The Crisis of Imagined Fatherhood

To cross the line, or remain free

On my walks through parks, I often see families. Maybe they’re playing on swing sets or playgrounds, throwing a frisbee, or doing the picnic thing — talking, eating, relaxing. I see their smiling weekend faces, and listen to the bright weekend conversation, and I think to myself that yes, perhaps someday it might be nice to have a family of my own.

I see a daughter. Just a tiny thing, delicate, dressed in a warm coat. She’d say, “Lift me up!” while she reaches for the handles of the flying fox, and I’d reply with something like, “Well alright, but I’m going to follow you along, okay?”

And she’d get angry in that cute way kids do, or that cute way her mother sometimes would, and say, “No! I can do it,” and so I’d lift little Henrietta up so her little hands could grip the handles, and I’d tell her not to let go, but of course she’d let go anyway, and fall on her little butt in the dirt.

And then she’d struggle to her little feet, shivers running through her little legs, and she’d look at me, her father, with his grimace-smile and his two thumbs up, and her little bottom lip would quiver, and then the tears would come.

She’d run into her mother’s arms, wailing, “Why does daddy have to be so stupid!” And her mother would brush dirt and autumn leaves off her pants, and sigh, and say, “I think he was born that way, sweetie. Try not to hold it against him.”

But my wife, she’d raise her eyes to me then, still frozen in time with my thumbs up, and in that silent mode of communication that was hers and mine alone, she’d say, “You idiot. You complete, utter, idiot.

And I’d sigh, because I imagine I’d sigh a lot, and then look down at little Henry Jr. with his mouth full of mud and autumn leaves, and say, “I guess it’s just me and you, champ.”

And little Henry Jr., he’d wipe some more mud on his shirt, and put a caterpillar in his pocket for later, and say, “Mum says I take after you.”

And probably, he would.

Or… perhaps not.

Most days, on a walk through the park, I’m happy enough so long as I can find a quiet spot in the sun — somewhere to lie on the grass with a book on my face, and the music up loud. This, I say to myself, this is all I need.

And some days, I really believe it.