Daddy Sparta was reluctant to become a father. When we talked about it, he said, “I think I’m just too old. I’m not the kind of person who loves to be around kids.”
I knew this wasn’t the real reason, I read the apprehension in the lines of his mouth, but the tears rolled anyway, down and out from under my sunglasses. Eventually, under duress, he agreed to start with one child. Well, he remembers we agreed to having one child. I remember we agreed to starting with one child and then we’d see.
When Niko started to walk, Daddy Sparta often came home from the playground haggard. “I’m just exhausted,” he said once, “I’m always worried that he will trip on the bridge, or get bumped off the slide.”
I tried to point out that he worries so much because he loves his child so much.
“You have to be in touch with the joy of having him too,” I said.
“Yeah you’re right,” he said. “Can you watch him awhile? I want to strap his dresser to the wall.”
On about our sixth date, Daddy Sparta and I went to see the movie Heat. During the robbery scene, I slipped my hand onto his leg, where he took it into both of his hands and kept it there the rest of the evening.
Later we sat on the edge of my bed and I opened the little present he had bought me — two shotglasses and a flask-size bottle of vodka. We poured the vodka, clinked glasses, and sampled. I kicked off my shoes while Sparta told me how his dad preferred vodka since it doesn’t make your breath smell of alcohol. I thought I was being very smooth when I yawned at this point, stretched out sideways on the bed, and patted the area next to me. He pushed the heel of each cowboy boot off with the ball of the other foot and placed his gun on my side table. He lay down on his back with his hands behind his head.
“Have you ever had to shoot anybody?” I asked.
“Just once. Not counting dogs.”
Mommy Athens and Daddy Sparta have been together for over ten years. They have a beautiful little boy and are expecting an adopted baby girl. Sophia’s writing has also appeared in Stanford Magazine, Using Our Words: Moms & Dads on Raising Kids in the Modern Neighborhood, and in two collections: Tied in Knots: Hilarious Stories from the Big Day and Mexico, A Love Story (Spring 2006). She can be reached through her Web site at www.sophiaraday.com.
“Ken Walker and I were stopping a vehicle missing the rear license plate. The occupants were three male blacks and a child. The car did not pull over but continued through a red light then did three quick right turns resulting in a circle. The whole time the rear adult occupant kept looking back at us nervously. When the car pulled stopped, this suspect exited the car and began walking rapidly eastbound. Walker chased him yelling at him to stop. Walker caught up to him, grabbed his arm and struggled with him. I yelled at the other occupants of the car to stay in the vehicle. Walker got the suspect into a headlock, and yelled for back-up into his radio. I was running to help when I heard the first shot go off. I saw the gun in the suspect’s left hand. He was trying to shoot Walker by arcing the gun over his own head. I grabbed the suspect’s wrist but he jerked it away. I heard the second shot go off. The gun was waving around in front of me. I went to the other side of the suspect and shot him three times.”
“Yes, I kept shooting until I heard his gun fall.”
My teeth were pressed hard together. Sparta was taut, his body remembering. I’ve always imagined myself in the place of the suspect, desperate, afraid. I’d never really imagined myself in the place of the policeman, never understood he is also desperate, afraid.
“Did you kill him?”
“No. Unfortunately. He was able to walk right into the courtroom. They gave him six years so he’ll be out in three.”
“And he never hit Walker, right?”
“No. He missed.”
That’s the real reason he didn’t want to have children. Because all day long he saw bad things happening to people. Because he was afraid.
Now he is a father. So he prepares. He looks up from the computer at night and announces, “I ordered Niko a life jacket” (or a helmet, or sunglasses). “It’s a good thing to have.” He has a back-up beeper on his truck, never lets me move the car without a belt on (“backing up is one of the most dangerous maneuvers”) installs safety bars on Niko’s windows, checks the smoke detectors regularly.
He also keeps photos of Niko in his truck so he can look at him while he drives. He says when he’s frustrated at work, he just has to think of Niko and he feels happy.
The night after we went to see Heat, we drifted off to sleep on my bed, he still in his jeans-jacket and Lee jeans, me in my black sweater and paisley pants. I remember how right his arm felt slung over me, how solid and sure it felt. I felt secure with him, even now that I understood his strong exterior protected layers of fear, of foreboding. Suddenly I wished I could show him a different world, of rich crumbly loam, beach fires, the happy shouts of children. I stroked the hand resting on my hip. “Don’t worry,” I whispered, “we’re safe here.”
I believe he chuckled.
These days I do think Niko and I provide an alternative universe for Daddy Sparta — a Technicolor balance to his grayscale job-world. Sometimes I might see a smile of pride just before alarm sets in, as Daddy Sparta watches Niko on the monkey bars.
I figure now that we’ve had our house earthquake retro-fitted, and an alarm installed, and the lead level in our paint assessed, it may be time to push for that other baby.