With less than two months until PregMANcy, my memoir on family, faith and fatherhood hits, I thought I’d start offering some sneaks peeks from time to time of the kinds of stories you’ll find in it.
Following is from a chapter called “Who’s Your Daddy?” which took place with some pretty interesting kids that we going to our church at the time. Check it out.
WHO’S YOUR DADDY?
Children never were meant to be raised alone, by two people sequestered away in a suburb somewhere. Tribal parenting is in our genetics, and our obsession with privacy and personal success – mine included, mind you – have cut us off from the sources of support that are supposed to naturally be there to help us raise kids.
Because guess what? Raising kids is hard work. And none of us knows how to do it entirely alone.
We were giving a couple of kids from our church a ride to a summer day camp with Mattias, because their folks aren’t involved: and I don’t mean just with church. These two boys are a couple of the cutest kids on the planet, which is a good thing for them, because they can both be real Grade-A pains in the ass.
We were driving back from the camp when the two boys – we’ll call them Spongebob and Patrick – when they start going at each other.
“Your dad’s in jail,” said Patrick, who is four years old.
“Shut up,” scowled Spongebob, who is six.
“He don’t love you,” grinned Patrick, Spongebob’s cousin. They live under the same roof though, for the life of me, I could not plot their family tree, or even who actually lives in the house, with the help of NASA.
“You shut up, stupid,” Spongebob was getting pissed.
“Hey,” Mattias said, “that’s not nice. Be kind and loving to each other.” I felt proud that he had the confidence and an affirming enough childhood to date to speak up, but I also was a little bit sad about how incredibly naive he sounded. The world is going to kick my kid in the junk more than once.
“He’s in jail,” Patrick crooned, “your dad’s in jail.”
“Spongebob,” Amy said in her best, most soothing Martha Stewart voice, “your daddy loves you no matter what. Even if he’s not around, he still loves you.”
“No he don’t,” the two boys started punching each other.
“Oh, yes he does,” Mattias sat up. “He loves you even if you make bad choices. There’s nothing you can do to make your dad stop loving you.”
“We love you too, buddy,” I said to Spongebob, trying to act like some sort of role model in the two or three minutes we had left before we dropped them off.
“No you don’t,” Spongebob shouted. Little tears were gathering in the corners of his eyes. “Y’all don’t love me. I’ll just die and be a ghost.”
“Then I guess we’d love your ghost,” I said, shrugging my shoulders, trying not to give him the reaction he was looking for.
“I’d scratch you all up and eat you.”
“I guess we could love you as ghost food,” I said, turning to Amy, “what do you think?”
“Sure, why not?”
“I hate this stupid car,” he glared, “and I hate you, and I hate that church and I’m never, ever going back. I’m just going to die and never come back.”
The fact that any six-year old kid can ever have the experiences to draw on for such anger, despair and hopelessness should be criminal.
“You know what,” I said, turning around in my seat and looking him in the eye, “it’s fine if you’re mad. It’s fine if you cry, or if you don’t want to talk at all. But you don’t use words like ‘stupid’ in our family. I don’t want to hear it again. Understand?”
Well, that did it. The dam broke, and just as we pulled up in the driveway of their house, of course.
“You’re a big meanie,” he wailed, pulling at the car door handle. “I don’t want to see you ever again.” He ran toward the porch, then threw himself down on the front step where I was sure to see him crying, and he could watch my reaction while he put on his little show. I waved at him as we pulled out and turned away.
“See you Sunday,” I said out the window, and we were gone.
Sure enough, Sunday came around, and Spongebob and Patrick among the first ones to show up. They started playing right away with Mattias, and came over a couple of times to show me some random pieces of crap they found in the carpet. Then their aunt came over to me, and I was ready to get an earful. I could only imagine, with Spongebob’s propensity for lying, what he had told her and his mom about me. I mean, it took us three days into the camp just to figure out how old he really was. So even though his aunt was a diehard friend, I cringed a little as she came my way.
“Did the boys give you an earful on the way over?” I asked.
“Yes, they did,” she smiled, “but they always do.”
“Did they mention our last day together this week?”
“No, but when they got in the car, they asked me where we were going, and I told them we were going to learn about the best person in the whole world. And Spongebob perked up and said, ‘Oh, we’re going to see Mattias’ dad?’ Just thought you’d like to know I guess you’re on up there in his book with the Big Guy.”
Well, go figure.
Turns out that little seeds aren’t so hard to plant in kids’ lives. You may never personally know if they ever bear fruit, or what kid of fruit they bear even if they do, but resolving to plant them anyway, no matter how rocky and unforgiving the soil, is, in itself, an act of love.