Fatherhood

2002

By the Dutch doors of the Sunday school room at Grace Baptist Church, the anxiety of separation smells like crayons. It has the high glare of recessed lights and the pandemonium of unsupervised children.

I don’t want to leave my son here. He doesn’t want to be left.

So he drops to the floor like a lever’s been thrown.

He lies on the carpet. I speak quietly to him and coax him to stand up. He tries dropping again while we’re holding hands, and I grip his fingers as he strives for the floor. He is a falling monument to life’s small miseries, and I understand, and I ease him down.

And I don’t mind who sees. None of this ever will ever embarrass me. Because this is not a tantrum I’m indulging. This is despair.

My son makes himself slack as a sandbag, but I pick him up. I hold him and he holds me.

“I’ll be back. Don’t worry—blink of an eye,” I promise, blinking my eye spastically to try to make him smile. Which does make him smile and then makes him cry.

Which makes me cry.

So we walk back home, holding hands. Happy to be out of church.

There’s a mystery in all of this, Father. And as I’m writing I’m saying if I really understood, really understood.

2022

In these fatherless days of work and life, I contemplate my own swooning. In sight of approaching neighbor-couple on evening walk, in conversation with Q-Anon mailman, in echo of cinderblock stairwell that lead’st to next, dread class: to drop as struck bird drops. To stay dropped as my emotionally honest son once did.

A phone conversation with tedious colleague who won’t stop pressing her point and from my end she'll hear hard-to-name sound of swoon: dim thud of collapsing adult as rustle of toppled books falling, as cabinet drawer closed shut.

“Dr. Ardelle? Hello?

My children are grown and gone. And God I’m asking that if God’s a Father, does He stand in this enormous quiet too?  

I know how I sound. It doesn’t embarrass me.  

There lying on office floor, dry smell of carpet, sound of colleague's faraway voice in receiver, I’m asking God: How long do you have these phosphorescent afterimages of you and your children? Of your son at three years old on a Sunday morning? Of him running ahead of you to the backyard gate and glad?

I’m asking, Father: How do you bear the mystery of that absence, now eternal?

Bird Report

Warm weather for October. A drought is on.

An abandoned wren’s nest in the pine at the side of the house. A woven heap of sticks and moss and debris. A cup in the center where the small brown eggs might have been.

Too much?