Bathed in sunlight streaming in from the window behind him he smiled, shook his head and wondered like all parents do where the time has gone. It has been about a decade since we pulled the goalie and released the hounds he said in that not so clever way of his. They are silly, trite and overused euphemisms that the boys throw out when we talk about trying to get our significant others pregnant.
It is a curious thing this memory, wrapped up in a combination of reverence and irreverence. I sit here with a partial smile gracing my lips and images of Gene Wilder screaming “Give My Creation Life!” I can’t speak for other men, I just know that there was something amazing about it. It was awesome, frightening and natural. I always wanted to be a father. There was never a doubt that I would do it but for so many years the objective had been to avoid doing that very thing. Be safe and be smart.
Now ten years later I sit here surrounded by pictures of my children, not child…children. Ten years of daddyhood. Technically my oldest won’t be ten until next month but I like to round up. I remember this time…ten years ago that is. It is the week before Thanksgiving and I am enthralled with the idea that this is my last time at the Turkey Table minus children. I have all sorts of images running through my head of faceless kids running around a house- it doesn’t seem real.
Later that week I’ll hit the mall with my wife and go crazy trying to prevent everyone and anything from crashing into her pregnant belly. I’ll lay down one of the greatest blocks of my life on a man running towards her. He is not looking and I can’t take the chance that he’ll knock the wife over and hurt my kid. Not going to happen on my watch.
I am a good twenty-five feet away but primal instincts kick in and I am gifted with wings upon my feet. I start running and realize that I can’t make it so I drop the shoulder, push off the ground and send myself flying at him. I am so wired that I don’t feel the contact, don’t notice his head snap back and slam into a pole. All I know is that primal instincts have kicked in and I have stopped the hungry bear from eating my family.
Ok, that is an exaggeration. I didn’t launch myself like some sort of human missile and leave the poor schmuck crumpled at my feet. But I did prevent the collision I feared. He really wasn’t looking and since pregnant women aren’t known for their agility it was necessary for me to physically prevent him from slamming into her.
I suppose that if you know me it is not surprising to hear/read this because I have a serious protective streak running through me. But it sticks out in my head because it is a moment when I began to realize the depth of feelings that being a father would bring.
All the jokes that I heard about dad being a bodyguard or member of the Secret Service took on a new reality. A reality that I was just beginning to learn about. I didn’t know yet what it meant to be afraid. I didn’t know the relief that I would feel after learning that my son was on a plane that had to make an emergency landing. Didn’t know how hard it would be sleep when at 13 months he had to be hospitalized because of a nasty virus.
I was just beginning to understand how crazy life could truly be.
It is nighttime and I am standing next to my son’s bed. His little body is tucked inside the blankets and he is fast asleep. In the morning I am going to catch a flight back east. In a hospital across the country my father lies unconscious and breathing only because of the machine he is hooked up to. They don’t know if he’ll live through the night and I can’t do a thing about it.
So I sit on the floor and listen to my son breathe. His breathing is soft and rhythmic. This little guy is 3.5 and he will not be happy to see me leave. In the morning pudgy arms will wrap around my neck and a soft voice will insist that I cannot leave. It will tear me up to hear it but I can’t stay. I have to go to my father because I can’t accept not trying to get to him. I am not a doctor but I feel like my presence can help my dad and my mother needs me.
It is a crazy moment. I am a son with a father who is stuck somewhere between life and death. But I am a father with a son and a pregnant wife. I have responsibilities that are pulling upon me from every direction.
In the weeks to come my grandfather and I will sit together and engage in a game. He knows that my father, his son, is seriously ill but he won’t ask many questions. He knows that he can’t do much to help, that physically the trip might be too much for him. He can’t be told how serious it is because without that fiction he will be forced to try do more.
So he’ll rely upon me to do what he can’t. Later on we’ll talk turkey and he’ll tell me that if things don’t change he is going to get on a plane and bring his son home. I remember far too well having to tell him that my uncle has died and though it is not my fault, I feel like I made him cry.
This is not something that I ever want to do again. In some ways it makes me miss my father more as it is exactly the kind of thing that I should be able to ask his advice for. Later that day my own son will talk to me about the baby and ask why it refuses to come out and play with us. I’ll tell him that the baby is still growing and he’ll look at me like I am an idiot and tell me that he is too.
I can’t fault his logic. He knows that he is growing and that he is not in mommy’s tummy anymore. I know that this is one of many discussions that he and I will have but I don’t realize that I’ll blink and discover that the 3.5 year-old is now 75 pounds of boy. I don’t realize that one day I’ll wake up and discover that he is 4 foot something and in need of help with fractions and decimals.
Or that I’ll need to explain why it is inappropriate to repeat that so and so’s father is a stupid asshole. (That whole question comes to me courtesy of the mother of a child in his class.) That comment will lead to a follow up question in which he’ll ask if it would have been more appropriate to call the father a “stupid fucker.” I’ll explain to him that “Jimmy’s” parents are very angry with each other.
Later on I’ll shift the discussion and tell him that one day I want him to play basketball with me. If he grows like I did he should be big enough to get out there and run with the guys in about five years. It blows me away to think about that. You can’t see the picture I am looking at now. You can’t see me holding him in the crook of my arm. You can’t see me staring at this baby boy.
Nor can you see a different picture of the two of us running side by side on a soccer field. It is a recent shot. He can’t beat me yet in a foot race but my time is so limited. I look forward to the day when he can finally beat me, but I’d be lying if I said that I was totally ok with it.
Because there is a part of me that wishes that somehow when he turns twenty that I could be the same age too. There is a part of me that I see in him, a joy that we share when we are running/wrestling together. And I wish that for a day we could have it in a way in which we are sort of equals.
But it won’t ever happen and I am ok with that. Besides, I am his father and that means that we aren’t friends- at least not now. One day I hope we are but for now that boundary is important. I have a lot to learn and a lot to teach him.
So strange, so magical and so amazing to think that I have been doing this dad thing for a decade now. Wonder what will happen in the decade to come.