“Live you that when your kids think of fairness, wellness and integrity, they think of you.” - H. Jackson Brown Jr.
I remember going home after my first state bid. I used to tuck in my eldest boy, Golden Child, every night. There were times when I would feel anxious, upset, sad, or remember how much I missed him while I was away; times I had to remind myself why I was living and living right. Those were the nights I´d climb into his race car bed with him and find solace in his sweaty little light skinned face and open-mouthed slight snore. It reminded me of when he was just a baby and I´d wait up all night for his mother´s parents to go to work just so I could fall asleep next to my son, my first piece of sanity in life.
Gradually, I stopped tucking him in. I was hardly ever there at night anymore to be able to. Whenever I did make it home though, his room would be my first stop. I´d rub his curl-covered head, kiss his forehead and tell him that I loved him. Sometimes, he´d stir in his sleep. “I love you too, Abi,” he´d say in his half asleep, raspy little voice.
Man, I miss that so much.
It´s ironic how, in the beginning of this state stay, he would ask me if I would come home and sleep in his bed again like I used to. I had to tell him that by the time I will get home he´ll be too big for us to fit in the bed together but that he, his baby brother and I could get the blankets out and camp out on the living room floor. It felt good to know that he missed being close to me as much as I miss being close to him and that he was looking forward to those times again. And, now, after I’ve been away so many years from him, the only thing he looks forward to is my non-existence.
When Baby Boy, my youngest, first learned how to crawl, he wouldn´t allow me to leave the house. We kept our shoes by the front door so I had to stop there before leaving. If he was downstairs, he´d stop whatever he was doing and haul tail over to me. He´d grab my ankles or sit up on his knees and give me the rapidly opening and closing hands gesture of “pick me up”. I´d oblige him, kiss him, hug him. But then I´d tell him that Daddy had to go, and give him to his mom or his brother. Or I’d simply put him down and leave.
I should´ve stayed. Every time, I should´ve stayed. That way, and presumably only then, would Baby Boy have known who his father is.
I reminisce about the little dates my daughter and I would go on. We went to see the movie Bolt once. Now I can´t even see the title on the T.V. guide channel without thinking about Sunshine and finding myself compelled to peek at if not fully watch, the delusional little husky run around and play hero while I feel warm inside as if blessed with the presence of my daughter. And there isn´t a time in our many daily conversations of frivolity that, when restaurants are mentioned, Red Lobster does not come to mind. Of course, it´s those cheddar biscuits, but it was also Sunshine´s favorite place to dine, and one of our shared moments.
I almost died when her mother wouldn´t allow me to see her. I missed her so bad…I had to get her initials tattooed on me so I could see her whenever I looked in the mirror. So I could feel as though I carried her everywhere I went. And then, once I was allowed to be her father again…I was so far gone, so deep into the streets thatI´d pick her up just to drop her off at my house with my wife and her brothers. I called myself “tightening the bonds of kinship” with my pseudo-justified actions. In reality I was pawning my responsibilities off on someone who probably didn´t particularly care to watch any of my children other than her own. All so that I could run the streets and live my other life.
Take into consideration that we would almost always go out as a unit on Sundays. Those were at least good times and – did I fool you with that “take into consideration?” I sure as hell didn´t deceive myself; not in this sober state of mind. I should´ve been there; always.
The same goes for my middle son, Mini-Me, concerning the pawning and Sundays, but this one makes me out to be even more of an asshole. Long story short, I was lied to for years about paternity. His mother even hid from me when I came home knowing that I questioned her veracity. But my hunt for my son isn´t the point. The matter of interest here is the first time I met my miniature clone.
His mother came to me, told me that someone had taken my son from her and gained custody of him. Not like kidnapped, but, that´s a story in itself. What she told me, besides, “Hey, surprise, after four years, and blaming at least one other person that I´ll tell you about, you have a son,” was that she wanted my help regaining custody of my child. So she took me to see him. And when he walked out of that front door and sat on that stoop…I couldn´t hold my jaw up. His name is Mini-Me for more reasons than his charming personality.
My son´s first words to me at barely four years old were, “Are you my dad?”
From that moment on, I fought for him. Under false pretenses, I took the lady who had gained custody of him to court and tried to win my son back. Instead, they granted me visitation; which I now see was the best decision for my son. He and I needed to become acquainted and accustomed to one another. And it was frustrating.
I had to spend more time away from the streets than I wanted to. There were times when he didn´t want to come with me. There were times when he wanted to go back home once he was at my house. And, eventually, there were times I just didn´t feel like dealing with him and I didn´t even bother to show up or call. (I feel like liquid excrement right now).
When it came time for court again, in which I had once again filed for custody, I told the judge I was fine with the current arrangements, although, truly I wasn’t enamored with the emotional cumber of them either. I was a father with no true concept or experience at being a real, complete father. Even still, I should´ve realized that it takes time and patience to raise a child; especially in a special case such as my boy.
As a quick side note, Mini-Me´s grandmother, though not biological, gained custody of him after his mother relinquished it. That woman is a jewel. Over time I have grown to realize that she fought for my son harder than I did because she loved my son more than I did at the time. And, for that, I have grown to love her. I cherish not only the relationship she has aided me in building and maintaining with my son, but the comradery I share with her as well. The question comes to mind, “Would there even be a world if it weren´t for people like her?”
One more memory, just to drive the point to Shanghai and back.
The last time I had at least three of my four children together was a Sunday I had actually come home the night before, or, more accurately, I crawled in early Sunday morning Instead of passing out from exhaustion and sleeping the day down to dusk, I was up with them and out early in the afternoon. My wife at the time, always referred to as Precious, was still readying herself and Baby Boy, so Golden Child, Sunshine and I went ahead to do some quick shopping before we were to meet up at Chuck-E-Cheese´s. I had to purchase a few outfits, shoes and such, for Sunshine since her mother liked to send her with only the clothes on her back. Was I supposed to let my daughter walk around in some high boots in the middle of the summer?
Anyway, after seeking her wares, we visited the sneaker store and bought Golden Child the latest G.O.A.T.´s; Jordans that is. My phone wouldn´t stop ringing the entire time. At first, I tried to ignore it. Then I screened a few just to see how much money I was giving up. The amount accumulated to the point that by the time Precious caught up with me in the shopping plaza, I convinced her to take the kids and “go on without me”.
We exited the plaza in opposite directions. I was in pursuit of barren wealth, while the true bounty headed in the opposite direction towards true fulfillment, joy and memorable moments.
I still have the picture my children took together that day; them and that mouse. They look so happy; together. I find myself trying to hide my tears. How much happier would they have been, if only in that moment, if they had had their father there to enjoy the time with them?
Pity on a pitiful I,Who has fathered and thus left to die.Beautiful children, gentle of the heart and on the eye.In the wrong direction I did fly…
After all of my actions, or more so, inactions, would anyone believe that I indeed love my kids? Do you? Could my children be considered anything less than abandoned and fatherless?
I was a bad father. There´s no way around that. It could be said that I hadn´t been given any template to follow, that my examples were less than stellar, but that would be making excuses, placing blame where it does not or should not lie. The fact of the matter remains that I myself was fatherless and that should have been the grandest exemplar of what not to do and who not to be. In addition, I watched The Cosby Show growing up. Heathcliff Huxstable was the perfect specimen as a father.
Despite my insalubrious portrayal of a father, my children forgive me. Well, the “twins”, Sunshine and Mini-me, do at least. Golden Child is acrimonious when it comes to anything involving me; though it´s been said that he reads every one of my letters, then rips them up and chucks them in the trash. Propitiation is not easy, and progress is progress; right, no matter how minute? Baby Boy is still young, 7 years old; not yet of the age of discernment to fully grasp present and past. He was still a drooling chubster when I abandoned him six years ago. All he knows is that his Dad is locked up but says that he loves him. But…what does in absentia really count for?
Let´s return to the twins for a moment. I have had with them the pensive conversation concerning the past, which brought us to the present, making promises of the future. For some reason, they understand, or are understanding, -- as much as possible given their ages, 12 and almost 12. Bear in mind though that my children are extremely precocious. They hold no grievances with me, continue to love and support me, and our relationship continues to flourish. They are the sole cause of any joy I may experience. And all praise is due to God for it all.
All that has preceded is why I must strive to become the best father of the universe will allow. This is what my children deserve; what I should have always been. A fatherless child being a father. Picture that.
But that´s another picture.
I have my apprehensions, and I would not be honest if I did not voice them. I´ve felt this way before, mindful of Samuel Beckett´s postulate. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Yet, to do so, do as the quote says, we must ultimately, continuously, lack the will to prosper. Is it safe to say, from one the entirety of this “Fatherless Child” series, that I have taken all of the steps outlined by Mr. Beckett? I don´t want to fail anymore. The greatest psychological feat said to exist is thinking something into existence. I don´t know how much I agree with that but...my kids are worth more than chancing that it’s true.
I know of a person who, after more than 30 years of their life, moved to a different state to establish a relationship with their father. For most of these 30 years plus, he hadn´t been around for his own reasons. But, regardless of reasoning, situational character or whatever the circumstances, I don´t want that to be the case with my children and me. And, with my children now spread so far apart, and my physical absence forced to continue for at least a few more years…this may be my biggest fear.
We started with H. Jackson Jr.´s direction on living. “Love so that when your kids think of fairness, wellness and integrity they think of you.” I would like to add to his statement that of Dostoyevsky´s:
“The mystery of human existences lies in not just staying alive, but in having something to live for”.
Golden Child, Sunshine, Mini-Me, Baby Boy, my kids, they are all I live for. They are all I have and all I need. Generally speaking, what I show them, what I teach them, is how they should be; not who I was. I point out the mistakes I´ve made in life, and with them, and explain how I made these mistakes and how they can avoid them. And, if they make a mistake, to learn from it, and fix it if possible.
A reflection of fairness, wellness and integrity is what I strive to see when I look in the mirror. It is how I hope to appear in the eyes of my children so that they may look to and emulate their father. I have to. I have to be their example.
I heard something last night: “It takes the first time to mess up to get it right.” I don´t know if it sounds right, the way it´s written, but it makes all the sense on Earth One and that´s what matters. As much as I thought I was a good father, I wasn´t a good anything. I was good at being beguiled by my mediocre mind. Financial provider, what´s that? Money amounts to nothing without time spent, care, friendship, an ear, a stern hand leveled by a soft heart, guidance, real love, consideration, patience, understanding and the other 99% of what it takes to be a father; a parent.
Yeah, I messed up the first time. I missed it, at point blank range. I didn´t know what it took to be a parent nor how good it actually felt. And thank God for unconditionally loving children and second chances.
Now excuse me for a second. I need to put my glasses on. There´s a severe glare coming off of the next horizon. I think it´s…hold on. Yeah, it is. It´s the future, and man is it sublime. Sunshine and I have already scheduled movie nights and cook offs. If her mom taught her how to cook, I win; hands down. And she doesn´t like scary movies so I plan on torturing her for the first few movie nights. Poltergeist, or Pet Semetery, anyone? Anything but It! Oh, and Mini-Me, he doesn´t really remember much, so I promised him that we´ll make new memories that he´ll never forget! I have to be a man of my word, right? Integrity.
As for my other boys…there´s a lot of work to be done. A lot of distance to be covered and tracks to be laid. Who would I be if I didn´t try vehemently though. My Dad?
All right, that´s enough. So much candor and contrition. And I´ve yet to harp on the epidemic that´s swept society: the invisible fathers; and mothers. But you know what, they´re not worth the half pence it may take. How about instead we follow a nouveau example, the new fad? As in, me, the present and futurity of me, the epitome of a good father, a great Dad.
Also, shout out to my pops. Thanks, soldier, for teaching me how to be a man. By you not being there, you forced me to become one. And, I forget who said (obviously not you), “A smart man learns from his mistakes. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” What do you call a man who is not only smart but wise as well? Hint: Your son! Damn shame that you never saw it.
“Though no one can go back now and make a brand new start,anyone can go now and make a grand new beginning." - Carl Sandburg.
|Michael Belt KU8088|
P.O. Box 1000
Houtzdale, PA 16698-1000