#31DaysOfWriting: Third Man In

Father and Son

“Okay, give me the match ups,” my dad said, steering me away from the sink.

I followed him into the living room where we started working at getting a fire going in the fireplace. My dad brought in some wood and stacked some of it in the brass bin by the fireplace; the rest he put aside for building the fire. Meanwhile, I sorted the newspapers, putting aside the sports sections for my dad (he liked to clip the articles about my games; he’d been keeping a scrapbook for me since my pee wee hockey days) and piling the rest next to the kindling. As he worked I could hear my dad softly humming a familiar hymn.

After he had several logs arranged in the fireplace, he turned to me. “So, who’ve we got this week?” he asked me.

“Essex, then North Branford.” I said and handed him several crumpled up pieces of newspaper.

“Essex will be tough.” He layered the newspaper between the logs. “What are they, third? Second?”

“Tied for third with Guilford. You missed a spot.” I pointed in between two middle logs and handed him some more paper.

“Thank you, sir.” He rearranged the logs and sat back on his feet to look it over, then looked over at me.

“Better,” I told him. “A win puts us alone in second with a full game lead over them and a half game lead over Guilford, which is assuming that Guilford loses to Saybrook,” I said. Old Saybrook was in first place. They were also our long-standing rival; we lost the state championship to them last year in overtime, the first time in my varsity career we hadn’t claimed the top spot, and we weren’t about to let them repeat, not in our senior year.

“Of course, if Guilford can tie or beat Saybrook, you inch that much closer to Saybrook,” my dad said.

“Which is even better,” I agreed, but highly unlikely, I thought, as he struck one of the long matches, and held it so the burning tip barely touched the edges of the newspapers. Within seconds, they curled and crinkled, consumed by the growing flames.

“And we’re not worried about North Branford,” he said and looked at me.

I shook my head. There was something comforting yet threatening about fire.

“Where to after that?”

My dad had made every home game and almost every away game since my freshman year.

“We’re on the road. Guilford, then Madison.” I pushed myself up onto the couch.

“That will be a tough week.”

“Tomorrow will worry about itself, Pops,” I said, invoking one of his favorite passages, which made him smile. He was still wearing my Michigan hat and a small smile lingered at the corners of his mouth. “So, what’s on your schedule this week?” I asked.

“I’ve got a couple of hospital visits, some housekeeping issues in the sanctuary and a young couple is stopping by one night to talk about their wedding plans.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah, it is.” He stretched out on the rug and watched the fire. “Oh, and I’ve got a doctor’s appointment Thursday afternoon. Time for the yearly check-up.”

“Change the oil, rotate the tires?”

“You got it. Nothing too exciting for me. At least not till the middle of the week.”

“What’s in the middle of the week?” I asked, knowing he meant the Essex game.

“Some hockey game.” He waved his hand in an ambiguous gesture.

“You going?”

“I’m hoping to, if I can score some tickets.” He looked at me and winked.

“I might know someone.”

“Yeah?”

“Maybe.”

“Say, that’d be great.”

I shrugged. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks, kid.” He stuck out his hand and I squeezed it.

“No promises.”

With a strong and sudden tug he pulled me off the couch onto the floor and wrestled me into a near pin.

“That’s what you think,” I declared, and pushed myself up on an elbow in an attempt to roll onto my stomach, so I’d have more leverage. My dad started humming the “Rocky” theme as he flattened me again.

“Gonna fly now,” he sang loudly, followed by the familiar refrain. “Winner, and still champion,” he announced, but I cut him off with an elbow to the gut.

“That’s it,” I told him, “no more Mr. Nice Guy.” In one motion I flipped over and pushed up on all fours, then up on my knees, my dad on my back the whole time. “The middle-aged man’s goin down, folks,” I shouted and fell over backwards, pushing as hard as I could with my legs so my dad ended up pinned beneath me.

“Uncle, uncle,” my dad conceded.

“Give?”

“Never surrender,” he shouted and struggled beneath my weight. He pulled his legs up and pushed against the floor, raising me slightly off the rug.

“You asked for it,” I told him, then started singing “The Eye of the Tiger,” the theme to the third Rocky movie, just before I grabbed one of his legs and maneuvered him into a half-nelson. With my face inches from his, and his shoulders almost pinned beneath me, I looked at him menacingly and in my best Mr. T imitation, I said, “You ready to die, fool?”

My dad laughed raucously, and that gave me just enough of an advantage to pin him for a count of three before releasing him.

“Somebody stick a fork in me,” my dad said, still lying on the floor. “And for that, you can finish the dishes,” he added, smiling. “I’d do them, but I don’t think I can move.”

I grabbed one of his hands and pulled him into a sitting position.

“You finish the dishes and I’ll make sure you get those tickets.”

“I’d say best two out of three falls, but lucky for you I’m too tired tonight.” He slumped against the couch and squeezed the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger, squinting his eyes tightly. “And I’ve got a bit of a nagging headache I can’t seem to shake.”

“Too much stress over those tickets,” I said, nudging him lightly with my knee.

“You may be on to something.” He opened his eyes and smiled at me.

We sat there, both of us staring into the fire, alone with our thoughts. Sitting there beside one of my mom’s pictures, I wondered what my dad was thinking about and if he still questioned God’s perfect will. Maybe he thought somehow God had cheated him by taking my mom away from him the way He did. I knew I would if I were him. I did; I mean, I’d never even had the chance to meet her. And Scott did, though his was more of a grudge for his dad’s drinking and his mom’s leaving. There were times I wondered if it wasn’t all just a nice little fairy tale with God as the hero instead of Prince Charming, a little something to make us feel better when we were sad or tired. I didn’t understand how such a perfect, loving God, as my father described him, could hurt people by taking away the people they loved, or making them go through what Scott went through with his dad’s drinking. That didn’t seem very God-like to me. I thought for a second about asking my dad what he thought about that, but when I looked at him, he looked tired, and I didn’t want to risk upsetting him, like that time when I was five.

“I’m going to go finish my homework,” I said after a while.

“You want your hat?” He held it out to me.

“Nah. I’ve got a spare.”

He chuckled and put the hat back on his head. “All right, boss.”