Don’t Worry, Dad
The three boys are gone, I say to myself. The boys are no longer boys, I remind myself. I go to their rooms sometimes, look at the tangible evidence of the years they have spent on this planet — please God, with their mother and me: the little cars and trucks they delighted in having when they were five or six, now tucked away on shelves inside their closets, with one or two still left here and there in a particular room for them to see in a quick glance as they go on to other matters; the books, some going back to the days when they listened to us doing the reading, some the first objects of their newly achieved literacy, some the works of art that link so-called youth with so-called grown-ups, such as Animal Farm or Kipling’s stories or those of Hemingway or Mark Twain, and finally, books such as Invisible Man or Pride and Prejudice or those convoluted Henry James novels. All this tells their English teacher mom and novel-loving dad that we’re four voters now, and one soon to be, and that two are away in college, and one soon to be, and that everyone drives, and we all wonder, out loud, what’s happening to America and the world, not who can come over and play Lego, or when that Red Cross swimming instructor will be able to hand out those junior life-saving cards.
I catch myself sad one morning. I think as I go from room to room of the missed chances, the missteps, the misstatements — things done I should not have done, things not done I should have done. Why didn’t we help the first boy to make more friends earlier? Why did we keep him so close to us? Yet, he has lots of good friends now, and is quite comfortable traveling all over, I remind myself. Still. Why did I get so impatient at times with our second son? Remember that day when a friend came, and the three-year-old child was running all over the place, and fell down and cried, and I was in the middle of a conversation I had judged to be “important,” and I shouted, and the child cried harder? Yet, he’s a strong, even plucky young man, no crier, and he is thoughtful, and while he doesn’t interrupt people, he also doesn’t seem resentful or gloomy in his willingness to hear them out; and he knows when to speak up for himself. Still. Why, finally, did I miss some of those wonderful school celebrations the third son wanted me to join, or avoid talking with some of his teachers, because (I told myself) I was shy, or I felt my wife could talk better with people in the neighborhood, in the school. Were those self-told jokes about my hermit-like nature a transparent excuse for my pride, my egoism: stick with the writing, the teaching, where the control is yours, and the subject matter, too, directly or indirectly? Yet, this high schooler and I have a great time talking about Latin or biology or a theme that is due by the end of a given Monday. Still.
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