Friday, June 16, 2017

My father is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)🐐

Circa late '1970s

"Daddy, I have a problem."

I untangled the cold, wet, metal coil that connected the matte, black handset to the payphone.  The  collective rancid breath of the hundred or so other people who had used it that day was almost visible against the fog.  I covered the receiver with my gloved hand and turned my head away to take in a deep breath of sweet, rain-washed air.  Placing other my hand over the coin slot, I pushed my face closer to the phone box so that no one who might be watching could read my lips and figure out what I was saying.

"What is it, Laura?"

I felt my shoulders collapse against the booth.  His voice was that warm, full-toned blanket that I used to wrap myself up in at bedtime when I was little.  I felt as though he was standing there with me even though we hadn't lived in the same state since I was four-year's old.  But I could hear the alarm underneath his cool tone.  I tried to imagine what he must be thinking.

"Laura, did someone hurt you?  Is your mother okay? What's happened?"

"I'm at a payphone," I said finally.

"Okay, I can tell. What's going on?"

Just tell him.

"I haven't told anyone yet..." my voice broke off in sobs.

The rain was starting to come down in sheets.  My breath was a steam cloud that seemed to punctuate each pitiful, choking exhale.  I pulled my navy, JanSport back pack inside the booth with me to keep it from getting drenched.  I pulled off my useless knit gloves and shook the water off of my fingers, one hand at a time before wiping them dry on my painter's pants.  I took a deep breath.

"I think... I think I might be pregnant."


I'd said it so fast I thought maybe he hadn't understood me.

Oh God!  You said it!  Now he knows you've had SEX.  Now you can't ever go back to being his little girl!  Look what you've done!!! He's going to tell you that you got yourself into this, you can take care of it.  He's going to be like, "LOOK, LAURA! You're almost 18 -- handle it yourself."

I looked around quickly to see if anyone might have snuck up on me and heard my admission over the pounding rain and the downtown Berkeley rush hour traffic.  

"Okay," he said finally.  His voice was unaltered -- completely calm.

Okay??? That's it?!?

"So, what's the problem?" He continued.

So what's the problem?!??

My laughter snuck up on me and caught me by surprise.  My trembling angst and shame faded away for a moment and I allowed myself to feel a modicum of the warm IV-like rush of relief that seemed eager to replace it.

"So, what do I do, Daddy?"

"First of all, you need to find out of you're really pregnant."

"I have an appointment at Planned Parenthood to get a test on Monday."

I heard relief in his exhale.

"Good," he said.

"But Daddy?  What if I am?  Then what do I do?"

"Is it...Mike?" He said tentatively.  "Is he the one who uh -- is the possible father?"

He remembers Michael's name?

"Michael," I corrected him under my breath.  All at once, shame whooshed through my veins like iodine.  Suddenly my NorthFace down jacket was unbearably hot.

"Okay, then.  Do you want to have a baby -- with him  — with -- Michael?"

"I don't know.  I don't think I'm ready to have anyone's baby."

Another noisy exhale — this time it was actually more like a low whistle — "Phewwwwwww".

"Okay then.  Just get the test and we'll see what your options are.  I know it might not feel like it, but this is something that happens every day.  Hell, maybe every minute of every day!"

"But not to me," I could actually feel the self pity steaming out of my pores against the chilly air.

"Hey Laura," he said. "We don't know anything yet for sure, right?"

Only now you know that I've had sex.

But there was that blanket-voice again.  Suddenly, almost against my will, I felt a new sense of calm edging in.  I nodded my head and closed my eyes.

This is why you called him. This feeling right here.

"We'll see what your results are," he continued.

It sounded like he sensed the shift in my energy.  Like he knew that his "daddy-magic-comforting-spell" was working.

"And then whether your pregnant or not, whether you have a baby or not,  I'll handle it with you.  Okay, Laura?"

*   *   *

"Here he is, Daddy!"

My dad had just walked in and put his suitcase down.  He hugged me awkwardly, as four-week-old Miles was in the Baby Bjorn I had strapped to my chest.

My dad peered around the side and lifted the white, cloth diaper off of Miles's head.

"Let me see him."

There is nothing like my dad's smile.  When he smiles, his whole face smiles -- his eyes smile, the black moles that freckle his cheeks smile -- even his ears look like they're smiling.

"Laura, he's so beautiful."

"Can you believe it, Daddy?  I'm a mom!"

I lead my dad upstairs to the master bedroom and we both sat down on my bed.

"You're too young to be a mom," he smiled.

"Some people think 32 is old to be a mom," I laughed.

"You don't look 32,"said my dad with admiration in his eyes.  "You look like you're still a teenager."

"Thank you, Daddy."

I unstrapped Miles and sniffed his thin, wavy, black hair.  The smell of his little newborn head was nothing short of intoxicating.  I held him out a little toward my dad.

"Wanna hold him?"


It was a strong, definitive YES.  Everything with him is like that.  His "Yes" is the most resolute, most enthusiastic "Yes!" in the world.  His "No" is also, the most resolute and most adamant "No!" in the world.  There is no gray area with my Dad.

I handed Miles to him and watched him expertly adjust him in his arms so that he could put his face inches away from Miles's.  I watched as Miles squirmed and settled, turning his face toward my dad's chest, pressing his mouth determinedly against the cloth of his blue, button-down shirt and thrusting his tongue in and out.

"Ha, ha, ha!" He laughed.  "You won't find any milk in there, man."

He looked up at me,  his brown eyes were glistening.

"Wow, Laura...."


He raised his eyebrows in response, like "Yes?"

"Any advice for me?"

"Um, let's see," his deep voice startled the nearly knocked out Miles. "Any advice...."

He stood up and slowly rocked Miles back and forth.  Miles's eye lids began to flutter and close.

"Um yeah, I have something that might qualify as advice," he turned around and faced me.  His right index finger pointed gently toward Miles.

"So look, you're going to feel like smothering this little baby with love.  You're going to do everything in your power to protect him.  You're going to hover too close, you're going to comfort him too fast, you're going to spoil him with love -- DO IT LAURA!  That's your maternal instinct working.  Your job is to love and protect this child.  He NEEDS that love and protection from you — his mother."

"Okay," I nodded.

My eyes grew round as though I were falling under a spell.  I could see the next few years like a movie in front of me.  I could see Miles falling and me scooping him up before he was able to cry.  I could see me sitting in my "parent chair" carefully watching Miles sitting in "circle time" at pre-school, at the dentist or at the pediatrician.  I could see me snuggling in bed with Miles reading "one more story" long after we'd read, "Goodnight Moon."

"And as for Brian," he continued, breaking into my reverie.  "He's going to roughhouse with him, he's going to let do things that you might not want him to do.  He might yell at him or discipline Miles when he needs it.  LET HIM!  That's what he's supposed to do as his Dad.  His instincts may run counter to yours at times.  And that's okay."

He handed the now-sleeping Miles back to me,  carefully wrapping the loose end of his blanket around his bare, feet as he did so.

"Miles is going to need both of those things.  He needs you -- his mother and he needs Brian -- his father.  Do what comes naturally to you and allow Brian to do what comes naturally to him.  That's probably the best advice that I can give you."

*  *  *

"You have phone call."

I jumped up too quickly from the plastic, armless chair in the waiting area, almost knocking it over.  I looked around to see if anyone saw, but no one was looking at me.  The 112 degree heat outside had made my head feel like it was filled with mud.  The two or three other people in there with me were sitting on a beige, leather couch, looking at their hands or at the ground.  One of them seemed to be fascinated by a framed black and white picture of a White, brunette woman sitting on a rock by the ocean — The Serenity Prayer sprawled out in big, white letters near her feet.  I took in a deep breath of cool, air conditioned air to clear some of the fog.   None of us had moved much since we'd been called in out of the heat a few minutes before.

"Thank you," I said finally.

I froze for a minute trying to remember the last time I'd said, "Thank you."
Politeness seemed like it was something we'd done "out there." In here, it felt more like every man for himself.

"Thank you," I said again, popping a Spree candy into my mouth.  I savored the stark sour flavor, which was immediately followed by the syrupy, cloying sweetness of cherry.  One of the couch-sitters startled when I noisily sucked in the extra (bright red) saliva that the Spree made in my mouth.

"Sorry," I murmured as I stepped over his legs.

"No problem, Hon!" said the cheery, stick-thin blond behind the desk.

Why did she think I was talking to her?

She walked around and handed me the old, yellow push-button, desk phone -- expertly unwinding the  extra-long, worn, dingy cord  -- stretching it so that I had could walk around the corner a bit.
I walked as far as I could, making the faded, yellow coils pull into long, curly S's. I turned to look back at her with a question mark on my face.

"It's the best we can do," she shrugged apologetically.

"Thank you," I said again.

Three "thank you's" in under a minute. 


My heart started to drum out a protest song.  I wiped away my-now-ever-present band of hairline sweat with my free hand.

Hang up!  You know you don't want to talk to whoever it is.


The sound of my dad's voice made my knees give out.  I righted myself and leaned against the wall that I faced.  I was close enough to smell the musty odor behind the old, wood paneling.  I held my breath and bit my lower lip.  I felt hot tears racing down my cheeks.



He sounds so relieved.

"How ah — um, are you okay?"

I swallowed hard.  I didn't trust my voice. I let my Spree fall out to my mouth into my hand.  Blood-red streaks instantly ran out of my closed fist down to my wrist.

"That's probably a silly question, right?" He asked.

I sat there staring at my wrist.  It looked as though I'd sliced it open.

Say something!

"I'm fine, Dad," I said dropping the Spree in the corner waste paper basket and wiping my red, sticky hand on my white cut-offs.  I was desperately trying to keep my voice light.

"I'm mean as fine as I can be, being that I'm in treatment in Wickenburg, Arizona in the middle of July."


Oh God!  Please don't let this get serious.  Talk faster.  Say something funny.

"Not very good planning timing-wise to hit my 'bottom,'" I continued.  "If I could have waited until January, I would have had a much cooler stay."

I was so relieved when he joined me (briefly) in my thin laughter.   All at once, we were both silent again.

Oh God, I've failed him.  I'm 44-year's old and I'm in rehab!  He must be so disappointed with his "little girl". 

"I was going to uh, come and see you next weekend..." he started.

"No!"  I was surprised by how involuntary and adamant my "no" was.

I can't possibly bear to see him here.  I can't bear to see anyone.  It destroyed me when Brian brought Miles and Justin and I had to say goodbye to them after a few, short hours.  I can't go through that again.

"I mean, no THANK YOU, Daddy.  I'll be home in a couple of weeks.  You can come to LA then and see me.  Or I can bring the boys to come and see you.  There's nothing to do here.  It's so hot and dry -- much different from Florida.  You'd hate it.  And also..."

"I don't care," he interrupted.  "I don't care about the heat or having 'something' to do there.  All I care about is you."

"I know..." my voice broke.

Doesn't he know that's exactly why I can't have him here?  I can't be around one more person who cares about me that much.  It's way too painful.

Now I was crouching on my haunches near the floor,  covering my ear with my free hand and staring at the reddish, clay tiles.  A trail of ants had made their way out of the heat into the cool of the air-conditioned office.  I zoned out on the "ant-rivers" my tears were making in the caulking between the tile.  I pushed my face closer, captivated by the way the ants noiselessly signaled the others to change course and maneuver around these new "water ways" -- suddenly I heard an unfamiliar sound.

What's that?  Is he...crying?

There was more silence than sound, but he was definitely crying. A deep sense of sorrow filled my gut and sent bile up the back of my throat.  I swallowed hard against it.

I've made him cry!!

I buried my face in the crook of my arm, silently soaking the sleeve of my thin, white, elbow-length t-shirt with my tears.  It went on for a while like that -- me knowing that he was crying -- him knowing that I was crying, but neither of us saying anything.

You see what you've done?! You've failed him. Just like you've failed everybody else.

"This is all my fault, Laura," he said finally.

I was startled out of my quiet sobbing by his words.

What?!?  How could it be your fault?  I'm the one who's failed you!

"I'm so sorry," he continued.


Why was he saying this?

"None of this is your fault, Daddy.  This was me choosing 'left' instead of 'right' over and over again.  Plus, they tell me that this is a medically diagnosed disease.  They say that there's nothing you or anyone could have done to prevent me from getting it.  If my being here is anyone's fault -- its mine.  If anyone has failed anyone -- its me."

I was standing up straight now and pacing in a small circle.  I realized that I was no longer crying.  My voice sounded more normal than it had in the two weeks since I'd been there.

"It is a medically diagnosed disease, Laura" he said slowly.  "And if it's not my fault that you have it, then it certainly can't be your fault either."

"Maybe not," I said too quickly. "But I've let you down."  My voice was small now, like a five-year-olds.

"No, Laura -- you have never let me down!"  I could hear his smile through the phone.

"You should hear the way I talk about you to everybody," (He adopted this gregarious, boisterous tone):

"My daughter this, my daughter that -- my daughter, my daughter, my daughter...!"

I heard my laughter before I felt it.


"I can only imagine how hard that must have been -- leaving Miles and Justin and going so far away to get well.  But do YOU know how brave that is, Laura?  Do you know how proud I am of you?"

I licked the wet, saltiness of my tears off my lips and wiped my nose with my bare forearm.  I felt my mouth forming into the beginnings of a smile.

"Thank you, Dadd..." The word was abruptly sliced in half.  I was starting to hiccup.

"Was that a hiccup?" he chuckled.

I was hiccuping and cheese-grinning now -- facing out toward the others who were still waiting for their phone calls. Just for a few moments, despite the hiccups, the heat, the intense sorrow and desperation -- I felt the fringes of a new lightness and sense of hope.  Something that had been unimaginable 15-minutes earlier.  I pursed my lips together and held my breath, attempting to hold on to this new feeling (and hopefully stop the hiccups in the process).

Daddy magic comforting spell...

"I love you, Laura," he said after a minute had passed.

I let out the breath and felt my shoulders relax.

"I love you too, Daddy."


Is your father the "GOAT" too?  Please tell me why in the comments section.  And Happy Father's day to all of the dads out there!

1 comment:

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