Posts tagged “fatherhood

“a little longer”…thoughts of a young father

“As I put her to sleep, holding the bottle to her small mouth, I listen to her breathe.  I feel her little movements as she struggles against the sleepiness that always wins in the end.  I hear her drinking from her bottle, first quickly as she is so excited to get her evening nourishment, but then slower and slower as the heavy weight of slumber pulls her little eyes closed in longer and longer blinks.

But tonight something different happens.  Tonight, as she drifts closer and closer to sleep, she reaches up with her hand, as she does often while drifting off.  But this time she rests her trusting hand on mine as I hold her bottle.  Not a brush, not a slip, not an accident.  Her hand rests on mine with purpose, with intent.  This is where she wants her hand, what she wants to hold.

Can’t this bottle be just a bit bigger?

Can’t there be more left in it for her to drink?

Can’t she stay here a little longer with her hand on mine?

That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.

Her bottle empties and I replace it with her binky.  Her hand moves as I shift her body, cradle her, and rock her the rest of the way to sleep.  With her bottle empty, she surrenders herself to the sandman.  Her eyes close, her breathing slows, her body stills.  Her hand is no longer on mine as it was.  Such a small gesture and yet she has no idea.  She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.

portrait of a baby in black and white

***

                She wakes up and begins her day, chattering on about breakfast, about her Mommy, about her games and shows.  She is happy, as she is most days.  There are no owies or runny noses or naps.  She moves through her world freely and with more and more independence.  ‘I can brush my own teeth, I can put my plate in the sink, I can get dressed, I can, I can, I can.’  The day nears its end, as all days do, with bedtime stories and ni-nights and kisses and hugs.

But this day is different.  This is the last of this era.  This is the end of this stage.  Tomorrow she goes to school.  Tomorrow she meets new people, learns new things, begins new routines, needs help from someone else.  This bedtime I know all about her day, what she did, what she saw, what she said.  When she lies down to bed tomorrow her stories will be new.

Can’t this day be just a bit longer?

Can’t there be more words in this story?

Can’t she stay here a little longer with her world in mine?

That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.

The story ends, she gives and gets her hugs and kisses.  She rolls over and lets me believe that she will be going right to sleep, but knowing she will be up imagining what tomorrow will be like.  Excited and anxious and scared.  Her days are no longer only mine as they were.  So precious these moments but she doesn’t know.  She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.

to hide away

***

                Busy as always, so much less time to spend in the house these days for a young adult.  She learns more every day than I have in years.  The world is still opening up to her as she stretches her legs into the adult world, learns to live, to work, to be responsible.  I get to see where my efforts have paid off.  I get to see where she could have been guided better.  But that’s only when I get to see her.  New friends with new faces and new stories and experiences and places and people.  It seems that most of the time there is considerable effort to keep up and by the time I do, the whole story is new and different and I’m not caught up anymore.

But in this rare moment, something is different.  She sits beside me as the evening winds to a close to share her day.  She isn’t busy with friends or work or school, she is busy spending time with me.  She wants to be with me, she wants me to hear her, she wants to hear me.  I listen as she unfolds her busy day before me and allows me to participate, because today I am part of her busy day.

Can’t this conversation be just a bit longer?

Can’t I say more to keep her from going to bed?

Can’t she stay here a little longer with her story in mine?

That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.

She begins to yawn, her eyes grow redder as her body tells her it’s time for sleep.  I tell her goodnight and watch as she leaves to her room.  She carries on to bed thinking nothing different of the day.  Another day closer to where she’s going.  Another day further from where she started.  Something as simple as time spent with someone, but she doesn’t get it.  She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.

***

                She walks to the door as she prepares to leave.  She is always going places, new places, old places.  Places I’ve been to, places I haven’t.  Some places maybe she’ll take me to, places maybe that I really want to see.  We gather around the door, talking about when she’s coming back, who she’s going to be with, what she’s going to be doing.

But this time it’s different.  She’s not coming back, unless it’s to visit.  She’s going to be with people I don’t know, people I won’t know.  She’s going to be doing things that I won’t have any involvement in, or even know about in some cases.  Today she’s going to her house.  That used to mean the same thing as when I was going to my house, but not now, not this time.  She is going to her own house.  She is leaving my house and going home.

Can’t we stand here at the door just a bit more?

Can’t I find something else to load into your car?

Can’t she stay a little longer with her home in mine?

That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.

She walks out the door and gets in her car.  I get one last wave and she blows me a kiss as she drives to her new house, her new home.  I watch as the car winds down the street into the distance.  Even after the car is long out of site, I continue to watch down the street as if I can watch her make it home safely, as if I can see right to her door from mine as I always have.  She grew up here with me, I watched her grow, but it’s not something she is able to appreciate yet.  She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brought to my heart.

***

                I walk with her as I have so many evenings, arm in arm.  There is a cool breeze that blows through the trees and causes our hair to stir.  We always just walk, nowhere in particular.  To the end of the street, up the road, around the block.  It never really matters, we always know where we are going back to.  It is wonderful when she comes to visit and spend time, talks about her life, her job, her friends.  Sometimes we can walk together without saying a word at all.

But it is again different this time.  This time we walk with a destination.  It is not a far walk, but it is the furthest walk I have ever taken.  My destination is near the end of the aisle, at which point I take my seat and let her walk the rest of the aisle to another arm to place hers in.  It is not as if I won’t have another walk with her, arm in arm.  Our next walks will be different, about a new chapter.

Can’t the aisle be just a bit longer?

Can’t we slow the pace of the walk?

Can’t she stay a little longer with her arm in mine?

That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.

I give her away, just as she asked me to.  Tears in my eyes, I smile at her.  I sit down and watch her speak words of love to her best friend.  She stands there looking as beautiful as the day she was first mine.  We still take walks, arm in arm, and still talk about life.  We even talk about the very walk that began her newest chapter and my role in that walk, but I can’t expect her to understand what it means to me.  She knows not what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.

***

                Visits at her house are always wonderful, visits with her at any place are wonderful.  She has grown into an amazing woman.  I get to see her world as she decorated it around her.  There aren’t words for my pride when she introduces me to her friends.  To be important enough that someone she knows will, should, gets to meet me.  To be this far down the road and still hold the honor of being an important figure in her life feels like a rarity.

But this visit will be different.  I am not meeting her friend or neighbor or coworker.  I am meeting her daughter.  I am holding her daughter.  I am rocking her daughter.  She watches me as I stare into her face through another.  The flood of memories, of emotions, of beauty overwhelms me.

Couldn’t she have been this small a bit longer?

Couldn’t I go back to do this all again?

Couldn’t she stay a little longer as my baby?

That’s all I want, just let those moments last a little longer.

She takes her baby daughter from me and I get the joy of watching her stare into the eyes of her precious daughter as I once did.  The most beautiful transformation takes place right before me as I look at her and realize that now, after all this time, she understands, and will forever.  She knows what this means to her Daddy, what joy it brings to my heart.

***

                As I see her approach me, I reflect on all the times I have truly watched her as she experienced life.  As she lives life.  I watched as she placed her small hand on mine in a trusting hold, as she moved from my world into hers, as she kept me in her story, as she stepped out of my home and into one of her own, as she held her arm in mine for the longest walk, as she transitioned from a woman into a Mommy.  She sits beside me and smiles at me as I always loved her to do.

But this time is, different.  I am watching her approach me for the last time.  I am watching her for the last time.  As she sits in the chair beside my bed, she places her hand on mine.  As I drift off, I feel her hand as she softly weeps.  Her hand is on mine with purpose, with intent.  This is where she wants her hand.  What she wants to hold.

Can’t this life be just a bit longer?

Can’t I have her by my side tomorrow?

Can’t I have tomorrow?

Can’t she stay here a little longer with her hand on mine?

That’s all I want, just let this moment last a little longer.”

© 2013 – Caleb Michael Brill

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As she lay sleeping

From one day…so many years ago….

“The sun’s light has faded and gone with its setting more than two hours ago.  The star of stars ended its daily cycle behind our valley’s western mountains as it has done every evening now for what must be the past several million years.  Now, left in the twilight created by the nearly concealed bathroom light around the corner from where I sit, my eyes perceive this bedroom-world in hues of light and dark.  Only gray, black, and lighter gray can be divined by my night-adjusted eyes.  In focusing upon the slowly closing eyes of my little loved-one, they disappear with my concentration, but if I look to either side, I can see them clearly, rather, as clearly as the suffused light will allow.  My baby’s purple dinosaur pajamas are only a darker gray than the blackened, navy sweat-shorts that I am wearing.  She is singing ‘I love you’ in her fifteen-month-old’s dialect as she fights the valiant efforts of the Sandman.  Holding her on my lap, I can smell the fragrance of her baby-shampooed hair, just as she, maybe, can smell the scent of ground weeds and back-yard vegetation that lingers on my hands as I caress her ever soft cheeks and jaw line.  The contest is finished, and that enchanter of sleep, Mr. Sandman, is victor yet again.  His wooings are too much for the protestations of my little one.  She has succumbed to the calling of sleep, where, hopefully, she will rest the night through – so that my bride and I can do the same.  Good night, Fair One.  Sleep well and know that you are loved.”

And from another….

“The Angel sleeps in the lighted room, peacefully unaware that the sun is as bright here as it was in the out-of-doors where she spent the afternoon playing.  Looking at her sleep, I am captured by the essence of a baby completely at rest.  The tiny curls at the back of her neck are slightly wet and somewhat darker than the rest of her not so long crowning glory.  Lying on her belly with the two middle fingers of her left hand motionless now, still from their suckling, she is oblivious to my presence and adoring eyes.  Her feet are bare, thanks to her own playfulness; you know she is proud that she removed the socks, smiling with her eyes almost closed to slits…she sleeps.  Tousled hair and tiny ears adorn her face and perfectly shaped head.  Her right arm is thrown forward and up where it rests on her favorite blanket; miniature lungs cause her little back to rise and fall with sustaining breath; sleep my Little One.  Rest safely for another day.  Sleep at your ease.  When she is gone, my chest will be empty where my heart now beats.  I never knew I could love like this.  I never cherished holding a tiny form as I do now when I hold her.  I was reborn too late.  My soul is miserable for not knowing how to love my own then, as I do her, now.  Those ticks of the clock have ceased even their echoing.  I hope they will forgive me.”

*****

This is a Favorite re-post from March, 2010.


Under the Cherry Trees

The man stood in the doorway for a moment before grabbing the elongated brass handle to open the door.  He was looking at the house to the west of his and noticed how the image of the lowering sun was about to touch the roofline.  The slate roof seemed to dip in the moment of the sun’s contact, causing the illusion that the weight of the sun was bearing down on the roof, or maybe the roof was molding itself to the shape of the sun to give it a more comfortable resting place at the end of its long day.  The sun was bright, of course, but softened somehow in the closer atmosphere and haze of industry and pollen and life that existed above the horizon’s curving line, so the man stood there with unshielded eyes and continued to watch the sun’s dip into and below the roof line.  He turned away and the golden glow remained in his eyes as he looked through the door’s glass to find his son.  It was time for dinner and the boy was somewhere outside.

The door handle lowered without a sound and the door swung open quietly as the man pushed against it and walked out onto the back patio of the house.  As he passed the mustard-colored and rectangular-shaped charcoal grill, he noticed that it still smelled of burnt sugar from the last time he barbequed ribs.  It had been a couple weeks or more, but the scent still lingered.  The man was barefoot and noticed, too, that the cement of the patio was still warm from the day’s sun, but the grass was cool as he stepped into it and began his search for his son.  The man turned to the left from the patio and looked into the back-yard proper, gazing at the rock-fronted embankments that supported the tiered lawn that rose from the yard up to the street that ran behind his house.  As he walked toward the front of the house that faced the town’s park, he craned his neck to look further into the yard to where the boy liked to play around the young, conical pine trees that resembled miniature Christmas trees when they were dusted or coated with December’s snow.

The evening was peaceful, now that the neighborhood kids had left the park and gone home or wherever after playing soccer for most of the afternoon.  Looking toward the east and over the hills that fronted that side of the town, the man noticed the swallows darting over the park for their evening feeding and play-time.  Overhead, the clouds were pink and orange and white and darkening gray with the falling sun and approaching night.  Further north, he could still see the white line of a plane’s contrail that was still intact even though the plane had been gone for hours…just the singular, lined cloud was left in its passing.  The man didn’t see his son anywhere, not in this side of the yard and not out in the park.  He thought about calling-out for him, but didn’t want to break the quiet by raising his voice or yelling.  Instead, he retraced his steps around the house, passed the back-door patio, and toward the other end of the yard, the side that fronted their street.  The man walked along the low hedge that separated his yard from the neighbor’s and then past the gooseberry bushes and toward the side of the house where he could peek around the corner to see if his son was playing under the cherry trees.  His step was quiet in the cool grass and the moss that grew thinly among the grass where he was, but was thicker under the trees.

Because the sun had completely lowered itself beneath the roofline of the neighbor’s house by now, there was no chance of the man’s son seeing his father’s shadow intrude into his quiet play.  When the man slowly moved his head around the corner, he saw that his son was sitting cross-legged, facing away from him, and leaning forward with his hands busy at some task.  The boy had his tan and green army-men positioned in loose rows and partially hidden in the moss, or situated behind various military vehicles and broken sticks from the trees above him.  He occasionally leaned back or to the right or left to straighten a fallen man or to move a truck closer to the grouped men, enacting some strategy or maneuver of protection or attack.  The boy even rolled a golf-ball or lightly tossed a shiny, black cherry in the direction of the men, imagining that they were rockets or some other projectile, sometimes knocking over one of the men or coming to rest next to or on top of one of the vehicles, and sometimes not.  With the impact of the cherries or golf ball, the boy made his eleven year-old’s version of a soft explosion…a hushed “pkshew!” that he thought only he could hear.

The man smiled to himself as he watched and listened to his son.  He saw the purplish-pink stains on the boy’s white t-shirt and imagined the cherry-fight that he had had with his friends earlier in the afternoon…the cherry-fight that he wasn’t supposed to have had.  As the man attempted to kneel down into the moss and grass next to the house, his shorts scraped on the prickly stucco finish on the house and startled his son.  The boy was in mid-reach across his battlefield and gasped and dropped one of his army men as he jerked and turned around to face his father.

The boy’s heart was pounding and his mouth was suddenly dry.  “I didn’t know you were there,” he said.  His mind was racing back through his day, wondering at what he might have done wrong, wondering what little or grand sin had been revealed and was now set to ruin what he thought was an otherwise good day, and wondering why, if he hadn’t done anything wrong, his father was there on the side of the yard looking for him…and getting ready to sit down like he was planning to stay for a while.

“Well, I wasn’t here for very long.  What are you doing?”

The boy tried to swallow.  “Just playing…Army.”

“Weren’t your friends out here earlier?”

“Yes Sir, but they had to leave.”

“Which friends were here?”

“When?”

“You said your friends were here earlier.  Which ones were here?”

The boy looked across the gravel and grass driveway and out into the park where the swallows were still darting around.  He saw a couple boys at the water fountain at the far side of the park.  “I…don’t know,” he stammered.  “I don’t remember.”

“But they were just here,” the man said, “who were they?  You’re not in trouble, Stephan, I’m just asking which friends were here.”

“Hansi and Martin.”

“Isn’t Hansi’s father the butcher?”

“I don’t know.  I think so…maybe.”

“Isn’t he one of those older boys that you were playing with in the spring and got into trouble with?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t remember,” the father said, “when you guys stole the bratwurst and then went off into the woods and cooked it?  You don’t remember that?”

“No Sir.”

“What?”

“Yes Sir…I…think I remember.”

“Wasn’t Hansi one of those older boys?”

The boys had moved from the water fountain and were now kicking a soccer ball out on the field at the park.  “I don’t know.”

The man sat down in the grass and moss and leaned against the house.  “Stephan…look at me.  You’re not in trouble…we’re just talking…ok?  You can answer me,” said the man.  “Look…here,” he said, pointing to his eyes.  “You’re ok.”

The boy turned his head from watching the boys with the soccer ball and met his father’s eyes.  He didn’t answer him immediately, but just looked at him.  This was unusual for him; the boy…he felt odd, bold somehow…maybe even brave.  His father’s manner and voice were unsettling.  There was none of the harshness or sarcasm that he was used to…and his eyes didn’t look angry.  It looked like his father was really just asking him a question…not investigating an offense.

“Augie’s father is the butcher,” said the boy, “but Hansi was part of the group that did that, yes Sir.”

“Is that Hansi out there playing soccer?”

The boy looked at the two other boys out on the field for a couple seconds and then turned again to his father.  “No Sir.  Hansi had to go home.  He said it was almost getting dark and he had to go in for dinner.”

“Oh, ok.”

“Why?”

“Why what?” said the man.

“Why’d you want to know if that’s Hansi out there playing soccer?”

“Nothing, Stephan.  I was just asking…nothing.  Relax, would you?  And stop calling me ‘Sir.’”

The boy looked at his father’s hands for a couple seconds and then moved up to meet his eyes.  The eyes were still dark brown and still set deep into his father’s head, but the prominent brow-ridge seemed less severe as his eye-brows were raised in a gentle and almost inquisitive arch.

“What?  Just call me ‘Dad’ now.  Say ‘Yes Dad,’ not ‘Yes Sir.’  That seems wrong somehow.”

“Dad?”

“Yes.”

“Can I ask you something and not get in trouble?”

“Yes…ask or say anything you want.”

The boy just looked at him.

“I’m serious…really…anything…you won’t get in trouble.”

“What happened to you in the wreck?  I know you broke a couple ribs, but what happened…you know…inside your head?  Mom said it went through the front window, right?”

The man looked at his son…intently, gently…and picked a tuft of moss from the ground.  He moved his eyes to the moss and then asked, “What do you mean, ‘What happened in my head?’”

“You’re not like you used to be,” said the boy, looking past his father, but still watching him, trying to sense if he was going too far.  “You’re different.”

“Almost dying in the wreck like that made me think about my life; it made me think about how I was treating people…how I treated you and your mom…and I decided that I needed to be different.”

The boy looked out into the park again.  He didn’t want his father to see the tears that were starting to spill from his eyes.  “Just like that…you ‘decided’ that you needed to be different?”

The man looked down and watched his fingers as they slowly tore the moss apart and let it drop back into the grass.  “I guess so.  When I was laying there in the hospital with my neck in that brace and my face all bandaged-up and tubes sticking out of my lungs, I thought about how lucky I was that my heart was still beating and that I wasn’t hurt as bad as I could have been considering what I had been through.  It almost seemed like I was being given a second chance or something, you know…somehow…maybe…to do things right…if that’s possible.”

The boy turned back and looked toward his father, not meeting his eyes exactly, but looking through him at some point directly behind his head.  “If you could just decide that you needed to be different when you were laying there in the hospital, why couldn’t you have decided a long time ago that you would be different…why didn’t you decide when I was a littler kid that you weren’t going to be so mean…that you could talk to me instead of hitting me, or that I could talk to you like you were just my dad and not some…kind…of…whatever you’ve been?”

“I don’t know, Stephan.  I guess it took me almost dying to realize how much I love you…I don’t know.”

“Oh.  Well, that’s when I figured out that I don’t love you,” said the boy, “when you were in the hospital almost dying.  I always thought I did, or wanted to, maybe.  I thought that if I loved you more you’d be nicer to me, but it didn’t work.  So when Mom told me that you might die, I was hoping you would, because I knew I wouldn’t have to try to love you anymore.  It would be ok that I didn’t…and now you’re not dead and I still don’t love you.”

The man turned his eyes to watch the neighbor drive past in his blue Saab.  He followed the car until it stopped at the water fountain by the corner of the park and then turned down the hill where it disappeared behind the Vivo store on the opposite corner.  Then he turned slightly in the other direction and watched the kids chasing each other and kicking the soccer ball for a few seconds.  Finally, he looked back at his son and said, “Wow…I don’t know what to do with that, Stephan.”

“I don’t either,” said the boy as he reached for one of his army men.

“I guess I’ll have to work on that, won’t I?  Give you a reason to love me?”

The boy pulled a handful of moss and began to gently tear it apart and lay the pieces across his army trucks, camouflaging them against the enemy that was lined-up behind the moss and grass berm that he had built close to the trunk of the nearest tree.  He then absently grabbed a cherry from the ground and slipped it into his mouth.  He bit down on the sweet flesh and then used his tongue to separate the seed as he slowly chewed and swallowed the tiny fruit.

“Stephan?  I said I’ll have to work on that, won’t I?”

“I don’t know.”

The man slowly stood and then leaned over to stretch his legs that had been folded under him while he sat and talked with his son.  He said “Ok,” and then turned to walk back around the corner of the house.  After a couple steps, he turned around and leaned down so he could see his son better under the cherry trees.  “You need to come in now.  The streetlights are coming on and it’s time to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

The man raised his voice a little – “Stephan, I said you need to come in.”

“Yes Sir.”

*****

This is a Favorite re-post from May, 2010.