Father’s Day morning, the Wife brought me homemade blueberry muffins in bed. I sat reading short stories and eating blueberry muffins, and it was blissful. Soon I heard them conspiring outside my bedroom door, the little ones and their mother the ringleader. In marched a little troupe of celebrants, each bearing a gift. They perched themselves around me on the bed, each clamoring for me to open his gift first. They gave me a big bucket of bubble gum, some metal collar stays, a Hemingway-style pocket journal, and a cheerful little book published in 1902, titled The REAL Diary of a REAL Boy, by Henry Shute. It’s written in the language of a schoolboy, and has entries like this:
December 15. Micky Gould said he cood lick me and i said he want man enuf and he said if i wood come out behind the school house after school he wood show me and i said i wood and all the fellers hollered and said they wood be there. But after school i thaught i aught to go home and split my kindlings and so i went home. a feller aught to do something for his family ennyway. i cood have licked him if i had wanted to.
I love old books, the feel and weight and texture of them, and the knowledge that they were born when people read, and when they read something more intelligent and edifying than Danielle Steele or Robert Ludlum.
We went to church and happily it wasn’t a sermon about how none of us men are good enough as fathers. After that we went to our favorite Wichita restaurant, and I had a Dr. Pepper and didn’t feel the least bit guilty about it. Later that day there was more short-story reading and then a run with the boys, Caleb and Eli on bicycles and Isaac in the running stroller and me doing the hard work in between wheezing at them to look both ways before turning onto a street, and to be extra careful because that SUV coming at us is being driven by a teenager, and for God’s sake to look up at the road and not down at how fast their feet are pedaling.
Later that evening we had my favorite meal: hotdogs and the Wife’s extra-special macaroni and cheese. As an added bonus her grandmother, who is visiting, made me creamed corn. Still later, I attempted to make The Perfect Tom Collins, according to a recipe I found in The Wall Street Journal, but I put in too much gin and then tried to compensate with more soda and sugar, but then that threw the squeezed lemon into too small a proportion and so by the time I was done it was something more like a soggy sugared pine tree than the perfect anything, but liquor is liquor and it tasted especially good because I bought the gin the next county over, because Wichita forbids alcohol sales on Sundays, unless one happens to own a restaurant or bar, which likely inclines one to contribute generously to city council members, who in turn are more likely to stick by their moral position that alcohol should not be sold on Sundays.
One day, in heaven, I’m going to sip a Tom Collins with Jesus on a Sunday, and we’re going to have a good laugh about blue laws.
Still later, some friends and I watched a man movie, although it wasn’t really because there was far too much kissing and love lost for my taste, but the moral of the story was good, plus more than one bad guy got skewered, so it was certainly a good use of two hours.
Around midnight I realized that while I may be an okay father, I am a very bad son, because I didn’t call my father or stepfather. I’ll try to remember how easy it is to be swept up in the chaos and bliss of being a father to all these young ones, so that my feelings aren’t wounded when they are too busy being fathers to be sons.
I lay awake for a time after the house was completely dark and silent, thinking thank you over and over in my mind, whispering it to God. And he must say I know when we thank him for our children, because he is a father too. It is good to be a father. More fathers should try it. If I can get this right, I keep telling myself, the rest of it doesn’t matter. Be a good husband. Be a good father. The rest of it fades away almost as soon as we are cold in the ground. Help me get this right. That’s what I whisper to God in between the thank yous.