I tell my son, Miles, he is my dream boy -- the boy of my dreams.
His sense of humor is my hope -- where I laugh proud, loud laughter. Miles' earnestness and diligence in caring for his things feels like eternal validation of my existence. His quirky, quick-twitch mind and fluid gait feel like DNA at its most unfurled and flourishing magnificence, at it's best and in the flesh and in my own son in my own home. I love my boy.
But I'll be damned if his hunger for my attention doesn't sometimes grate the nerves above my lip. Sometimes I have to turn away so he doesn't see it curl when he asks for me to play with him for the twelfth time, like some twelfth night of dawning epiphany that he'll carry around like a log until he sits in some therapists office saying "my dad never wanted to play with me." The uselessness of that obscurely stream-of-consciousness reference not withstanding, this annoyance has bothered me and driven me to an epiphany of my own.
Why would I feel annoyed about my son wanting to play with me? I love playing with him. We have similar playing styles: Rough and silly and lots of flipping; fart jokes and s#!t-talking and making up games galore. It is among my most pure joys. So why the annoyance about something so pleasurable?
Then it dawned on me. My son is exactly the age I was when my father left. And, like Miles, I must have been clamoring, feinding, grasping for my father's attention... right as he left our home. Maybe some child-like part of me, the part that comes out when we play, is a little jealous. I even caught myself saying to him once, when he complained that we "never get to play" after I told him no once in the midst of two full days of play over christmas break; I caught myself barking at him: "I never got to play with my dad half as much as we play!" Epiphany!
Or as we say in the community of people who knew the nineties were the Wayans' decade: Message!
The story I've always told myself is that when my dad, in his wisdom, sat me down to tell me that he was leaving and why (and I can see the moment as a misty movie even now as I write over 30 years later), is that I didn't cry and didn't say anything. And I didn't say anything because I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I was secretly glad my dad was leaving.
I was tired of the fighting, the loud screams thundering through the walls and the icy silences that seemed to last days, weeks, years; that coated holidays and vacations with the bitterness that coats the tongue after you vomit. I was ready for him to go. My story was that, while most people talk about 'staying for the kids,' some folks ought to consider leaving for the kids.
At seven, I was relieved dad left. That was my story.
Now I know different. If I was like my son, I was devastated when my father left. His attention was my highest aspiration. His validation, my deepest desire. To play with him, the purest joy I could find. And right at that moment of peak need, he was gone.
I was angry at my dad for a long time. And it didn't really come out untill I was in my twenties, when I took a most shameful vengeance on him; a vengeance I explain in an earlier post and won't wallow in now. But even through all that, my 7 year old story stayed the same. I wasn't mad because I wanted him to stay. I was mad because he did 'this' when I was 16 or didn't do 'that' while I was in college. But, at 7, I was glad that he left. Yeah.
Now I know better. And thank God in the form of my wife, siblings, step-mom and good friends, I've done some work on myself. Instead of turning my 7 year old son into my 7 year old self and me into my dad; instead of feeling guilty about the annoyance I feel at his/my longing for my/my dad's attention; instead of responding to this epiphany by being on 24 hour call for his playing urges and never saying 'no' when I need a break; instead of all that, I will sit my boy down, look him in the eyes, and say "I don't want to play 'tornado pillow slam' for the 847th time, Miles. Let's make a date for tomorrow."
And I can say that because I'll be here tomorrow... and every tomorrow thereafter, even if as only a warm memory of a 7 year old boy and his dad playing tornado pillow slam for the 848th time.
P.S... thanks Jessy, wife of mine and Miles' mom, for encouraging me to think and write this stuff out.