father, briefly, and then returned
to his task. His fingers brushed the dog's fluffy tail and he crowed in anticipation of victory.
Hutch wrote more quickly this time. "Responds to name..." Sliding
the pen into the top of the clipboard, he leaned forward and adjusted the position of the dog, so that it was squarely in
the center of the table. And out of the reach of his son.
Jack said, "Ah yahr," in a tone of deep disapproval.
Oh man, thought Starsky, in complete agreement with Jack.
He steeled himself to intervene in what was obviously Hutch's latest venture in child psychology. Otherwise known as,
how to torture your child the scientific way.
"Jack!" said Hutch, loudly.
The baby glanced at him, a small line forming between his brows,
the corners of his mouth drawing down.
Hutch smiled too widely. It was his "let's have fun" face, and
in Starsky's opinion he was terrible at it.
"Where's Uncle Starsky, Jack? Can you find Uncle Starsky?"
Jack's bottom lip came up over his top one, and he turned back
to the dog on the table.
"Go to Starsky, Jack. Go hug Starsky!"
Jack steadfastly ignored his father. He stood on his toes again,
trying to extend his reach.
With a sigh, Hutch retrieved his pen from the clipboard and made
a note. "That's a 'no' on following simple instructions..."
Starsky rolled his eyes. Of father and son, he could only observe
one acting intelligently and it sure wasn't Hutch.
Jack lost his temper. He landed heavily on his bottom and pulled
in a long breath, his chest expanding and his face turning brick red. Before he could loose one of his seismic screams, Starsky
stepped forward and scooped him off the floor, with one hand. With his other he snagged the poodle off the table.
Waggling the toy in front of the baby's face, Starsky said, "Whoa!
See? Here's your puppy! Was your daddy being mean? Huh? Was he making it hard for you to get your puppy? I think we should
have words with him, and remind him who gave you that puppy in the first place."
Jack growled fiercely and grabbed the blue poodle with both
hands. Starsky lifted him above his head and blew a raspberry on the baby's round belly. Startled, Jack squealed. Another
wet smooch produced a chortle.
Hutch flipped to a dog-eared page in the weighty tome. "You know,
you're supposed to allow him ownership of his emotions. If you always jolly him out of every bad mood, he won't learn self-reliance."
Starsky lowered the baby and stared at his friend for a long moment.
Finally, he placed Jack down on the floor and propped his hands on his hips. "Hutch, he's ten months old. I'm sure by the
time he's eighteen he won't want me kissing his tummy every time he falls down."
Hutch chuckled, despite himself. "It would look pretty strange
to the rest of the varsity football team." Sobering, he tapped the list on the clipboard in front of him. "Have you ever heard
him say any words?"
"Sure! He says lots!"
"Like what?" Hutch had his pen poised over the paper again.
Jack dropped the poodle and looked up at Starsky, his hands extended.
"Like that!" said Starsky as he bent down to scoop the baby up
off the floor. "He said 'pick me up'." He pursed his lips at Jack, opening his eyes wide. The baby laughed and tried to grab
"Starsky, that was 'icka' not 'pick me up'."
Starsky continued making faces at Jack. In his 'talking to baby'
voice, he said, "So, he flubs his lines sometimes. It's not like he's had much practice, right?"
"Eee yayh," agreed Jack, happily.
"Maybe he's got a speech impediment..."
"Hutch, are you out of your ever-lovin' cotton-pickin' mind?"
Starsky tucked Jack under one arm. Walking around behind the couch, he reached over Hutch's shoulder and snagged the book
off of his knee. Studying the spine with a grimace, he read aloud, "'Research, Teaching, And Learning With The Piaget Model'
by Renner, Stafford, Lawson..."
Hutch turned quickly. "Hey!"
Starsky brandished the book at Hutch. "This is bad for you. It
makes you weird and obsessed." He tossed it onto a shelf, and said, "Go get your shoes on. We're taking Jack down to the beach."
Twenty minutes later they hadn't gone anywhere and Starsky was
tapping his foot impatiently by the front door, as Hutch continued to add items to the pile of supplies for their expedition.
At this rate, Starsky figured, he'd end up carrying Jack while Hutch trailed behind burdened like a Sherpa.
"You're not bringing all that," said Starsky, finally. He picked
out a bottle of water and a bag of small crackers from the pile and stuffed them in his jacket pocket. He handed Hutch a single
diaper. Picking up the baby, he said, "All set!"
"But, what about..."
"We're going to the beach, not the moon. You've greased the poor
kid from head to toe in sun block, and he's wearing his hat. How much trouble can he get into?"
Having finished his speech, Starsky pulled out the bag of crackers
that Jack had been trying to extract from his pocket and handed them over. Jack immediately stuffed them into his mouth, bag
"Starsky!" yelped Hutch. "Don't let him do that, he could choke!"
He took the bag away from Jack.
Jack started to protest loudly, and Hutch quickly handed him a
"What about owning his emotions?" asked Starsky.
That question earned him the Hutchinson Finger, and he grinned.
He couldn't wait to see the day Jack pointed that finger right back at his father.
Starsky's plan had been to get Hutch out of the house and onto
neutral ground where they could talk. Unfortunately, the beach proved to be a poor choice of locale. Jack spent the entire
time trying to eat sand, while Hutch grew progressively more stressed as he tried to thwart his son's efforts.
"Why don't you just let him eat the stuff?" asked Starsky, finally.
"It'll just go right through him, anyway." Sit down. Talk to me.
Hutch threw up his hands, frustrated. "Do you know how many different
kinds of bacteria, and parasites, there are in sand?"
"Ooo-kay," said Starsky. The beach was definitely not working
out. He pushed himself to his feet.
"Where are you going?"
"We're going to the park. They got those toddler swings
there. We'll stick Jack in one, and you won't have to worry about him eating anything he shouldn't, or drowning, or falling
on his head, or choking on plastic bags. All right?"
Starsky thought he detected a hint of embarrassment in the smile
Hutch gave him. It was a positive sign.
The park was empty. Jack enjoyed the swing, but Hutch hovered
over him, worried that he might pinch his fingers in the chain or fall out between the canvas straps of the seat. Finally
Starsky pointed at the big kids' swing next to the toddler one, and said, "Hutch, sit down. Right there." Ordinarily he would
have laughed at the sight of his six foot one inch partner obediently folding himself in half to sit on a child's swing, but
this was serious. Hutch had a problem and he needed to face it.
Starsky pushed Jack for a few minutes, trying to decide how best
to begin. Hutch said nothing, idly pushing himself with one foot, back and forth. Starsky noticed however that his eyes never
left Jack. He was in a state of hyper-alertness, prepared to leap to his child's rescue at a moment's notice. Starsky wondered
if Hutch was even aware he was doing it.
Jack's head began to nod as the gentle swaying eased him towards
sleep. Starsky decided the direct approach would have to do.
"Buddy, you know I'm your best friend, right?"
Hutch nodded, still watching his son.
Starsky continued, carefully. "And when a person is losing his
mind, it behooves his best friend to tell him, right?"
Now Hutch did look up, frowning. "Behooves?" He laughed, disbelievingly.
"You think I'm crazy?"
"I think you're turning fatherhood into one long disaster preparedness
drill. And there's nothing to worry about! You've got a healthy baby, a good marriage..." Starsky paused, cautiously. "Your
marriage is still good, right?"
Hutch nodded, again.
Satisfied, Starsky continued, "No one's shot at us, or stabbed
us, or poisoned us for months..."
The swing abruptly stopped its lazy motion, and Starsky saw Hutch's
jaw clench, the long line of his form suddenly taut with suppressed emotion.
"That's it, isn't it?" Starsky angled himself towards Hutch, carefully.
"You can't accept that life's good now. You still think some nutcase is going to come along and try to take all this away
Hutch's hands were on his knees now, his fingers digging into
the fabric. "I know that. I-I mean, that's why I got off the street. For them, and..."
Starsky could hear the rest of his thought as clearly as if it
had been spoken aloud.
He shifted, feeling the almost forgotten pull of scar tissue in
his chest, once more reminded of the limp that persisted even after the cane had been thrown away and physical therapy had
ceased. "Sure you know it," Starsky said. "You know it in your head, but not where it counts."
Leaving the baby to sleep in the swing, he moved behind Hutch
and placed his hands on his friend's shoulders. "You won't let yourself worry about something that's not real, so you worry
about Jack instead." He paused. "You know, that's an awful lot of weight for a little guy to carry."
Hutch's hands unfolded, and he rubbed his palms against his jeans.
"I think I'm turning into my father."
Starsky, caught off guard, chuckled. "Not gonna let that happen,
buddy. The minute I find out you've decided to go back to law school, I'm tying you to a chair and performing an intervention."
He paused, thoughtfully. "Or would that be an exorcism?"
Hutch tilted his head back to look up at Starsky. "Why don't you
get my probably-not-narcoleptic son and give him to me, before he gets a crick in his neck from sleeping like that?"
Starsky glanced over at Jack, who was blissfully unconscious,
slumped bonelessly over the safety bar. Releasing Hutch, he moved back to the toddler swing.
"So, no more tests, no more mouse-and-cheese experiments?" he
asked, as he carefully extracted the sleeping child. "No more checklists?"
Hutch accepted the baby from Starsky and settled him into the
crook of his elbow. Jack stirred briefly, but quieted again as Hutch rubbed his thumb across his forehead, smoothing out the
line between his eyes. "You know I can't promise that," he said.
Hutch closed his eyes briefly, acknowledging defeat. "But I promise
I'll try to lighten up a little."
It was only the first small victory in what would likely be a
very long campaign, but Starsky knew it was an important one. He smiled reassuringly at Hutch. "Baby steps, buddy. It all
begins with baby steps."