Father of the groom
Our family arrived endowed with a generous supply of genes that led us to expect trouble. To compensate for this weighty burden, we were offered a certain grandiloquence, translated “speaking loftily,” bombastic or pompous expression, better than nothing, but not that much.
Though our expectations were depressive, we could express them very well indeed. Alcohol was said to “put words on your tongue,” a clever encouragement to have another. On the rare times the bad luck genes went off duty, the family hired anxiety genes to replace them. The Irish created certain terms to perplex others, such as “safe home,” like there be monsters on the way there. And “good luck, now,” spoken with a degree of intensity that opened the speaker’s eyes wide enough to expect a monster might be by soon. The world became a mine field, explosion was just around the corner, or closer if you swore or had “impure thoughts.” And nothing draws an impure thought or curse word more than a terror-laced prohibition.
A funny thing happened on the approach to my son’s wedding day. This bad-luck fear weakened as the day approached, replaced by the anticipated pleasure of showing off my son, and in the process showing off the entire family.
Pleasure intensified as the day rolled round. I so missed my worrying self, I feared I might faint. This unexpected warmth took the form of memories that floated into view. Scene after scene entered into consciousness, as well as dreams, competing, it seemed, in offering sheer pleasure.
Age 1 at the ocean. In lotus position, sand surrounds his mouth. He has sand in his hand. He is not a virgin sand eater. I raise that reliable parental prop, the index finger. I wave it slowly in that world-known back and forth accusing gesture. He sees the moving finger, and playfully mocks me, waving his finger back at me. Is he making fun of me? Seeing my judging eye, his eyes fuse a grin that lights his handsome face, spreading comfort to his entire body. He grabs more sand, waves his finger, now adds his moving head, laughing at this new game he has created.
He is 3, napping, as sirens and booming horns turn down our street and stop next door. I leave to see. On my return he is sitting in the dark in the middle of a sofa, sobbing, fear shaking his frame. “ Where were you, daddy? I was scared.” As I pick him up, he puts his arms around my neck and cries intensely enough to shake his small body. As I rock him, his sobs lower to tears, then to silence. I whisper to him. “Daddy should not have left you alone. I am sorry.” He did not respond immediately. Then he raises his head and says, “That’s OK, Daddy, that’s OK.” These words carry such earnestness that they remain the most authentic absolution to come my way ever.
I am coaching the third-grade team. There are seconds left. My son is fouled. We call timeout. I, clearly the most anxious in the huddle, make an attempt at being calm. I begin to stutter as I say, “First, let’s relax.” We all say encouraging things to Rory. You’re the best foul shooter. We’ll win. The huddle breaks. Rory hesitates, returns and asks a filial question, “Dad, what if I miss?” I almost yell, “Don’t miss.”
He’s looking for me to say something. I say, “You are good at fouls, do your best. OK?” He shakes his head and tries to smile. He made the first, the second rimmed and fell off. Buzzer sounds. We gather. “They were lucky. We were better than them.” Forget it, Rory. Yeah, forget it. Then silence. Peewee Steven, breaks the silence, saying in his loudest voice. “It’s only a game.” There is a pause. Then, one by one the phrase is repeated. And we join in a chorus, “It’s only a game.”
When all the guests were seated 10 minutes early it seemed to me we should forego the wait for latecomers. I made a suggestion, then a request, then an intense suggestion. “Dad, we are waiting.” I feel the boy’s power. His mother and I floated down the aisle with him in the middle. At the parting embrace he kissed his mother. My heart raced, expanded, nearly exploded when he kissed my neck, a move totally unavailable to my father and me. A question formed: Can I tolerate the richness of his teachings?
Ray Lovett is a psychotherapist in Dorset (www.raylovett.com).