Archive for the ‘fatherhood’ Category
They were wild and free, full of wonder and mischief, and frankly, it was getting on my nerves. Every new adventure required running, yelling, and, apparently, my attention. I was tired and beat. I wanted them to sit beside me on the sofa and savor the moment with small talk and tenderness. They cared nothing for it.
I finally gave in and took a glass of whiskey to the laptop, determined to type out a few more words about my life as a father even as I was hiding from it. It was the end of the month and I needed the money.
After a while I went downstairs to make them hot cocoa and put out a plate of some minty marshmallows from Trader Joe’s. I told them to get into their pajamas and that they didn’t have to go to sleep, but they had to go to bed. It was Friday, but late is late, and they could read for a bit if they wanted. They ate their snack, brushed their teeth, and did exactly what I told them. I only had to read one book and tickle them twice. They gave up without a fight, pillow or otherwise.
I promised that I would come back when it was time to turn their light out, then I proceeded to wash some dishes in a too dark kitchen beneath a soundtrack of Sinatra and the constant hum of their dwindling conversation. At one point someone took to the harmonica and played what passes for blues in these parts, and then they were quiet.
The door was slightly open, and I could only see the youngest. His eyes were open but his gaze was gone. He looked about the room in silent stare, strikingly aware and sweetly clouded. I could only wonder what thoughts lingered on the tip of his world as he lost it all and faded to slumber. It was an amazingly slow and beautiful process, like watching paint dry on a Van Gogh, afraid to look away for you might miss that moment when what had been was now no more—nothing left but easy breaths and heavy brushstrokes.
Normally, in the rare event that the youngest boy surrenders to sleep without a fuss, the oldest stays awake, living loudly through the pages of whatever book he is propped against, and I assumed that was the case tonight. However, as I snuck in the door I realized that he, too, was out for the night, his cheeks flushed from days of youth, rosy red and smooth as a memory.
I stood there, with Sinatra in the background and a light through the window, between my two boys sleeping so warm and so sound—and it was as beautiful of a moment as I have ever known.
It was damn near perfect.
The house is in disarray. More so than usual. We had a water leak that led to walls torn down and floors ripped up. The furniture is stacked in the corner covered in dog hair and medical bills. I am at my desk and all I see is inbox.
There is family coming. They will be here in a couple of hours. There are sheets to wash, shelves to dust, and a bathroom turned inside out beneath the rapid misfires of two little boys.
Not long ago this would have bothered me. I would have tried to fix everything. It needed to be spotless. It needed to be perfect.
Now I am in no hurry.
The last time that family was due they never came, and everything was ready. There was nothing to do but wait.
There was nothing to do but cross clean floors to an uncluttered desk and answer the phone.
There was nothing to do but fall down upon fresh linens and know that you may very well die there. And parts of you do. For death is contagious and when a loved one goes there is little between your heart and the nearest exit, but for those around you and the grieving yet to dance with.
Then nothing became everything, or it may have been the opposite. And the house fell apart around us.
Today my father and my stepdad are flying here together. They are coming for a birthday, bound by grandsons and a lifetime lost to memory.
Now I care little for clutter or open walls, missing carpet, and a home undone. Life is not spotless, and perfect is in the moments that we are making.
There is everything to do, and I am in no hurry.
“Look at that dumb fuck, Daddy,” said my 3-year-old from his car seat.
“Where?” I asked. There were quite a few around us, he could have been talking about any of them.
“The white one,” he continued.
That narrowed it down. There was only one that fit that description.
“That dumb fuck sure is dirty,” he said. “Why is that dumb fuck so dirty?”
I considered my options. Carefully.
“Some are dirtier than others,” I replied. “It comes with the territory.”
We were sitting outside Starbucks waiting for my wife. We were passing the time the way men tend to do, talking about our feelings, scratching what itches, and cursing a little—some of us more than others.
“Do you like dumb fucks, Daddy?” he asked. It had an added air of the rhetorical.
“I don’t like being too close to them,” I answered. “They are pretty fun to watch, though.”
My wife returned with our coffee and took a seat in the car.
“Mommy, did you see all the dumb fucks?” he asked.
I knew that she had.
“Honey,” she said with a straight face. “They are called dump trucks.”
“Dumb fucks,” he repeated.
“Exactly,” I told him, and we sipped our coffee as he watched the last one rumble past.
Do you like parenting with humor and the talking with the kids? Then check out The Parents’ Phrase Book and have some fun for a change.
About this post: With the closure of DadCentric I have been moving some of my favorite posts to Honea Express. This post was first published in 2009 and has the honor of being DadCentric’s most read article of all time, which is saying something. Also, I read it at Dad 2.0 in 2013 while “opening” for Brené Brown. So there’s that.
Photo: Todd Huffman via Flickr
Heat, as an extreme, exists only in a relative sense. It is the hottest thing they have ever known and therefore it is the hottest thing that anyone has ever known. I tell them that it is not, that my coffee is actually hotter, but that does not soothe them, it only makes them question my sanity as they slowly dare a second sip of their lukewarm chocolate.
My back hurts. I have been carrying too much for too long. For six weeks I have been living as a single father—a single work-at-home-dad. It has been incredibly hard and surprisingly easy. I am better for it and I am tired and I am badly beaten.
My work has suffered. My 70 hour work week has been cut to less than forty—compiled from a series of minutes torn apart from neglected deadlines, tucked between goodnight kisses and the taste of warm whiskey across my lips. The clock moves slow and forward.
Chores once shared have become mine alone. All nights are long and lonely. All mornings are early and full of songs and frustration.
I do not believe that I have achieved anything worthy of praise or pity, only reflection. Others face obstacles far greater than mine on a daily basis. They make the most. They do their best. They are stronger than I ever thought I was, and when I sip from my glass the toast is to them.
But this is not their life, it is mine, and while I was prepared and up to the challenge, it was unexpected in both timing and time. From the frying pan to the fire is not a lateral move. The heat is extreme, and it is all relative.
Tomorrow my wife comes home after six weeks sitting at the bedside of her ailing father. Six weeks of tears and whispers and shouts in the night. Six weeks of walking in the shoes of a girl much smaller.
Bedside seats are lessons in love and fear, and the art of turning fond the old memories that weren’t. That is a chapter not yet closed. Those wounds are still open. He will still have a beside in need of sitting, and she will carry her thoughts accordingly. Her back will hurt.
They do not expect her. They have grown accustomed to the missing of their mother. Six weeks is a long time gone, and a father doing the best he can is still just one kiss goodnight no matter how much laughter fills the day or how much work is left to the forgotten.
Tomorrow will seem but another day to them, the routine of living with some parts missing. They will be safe and loved and slightly lost. She will be on a plane six weeks delayed and her dreams will be of little boy kisses grown wet with salt and the slightest linger of lukewarm chocolate.
The title of this post is a quote from Victor Hugo.
The days are short and the nights shorter still. The tree is dead and slowly drying. Bottles of wine come in one door and out the other. The shopping is hung by the chimney with care. Sugarplums dance for dollars and whisper sweet things to those that long to hear them. My wallet, the victim of yuletide vampires, turned to dust in the morning sun. Receipts fell like ash and snow.
The boys are quick to give and quicker to receive. They are fast with patience. They kill suspense with sticks and stones. The fight is sudden and seldom fair. Between their laughs fit so many cookies.
They are their own Advent calendar. Each new day opens like arms.
Holidays are extreme in their excess. It is not just the too many gifts, for the happiness is grander, the sadness all the sadder, and the music of a thousand elevators is pumping through my stereo. My kids deserve everything, and there are those that need it so much more.
We spread joy as thin as we can.
The tree is a time machine. It is a wormhole to Christmas future and Christmases past. Each twinkle of light a star dashing by. Each ornament a moment on a string. There is a glow and bits of reflection, and in the pieces of glass there I stand. I am a man, a boy, a father, a son. The tree is strung with memories and those that we are making. I forget myself for wonder. The whiskey warms me like a fire. Their songs I’m softly singing.
The boys sleep where they fall. I carry them through the night and place them all snug in their beds. When they wake in the morning it will be where they always are, safe and sound, and one day closer to missing the wait. One day closer to it beginning again. They will want hugs and breakfast.
These are a few of my favorite things. I wrap them tight in brown paper and time.