Speaking to children requires slowness. Willingness to go backward and forward over the same ground until a groove is worn. Repetition. Summoning first time laugh at the eleventh-time joke.
Being with children requires day after day. It's a kind of love that makes you stay when everything infinitely more interesting is happening once and forever just outside your reach. You're going to miss Halley's comet blast past. The last yard to the goal. The penultimate scene that pulls together parts one through seven--all while you are explaining why some apples are red and others not, and you have no idea why it's true.
It requires us to relive the frustration, pacing back and forth in front of unreachable door knobs as if with each pass we'll grow the inch to touch. Goal orientation but never the goal. Giving up tiny things that seem crucial without explosions or laying down one's life.
Just not speaking when someone else is. Trying to find the meaning in impenetrable, simple things.
Trying to be the man you want to hear other people saying you are and knowing you never did it right, and there's never another chance.
Learning that when all of this is gone, and there's no one left to remember, the things you did are still echoing through time and space, and what was good, was good.
That all the speed and precision we valued paled in comparison to the one good thing that came out of the slowness, the repetition, the grooves we carved in other's lives.
For better or worse, I have witnessed these things. I have been this man. When I am gone, this is what they will say I will have done.
"Daddy, tell me a story."
"I'm reading the newspaper now."
"I know, but tell me a story."
"Once upon a time there was a father who got really mad at his daughter for not letting him read the newspaper."
"A real story."
"All right. I see I can't win here. Come over here. Sit here. I'll tell you a story. Ok. Are you situated there?"
"That means you're ready for a story."
"I yam. I sitting, too."
"Ok. Here we go. Once upon a time there was a princess--"
"Dad, how come there's once upon a time?"
"How come there's once upon a time?"
"Once upon a time? That's, well, that's what we say when we're going to start a story."
"How come? How come we say that when we're having a story?"
"Gee. I don't know. I guess because that's the way it's always been."
"I think because it keeps away the monsters."
"The big monsters, or just the little ones like the Keebles?"
"The furry ones."
"Like Marvin monster?"
"What's Marvin monster?"
"He's in the book."
"Well, I guess like Marvin monster, then."
"Can you tell me a story about mommy, about when she was a baby and she eated stewed carrots and there was diapers on her bottom?"
"I didn't know your mom when she was a baby."
"Because we hadn't met yet."
"How come you hadded met yet?"
"Because I was a baby too and we lived far away from each other."
"But you could just drive to see mommy."
"I was a baby and I didn't have a car."
"I have a car."
"I know. It's nice."
"But it doesn't go on the street because you don't let me."
"Little kids shouldn't be in the street. You could get run over."
"And then I was flat and you will sweep me with a broom."
"And I would be very sad."
"But maybe if I would be flat, I will go under the house and live there."
"I would still be sad. So you should stay out of the street."
"When mommy and you gotted married, did you want kids or did you just want to play? Grandma saided that you were too busy playing and that's why you waited so long."
"Grandma should mind her own business."
"I tolded her that."
"What did you tell her?"
"I saided Grandma should do her own business all the time like you say."
"Tell me about when mommy was a princess."
"I thought your mommy was the most beautiful woman in the world."
"She was a princess."
"She was to me."
"And then did you live in a castle?"
"We did. We had big dragons and horses."
"No, you didn't have dragons. Daddy. Don't be silly."
"Yes we did. I had a big one but he burned down the grocery store when he burped so I had to give him to the zoo."
"The zoo in Philadelphia. It's far away but he still lives there."
"His name was Ralph."
"He was as big as this house."
"Listen to me, Daddy."
"Tell me about when mommy weared the princess dress."
"What princess dress?"
"The one in the picture."
"You mean our wedding picture?"
"Tell me about how you went to the hospital and got me."
"Do you want to hear about the wedding or the hospital?"
"Tell me about how you sawed the doctor and he told you, 'I have a baby for you in mommy's tummy' and then you got me."
"When it was time for you to be born, it was late at night and it was snowing. And we had to get mommy's clothes and get in the car and drive in the snow to the hospital."
"And then did you see the doctor there?"
"Not right away. We had to wait a long time."
"And then were you scareded to be at the doctor for so long?"
"Well, we knew it was going to be ok."
"But mommy told me you were scareded of being at the doctor."
"She said that?"
"She tolded me that you were very scared of being at that doctor."
"Well, it was...it was...we didn't ever have a baby before. So we didn't know..."
"Mommy said that they came and took her and then you were scareded but you yelled at everybody."
"Things were going a little rough."
"Mommy says I didded have it easy on anybody."
"You were coming out backward and your heart was slowing down. So I made them pay attention."
"And mommy said you were yelling at all the doctors."
"I wasn't yelling so much."
"She said she was scareded so much and you made the doctors make me born right away."
"Well, it was..."
"Because you wanted me so much that you wanted me to come home right away."
"Yes. We did."
"Because you knowed it was me in there."
"Yes, we knew it was you."
"Daddy, I going to hug you now."
"Ok. I'll hug you back."
"The next time, when you want to be born, I going to telling them to get you fast."
"Thank you. That will be nice. Isn't it bed time yet?"
"No, it's not bed time."
"I think it is."
"Tell me a story."
"I'm going to tell you the story of a little girl who stayed up too late and her father locked her in her room until she was twenty-two years old."
"Daddy. Don't be silly."
"Time for bed, punkin."
"How come you call me pumpkin?"
"Time for bed. Mommy's calling. Let's go."
"Are you going to read the newspaper now?"
"No. I think I can't read the newspaper now."
"Because it's not important. Now go to bed. Scoot."
"You are, sweetie."
"I not a newspaper, silly."
"Go to bed. Go on."
"Ok goodnight Daddy."
"Goodnight, sweet pea."