For Father’s Day, please enjoy this quick short story:
Alistair flinches the second before a tiny knee he helped create punctures his solar plexus. Too late to do anything to save himself from the new dent in his chest, but as he stares into the wide-eyes of his reason for living the pain increases.
“DADDY!” his son screams near his face, blasting back Alistair’s eyelids in the hurricane-like gust.
“Yes, I am awake…and deaf. What do you…?” Alistair begins, bundling his rambunctious preschooler in his hands to try and wiggle the boy off the bed. His eyes drift from his son to the beautiful but harried woman standing in the doorway. Both are well aware of the 6 AM time despite it being a Sunday, her eye bags enchanting but numerous. She’s clutching a small tray stacked with pancakes done up in splotchy colors, the top one a puce brown. No doubt that was where his son added all the food dye he could at once.
“Happy Father’s Day,” she says with a shrug, raising his holiday offering higher and rattling the glass of orange juice.
“Oh.” A thud lands in Alistair’s stomach that has little to do with typical morning starvation. That day. The one on the calendar that try as hard as he did he couldn’t understand. Mother’s day was an excuse to pamper his love while trying to wrangle their little chipmunk. But this?
What does he know of fathers? Every day he makes it up as he goes, knowing and fearing he’ll fail but trying nonetheless. There was no example in his life, no one to teach him how. He’d never presented a homemade breakfast and tie to a man he barely knew. Never written out “Happy Father’s Day” in crayons on a folded sheet of paper. Never known what it is to have that supposed man you can’t live without in your life.
Silly him, he just went on living without one, trite commercials be damned.
He wants to call the whole thing off, to forget and return to bed. But when tiny hands wrap tight to his neck, his boy’s face burying into his cheek, the burning in his stomach evaporates. Those loud lips, incapable of not-screaming, shout directly in Alistair’s ear, “I love you, Daddy!”
“I love you too,” Alistair responds, wrapping his son in his arms and tickling his sides, “you insomniac squirrel!” His boy laughs at both the silly adult words and the rapid tickling.
He has no idea what it is to have a father, to be a father. But every day his son teaches him how.
Alistair pauses the tickling to stare into his son’s suddenly serious face. “What?”
“Can I have a puppy?”
Snorting at the perfectly timed bribery, Alistair tucks his son in for one last hug and whispers to him, “Ask your mother.”