A Belated Father's Daylog.
Note: The following contains parental sentiment. Those readers allergic to such material may feel it necessary to move along and read something else.
I have great sons. This obvious revelation comes not from any thoughtful gift or handmade card, but just by watching and spending time with them over a long weekend.
I took Thursday and Friday of last week off due to Vix galavanting with her sister out of town. This was a trip they had planned for months, and it was only last week that she realized she would be gone on Father's Day weekend. "I completely forgot about it," she said. "I can go the next weekend."
"Oh for crying out loud," I said. "Go ahead and go. It's not like I'm your dad or anything."
Thursday I spent running errands and shopping for boring necessities: Chlorine tablets, hamburger meat, a case of bottled water.
Friday I and the boys (plus a friend of SweetFaceBoy) went to a local water park. We arrived a half hour after it opened and already lines were forming at some of the rides. This was RunningHammer's first ever trip to a water park, and as amped as he was, he showed amazing patience for a four-year old. I cut the big boys loose to serve their own brand of courteous mayhem on the park while RunningHammer and I set up base camp at the Kid Park, where the slides and wave pools are appropriately tot-sized.
At one point, after he and I had explored all there was to explore in the kiddie area, we decided to walk around and look for the boys.
Hammer wanted to go on a Big Boy ride, and after discussing the possibilities, we decided on a relatively safe one with a fairly short line. Well, 24 minutes in to the wait and about five stories in the air, SweetFace turns to me and whispers, "I'm a little worried for Hammer."
He was by far the smallest kid up there, just an inch taller than the necessary "Accompanied by Adult" height. "Daddy," he said. "This is kinda really not too much fun. Can we go down and have lunch?"
Whether this was nerves or real hunger, I don't know, but we were just feet away from the top and the quickest way down, regardless. Unfortunately, a glance confirmed my worst fear. The contraption we were to ride down in, a huge yellow inner tube with handles for fear and places for butts, looked too big for my little guy. He would slip right through.
"He can go with us, Dad," SweetFace said, an oh-crap-what-have-I-gotten-my-little-brother-in-to look etched across his eyes. "We'll watch him."
"That's OK, bub. He'll go with me." With that, they scrambled in to their tube and spun away, dropping as fast as my good judgement.
Our turn. "Can he sit in my lap?" I asked the bored attendant.
"No." Yawn. "He has to sit by himself."
By this point, I think I was more nervous than he was. He gamely sat as high as he could and held on to the handles. Another father (trying to remember the number to the Child Welfare hotline, I'm sure) and his daughter climbed in.
"Boy-oh-boy, are we going to have some fun!" I patted his arm and sounded as excited as I could. "You ready, buddy?"
"Yes!" And off we went.
We hooted and hollered, and after one wide-eyed, face-trembling swing high up a wall, all seemed well. The tube spun and splashed. Smiles and glee all around. I looked away from Hammer for a second to glance down the flume.
"He's going through!" Second Dad said.
I looked back to see little suntanned feet, eyes and wet hair poking up from the seat. Second Dad grabbed one arm, I took the other, and we pulled him back. "You OK?" I shouted.
"Yes. I'm fine." As in: Look, Dad -- I'm a stimulus junkie and this is a nice big fix, so take it easy.
A few more turns, a couple of spins and we splashed in to the exit pool. The big boys, already out and waiting, jumped and whooped and pumped their fists when they saw Hammer.
"How old is he?" said Second Dad.
"Man. He was a brave boy to do that. I doubt you could get most kids his age even up there."
I thanked him, thanked him and then thanked him again for his help. Once we were on solid ground, the big boys tousled his wet hair, patted him on his tiny shoulders and dealt high-fives until everyone's hand hurt.
"How was that, buddy?" Hammer let out a scream of joy and, I think, relief.
"FUN!" And then, "Can we go back to my pool now and have lunch?"
"Boy, Dad," SweetFace said, hushed to me and off to the side. "Hammer really is brave for a little kid."
The big boys bolted for another ride, and Hammer and I retired to our table for lunch. He had peanut butter and jelly. I, appropriately, had turkey.
We were quiet for a while, then, between bites, he said, "I am really brave to go down that big boy ride."
"Yes you are."
A few more bites in silence. Several threads of string cheese amid the cacophony of the kid park.
"I don't want to go on any more big boy rides today."
"That's fine, my pal."
"Maybe another day. When I'm seven."
"When you're seven. Deal."
Then he jumped up from the table and dashed to the pool, yelling for me to join him.
Saturday, toasted and tired from nine hours in the sun and water, we vegged. Vonda MaShone left for his dad's apartment and TinyGranny went to housesit for the weekend. Oppressive heat and humidity beneath an unending motionless layer of brooding stormclouds kept outdoor movement to a minimum. That left us to Legos, GameCube, the pc and Animal Planet. We ventured out once for hamburger buns, hot dog buns and cookies-n-cream ice cream, and I slaved for 19 minutes over the grill, but that was about it. RunningHammer fell asleep in my and Vix's bed with six of his stuffed animals. SweetFaceBoy and I, dismayed with the offerings on Sci-Fi, watched Napoleon Dynamite.
"I think that's really a story about friendship," SweetFaceBoy said, putting the empty ice cream bowls in the dishwasher.
I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight and walked to my room. Hammer had hogged the bed so I scooched him over and stretched out. The weary clock radio whispered the BBC. As the words crumbled to elegant mumbles, he wiggled closer and put his face on my arm. In moments, I was asleep.
Father's Day morning I was greeted by the Hammer, who jumped on my right shoulder, the bad one, and said, almost timidly, "Happy Father's Day." Then, after a body-slam hug, he added, "The sun is shining, Daddy. It's time a-get up."
SweetFace still slept, and I made coffee and watched the morning news shows. He woke up in time for pancakes. The three of us sat together around our table, enjoying a late breakfast, reliving the park ("Remember Daddy when we were in the big pool and all those huuuuge waves came and they knocked you down? Remember?"), reciting lines from the movie ("'I caught you a delicious bass.'").
SweetFaceBoy became the mother hen, making sure his little brother didn't eat too fast, that he chewed all his food, held his fork correctly and wiped his face with a napkin, adding that he had to clean up his toys after we ate. The little one did as he was told and did not complain. Then the older one got up and returned with my Father's Day cards.
They were silly and perfect. I kissed and hugged and thanked them both. RunningHammer insisted on giving me a high five that stung my hand.
"Hammer signed almost his whole name," sweetFace said. "I only helped him a little."
After wiping down the kitchen, I went outside and vacuumed the pool. Hammer played on the steps, got bored, then swam side to side in the shallow part. Once I was done, SweetFaceBoy ran out of the house and did a cannonball in the deep end. I puttered in the garden for a while, pulling weeds and turning earth for a herb and veggie garden. Then it was my turn for a cannonball.
We floated on a huge raft for a while before SweetFace and I wrestled each other off of it. RunningHammer threw brightly colored sinkers which SweetFace and I dove for, trying to see how many we could get in one breath. SweetFace had me flip him in to the pool: he curled in to a ball on the side of the pool, then I lifted him to my shoulders, steadied him by his feet and back and spun him head-over-heels in to the deep end (this is why I lift weights). Hammer gave me an aquatic version of his patented "take-down hug" -- a flying lunge from the steps, a vise-grip hold around the neck, an elaborate splash.
Tummies began to grumble and dark clouds began to roll in from the west. "Let's do Daddy Whale-Baby Whale," RunningHammer said.
"OK." He climbed on to my back.
"Hey, what about me?"
"You get on me, and Hammer will hold on to you."
"Don't choke me. Just hold on lightly like I'm doing to Dad."
Off we went. With long slow stokes I swam the length of the pool and back underwater. I dove twice to bring the boys under. They laughed and shrieked. Deep and penetrating, their laughter cut through the water, forming chords with the prisms shimmering on the pool bottom. They multiplied, rolling like marbles upon one another until I was swimming through an aural fractal.
As I got closer to the steps, the boys peeled off and swam the rest themselves. "Let's do it again."
We did, and each time the boys hopped off earlier and swam further on the way back, giggling as they did. I don't like to contemplate the deeper meaning, if any, of that. At least not yet.
Thunder tumbled through the clouds like huge empty dumpsters, warning us to get out. SweetFace brought us towels and made sure that Hammer was fairly well dried off before he went inside. "Now wrap yourself in the towel so you don't get the couch wet."
After the storm blew over we went out for an early dinner. SweetFace could not decide whether to call it linner or dunch, lunner or dinch. He kept his brother in line at the restaurant, which wasn't really that tough, just a rerun of breakfast, and I simply enjoyed my meal.
We came home, watched a little Animal Planet ("CRIKEY!! 'E's a biggun!"), and I fixed the boys a second dessert. RunningHammer began to yawn so I put him in his jammies, read a book to him and kissed him goodnight. "Happy Father's Day," he whispered.
Meanwhile, SweetFaceBoy had tidied the rest off the house to the point that it looked like no one lived here. "Can you watch me play Tony Hawk for a little while?"
Eventually he agreed to bed. He insisted on listening to "Holiday" before I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight and turned off the light. "Happy Father's Day, Dad."
"Thanks, pal. It was the best."
I started for the door in the dark, careful not to find a lost Lego with my bare feet.
"Can you lay down with me?"
"Sure." He's got the best bed in the house.
"And you're not getting up to do any work or look for any jobs or anything."
We talked softly about soccer, lightning, drumming and summer until the gaps between sentences flowed over the words themselves, and he turned his head and joined the oceanic rhythm of sleep. "Happy Father's Day."
It couldn't have been better.