Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Memory of My First Girlfriend

     We didn't think of each other as boyfriend or girlfriend.  Heck, we were six.  We didn't think much at all.  My older brother and her older brother were friends, they played together on the soccer team that my dad coached, and our families lived close; so we were friends. We liked each other though.  If there is one memory of Jaime that I'm absolutely certain of it is that floating feeling in your stomach, like just when a roller coaster has began a big drop, that a boy gets around a certain girl.  Does that mean I'm not absolutely certain about the rest of this memory?  Yes, yes it does.  It seems too clear to be a memory from when I was just six and it seems too similar to a thousand scenes in books and movies to have actually happened.  Sometimes, I think this is just something my imagination wishes had happened.  So I doubt it but then when I close my eyes and think about it, it feels like a memory.  I am certain something similar to this happened and this is the way I remember it.
     We had been best friends for as long as we both could remember, which isn't long at that age, but we were always more than best friends.  We would hold hands when we thought no adults were looking and when we were absolutely certain no brothers were looking.  Our brothers would kid us about being boyfriend and girlfriend and we hated it mostly because it was probably true.  We didn't talk about it or think about it, though.  Somehow we knew that would have ruined it.  So we just played together at soccer games, worked together in school, and held hands when we thought no one knew.
     It was coming to an end, however.  My family was moving.  We were together for one last playdate.  I don't know if our parents did this special or if it had just worked out that way.  I don't know why it seems like we were alone on the playground.  I don't know if our parents were giving us privacy by watching from afar or what.  Neither my memory nor my imagination will supply these little details.  I think it's because when it comes to memories it isn't the how nor the why that's important but just the what.
     At the beginning of the playdate Jamie looked at me and said, "So you're moving."  For a moment she looked as if she might cry.  I felt like I might cry.  Then she hugged me.  It was a quick hard squeeze and I barely had time to return it before she let go and grabbed my hand.  The times for tears was past.  She was smiling again, as it seems like she always did, and she dragged me away to play.
     So we played.  We went down slides and climbed monkey bars and played a few of our favorite games that I sadly I can't remember what they were.  It seemed like that afternoon lasted a day or two.  We just played like children do.  The only difference was that we held hands even more than normal.  It seems like we knew that day was the last day so we didn't care who saw.
     Then we heard an adult's voice call out.  It was one of our fathers and in my memory it seems like it was mine.  It didn't matter who said it, or what they said, the message was the same as it always was when an adult called out to us.  It was time to go.  That always made me sad.  That's the other thing I'm absolutely certain of with Jamie in my memories.  I was always sad when I had to leave her.
     We sat down on a bench and ignored the adult for a little bit and the adult let us.  That and the privacy given us most of the afternoon are much of the reason that I think it was my dad was with us.  He has always been the kind of guy that understands things like that, the importance of moments like that in a child's life.
     "So you're moving," she said to me again as she looked at me on that bench.
     I nodded my head, pushed my big old glasses back up on my nose, and looked at her.
     She sort of smiled and then bit her bottom lip and stared at me.
     I could tell she was thinking really hard about something and it made me uncomfortable. I thought she might cry so I took he hand again.
     Then she kissed me.
     It was like the hug at the beginning of the afternoon.  It was quick and hard and over almost before I had time to return it.  We stared at each other's smiles for just a beat of a moment and then she let go of my hand and ran off towards whatever adults were with us.  I stayed sitting for a moment longer.  My stomach was doing that floating thing again and I was afraid it might fly away.  Then I ran off in the direction she went.  She must have already been in her parents car and gone because I don't ever remember seeing her again after that kiss.
     I don't know how much of that memory is real and how much is imagination but I know something similar to that happened and most importantly I know Jamie and the feelings I had for her when I was six were real.  It amazes me the way things like that from our childhoods stick with us.  Since the end of my marriage I've been dating a different type of woman than the girls I chased as a teenager.  Some of that is being older and having more confidence in myself than ever before.  Some of that is the invention of internet dating and the advantages it gives me because I can charm most anyone with the written word.  Some of that though, and I didn't realize it until I started writing this, is Jaime.  For the most part, I've been dating blondes with blue eyes who are intelligent beautiful women that smile warm inviting smiles quite often; like the kind of woman I imagine Jaime became.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Assuaging the Doubts of Single Fatherhood

     All parents have doubts.  We sit around our apartments or trailers or little bitty houses and look around and ask "Is this it?"  "Is this really the best I can do for my child?"  Or we put in another long night at the office and kiss our kids goodnight when they're already asleep and sit there watching them sleep wishing we had more time with them and ask "Is this it?"  "Is this really the best I can do for my child?"  No matter what we do or how well we do it we wonder "Is this it?  Is this really the best I can do for my child?"
     Single parents have more doubts.  When a married parent isn't at their best they have the comfort of a partner to pick up their slack.  When a single parent watches television for too long before telling their child to do their homework or in an exhausted state in the morning forgets to yell at their brat about putting socks on there isn't anyone else there to help.  Their child stays up too late or doesn't get their homework done.  Their child goes to school without socks.  Then later the parent realizes this they doubt themselves.  We single parents ask ourselves "Is this it?  Is this really the best I can do for my child?  Would my child have been better off with their other parent?"
     Single fathers have the most doubts.  We're conditioned from birth to believe that women are the better caregivers and the better parents.  Television, society both perpetuate the myth.  Even in my case, where I was raised by two parents so amazing that I'm not sure what I would have done without either of them, the belief still persists in a tiny hole in my mind that somehow gender equates to quality of parenting.  Even though I know that having a penis instead of a vagina proves nothing about how good of a parent I can be I still question myself.  I still ask "Is this it?  Is this really the best I can do for my child?  Would he be better off with his mom?  Would he be better off with a woman around?"
     I'm constantly complimented about what a good dad I am and it helps.  I tell people that is the best compliment I can receive and it is.  Still the doubt is there like a toothache or a nagging woman.  It gets me a little down sometimes and parenting is so exhausting anyway, if you're doing it right, that it's all too easy to get down.  So sometimes I have to give myself a pep talk and that what this is.  I'm not fishing for compliments or trying to convince anyone else.  I'm trying to convince myself.  I'm talking to myself, as I am during most of my blogging, but as always you're welcome to read along.

     That's Brad wearing my hat and trying to look like me.  He wouldn't want to look like dear old dad if I were so bad, would he?  It isn't what he looks like in this picture that makes me proud, though.  It's the memory of what we were doing when I took this picture.  We were listening to a talk show on the radio that had people talking about times in there lives when people have said the most without saying anything at all.  Brad saw the irony in that and laughed at it.  That alone would be enough for me to know I'm doing a good job with this one.
     It was our reaction to a particular segment of the show that makes me smile, though.  A black man was telling about his childhood attending a Catholic school in Chicago.  He had lived in a neighborhood that was mostly white to begin with and the school was ran by white nuns.  As white flight set in, though, the neighborhood changed but the staff at the school didn't.  He described the nun that ran the school as a short Irish woman that managed to carry herself in such a way that her authority was unquestioned and unchallenged by a bunch of black children.  The he talks about a morning when that short, Irish, nun walked into the class he was in carrying a box of crucifixes.  She moved a chair to the chalkboard and stood on it so she could reach the crucifix that was already hanging above.  It was a crucifix that portrayed Jesus as a blonde haired, blue eyed, white man.  The nun took that down and laid it gently in the box and her hand emerged from the box holding a crucifix that portrayed Jesus as a dark haired, black man.  She hung this above the chalkboard, stepped down from the chair, and left the room.
     Brad was quiet for a moment after hearing this story and then said, "I can see why that would be a big deal for him."  We talked for a moment about how much that would mean to a black child to be able to imagine that Jesus looked like them and he completely understood.  Then he paused again and asked, "But Dad wasn't Jesus actually brown?"  I explained to him that Middle Eastern was probably the proper way to say it but that yes Jesus probably looked a like like the current inhabitants of where he lived.  Then he paused again, spoke slowly like he does when he is trying to say something serious, and after a few false starts managed to say, "But Dad it doesn't really matter what Jesus looked like.  What matters is who he was.  Really Dad, it doesn't even matter what anyone looks like.  It's who they are."
     I beamed.  I smiled with pride both for him and myself.  These are things I've taught him but not by spelling them out for him but just through discussions and examples.  And he got it.  He freaking gets it at just eight years old.  Now my only real job is to make sure he doesn't forget it.  I'm sure there are some of you reading this that don't realize what the big deal is.  The big deal is that he was able to put himself in someone else's place and understand it.  The big deal is that he is learning facts beyond what he is told and thinking about them.  The big deal is that he is an eight year old boy who isn't superficial in the way he views people.  He's a deep little dude even if he does talk about the Legend of Zelda most of the time.
     Speaking of the Legend of Zelda, I bought him Wind Waker HD on the day it came out.  See that look on his face.  That's why I work, right there.  Sure food and electricity are nice but that joy is it man.  It is the meaning and the beginning and the end.  What I'm most proud of about that joy is my son is just as likely to feel it and express it over reaching the top of a hard rock to climb or being told he's going to see his grandparents or seeing a friend or a good book as he is over getting a new video game.  Brad is an easily joyed boy and shares that joy and that has to have something to do with me.
     There's more to that moment than just being able to buy him a game that makes me proud of my parenting.  There's a woman I've been seeing that is a woman I like to hold and talk to and hug and kiss among other things.  She wanted to see me the night that game came out.  I explained to her that I had promised my son that I would buy him the game and play it with him that night.  It seems like such an easy thing to do; keep your priorities in order and put your child first but every parent knows it isn't as simple as it sounds and every single parent knows how tempting it can be not to because we have to do it every single moment of everyday.  Still, I manage to do it pretty well and I love myself for that.
     This picture is another example of that.  It was taken by my ex-wife the last time she was in town.  We attended Brad's football game together and then both took Brad to a barbecue festival.  We got a long well and managed to keep our differences confined to joking remarks.  We get along well enough that neither of us really minded but I do think there was a point in the day where we were both thinking enough was enough.  We hung in there until Brad was done, though, because that's what was best for him.  It's good to assure him that we aren't enemies and proving that has to be a priority.
     Then the next weekend Brad and I went down to visit my ex-wife's family.  I'm not sure what to call them.  Technically they're ex-in-laws but that's one hyphen too many and besides as one of them said I didn't get divorced from them.  Whatever I call them we had a good visit and it was good to see them.  They also watched Brad overnight for me so I could visit the woman I mentioned before.  Despite what a person or two implied that wasn't the point of the visit for me.  I squeezed that woman into our weekend visiting them not the other way around.  I didn't need to drive two and a half hours away to find a a babysitter and go on a date with a woman who only live forty-five minutes from me.  Anyway, this post is supposed to be bitterness free.

     And there's the cure for bitterness right there.  Brad's team won their first game of the year last night.  My stomach was in knots until time ran out and then...well his joy in those pictures doesn't compare to mine.  If I feel like that because he feels like that then I must be some kind of father.  And this is the part where Brad would say something smart like "yeah but what kind?" and I would laugh and call him and turd and hit him in the gut.  Just like any good father would with his son.