Secretly Celebrating Father’s Day
The problem with Father's Day is that it's hard to maintain everyone's enthusiasm for a whole day of celebrating fatherhood. But if conditions are just right, fatherhood can be celebrated fully in just a few minutes, like this:
I drag myself home from work at about midnight. On the kitchen table is something 9-year-old Marie has been working on. It appears to be a classic-cartoon-watcher's alphabet book. "A is for Anvil. B is for Boom! C is for Cannonball. D is for Dynamite." She has gotten as far as "Q is for Quicksand."
In the living room every chair and sofa has lost its cushions to a housing project — a cave dwelling has been assembled and draped with blankets. It is the work of 6-year-old Sally, with 2-year-old Wendy sure to have been her willing tenant.
Upstairs, I take off my shoes to pay the kids a silent visit. I find Wendy sleeping in the lower bunk. I drink in her youthful good looks. It's so nice to see her not wanting something.
Small in sleep, she reminds me that there's only 30 pounds of her. Awake, she is much larger. Whether she's giving herself elbow-length gloves made of yogurt or holding up an earthworm and demanding in her Tarzan grammar, "Where him legs?" Wendy is always pressing, questioning and pushing the limits. She is 2.
"Why?" is her favorite word, and she pursues her inquiries like Socrates with a head injury. "Why Cappin Hook don't like Peter Pan?"
"Because Peter Pan is good and Captain Hook is bad."
"I don't know."
I've been trying to enjoy the Why Phase, cooperating so its developmental work can be accomplished as quickly as possible and we can move on to more-fruitful dialogue. I kiss her on the nose.
Marie has her own bed, but lately she'd been sharing the top bunk with Sally. Marie has her ancient teddy bear in the crook of her arm and a slight smile on her face. Is she maybe dreaming of boxing kangaroos or a cat combing its hair with a set of fish bones? Tomorrow, she'll be trying to complete the literary project I'd found downstairs, heading naively into the treacherous shoals that are littered with the wrecks of thousands of alphabet books — all come to grief in the impossible shallows of XYZ.
And beyond tomorrow? Well, I could do my own fretful alphabet book for her: A is for Adolescence. B is for Boyfriends. C is for her Children. D is for her obsolescent Dad. It's a good thing that kids can't see around the next curve. Standing on the bunk ladder, I reach across Sally and caress Marie's head.
Sally is lying on her back, with her head cradled on her hands with elbows sticking out, a caricature of relaxation. Repose looks strange on Sally. She's usually up to something.
When I found a bib tied knee-high around the stem of a floor-lamp, she explained, "I was playing that I lived in the woods with Wendy, and when she wasn't wearing her bib, we kept it tied to a tree."
At 7 o'clock one morning, I was downstairs reading an old Nancy Drew book to Marie. We heard someone get up and go into the bathroom right overhead. "Let's be detectives," I told Marie, "and figure out who's awake."
"Well," said Marie, "it's not Wendy because she never goes into the bathroom without making a fuss." Then we heard a marble hit the floorboards and roll. Marie and I looked at each other and said: "Sally."
Later Sally would explain, "When I went to bed, I hid a marble in my sleeve, pretending it's a jewel, and I forgot it was there." Of course.
In the darkness, I kiss her cheek, half hoping she'll wake up and share her 6-year-old magic with a tired old man. But she only stirs, and I proceed to my bed feeling pretty darn good.
See? That's how to celebrate fatherhood thoroughly, yet quickly. I call it quality time with well-behaved children, and you can enjoy some whenever you happen to be up late. Father's Day? That's today, tomorrow and yesterday.
Rick Epstein can be reached at RickEpstein@yahoo.com.