a work in progress

My boy. Fourteen today.

1 4.

One. Four.

Goddamn.

He’s a good spirit. Has good intentions. Is not meant to be bound by the rules.

I know this. And yet, I expect him to meet expectations that I know are bullshit.

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

What’s a forty-six year-old, chubby hubby and daddy to do when he is living a privileged life—all white and middle-of-the-road and male and sheltered by the 45th parallel—and he doesn’t want his kids to grow up potty-mouthed, stupid, disrespectful, and unforgiving?

As I remember it, we met when he was one-and-a-half, maybe two.

She brought him to meet me out on Smith Road.

The run-down church. My haunted country home.

And we sat on the couch of dirty secrets, trying to watch a movie.

Other girls bared their souls, opened their mouths, spread their legs, and did all of the things their fathers told them not to.

But not this one.

She came to me thinking it would be goodbye.

We dated a few weeks based on past desire, but things were different now.

I was writing, but not much because weekly paychecks made it easy to drink copious amounts of alcohol and eat Banquet Chicken meals.

She was an artist. Living off a healthy diet, and a new job teaching kids in Westland, Michigan.

He was just a baby. A boy. But Christ, he was a handful. Smacking me. Pouting. Putting himself between us.

If I wanted her, I would have to work.

Hard.

For IT.

For him.

For them.

For us.

And she knew it.

I got some bubble wrap from my writing room. Popped a few between my thumb and forefinger and he laughed.

It was the best sound I’d ever heard.

A kid in a new place. Fighting. But laughing. Coming to terms.

I put my arm around her and pulled her close without expectations. I just wanted us to be there, together. Watching a boy break plastic to release air.

It made sense then. And it makes sense now.

I loved her and I loved him even before I loved them.  

He was my boy before he was my boy.

And she was mine.

Not property.

But my devotion.

Three hours later, she buckled him into the car seat of her old blue Ford ZX2.

We stood there between the house and church as he fidgeted and fussed in the car.

She kissed me and hugged me as if we would never see each other again.

“I’ll be down next weekend,” I said.

She smiled. Got into the car. And drove away.

With my boy.

Because she’d heard this all before.

Men wanting her, but not him.

But I did.

I wanted her.

I wanted him.

I wanted us to get from then to now and beyond.

So I quit my job.

Packed up my pickup truck

and appeared on her doorstep

on Stieber Street.

All I had were bills,

forty pounds of extra weight,

and a desire to show her that I could do it.

Twelve years of marriage.

Thirteen years of fatherhood.

My chance to help a boy grow into a man.

~ K.J.


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