I arrived home from a meeting, late. Ellen and the boys were in our room asleep, so I got into Devin’s empty bed. I should’ve been glad to have a bed to myself. But after ten years of marriage and two children, I’m accustomed to sharing my bed with at least one, and often two or three people. I felt a little lonely lying there alone, until sleep joined me.
About 3:00AM I heard footsteps in the hall. I knew they were Devin’s. He and Danny have distinct nighttime steps. Danny’s come quickly; he scampers from his room to ours. Devin’s are slow and plodding. His shadow self entered the room and climbed onto his bed. He seems bigger at night, in the dark.
“Can we cuddle?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said, flipping open the covers. Devin settled next to me. It was a crisp October night, but his body was warm. He had been next to his mother in the big bed. Her hips and thighs radiate heat like smooth round warming stones. He brought her warmth to comfort me.
At age six Devin’s frame is bony. In bed, at night, he is elbows, knees and feet. Often, in half-sleep, he positions himself perpendicular to me. His probing toes explore my space. One night in Goofy’s voice I said, “Please git yer toes outta my butt!” His laughter broke the night. He seems destined to perform, so, often I am exaggerated and theatrical like this. Chuckling, he pleaded, “Do it again, but exactly like you just did.”
I managed to recreate the moment. He laughed once more but softer this time. He was storing what I said and how I said it. He will use it in his own way, at the playground or a friend’s house to bring laughter.
I savor these moments. I know it won’t always be like this. Once, I told him that a day will come when he’ll prefer to be with friends, or alone, or anywhere but with us. Hearing this, his face contorted as tears pooled in his eyes, then streamed down his cheeks.
“How can you say that to me?” he shouted, as if it was the most hurtful thing he’d ever heard. “I’m never going to leave you. Even when I’m married, me and my wife are gonna live here with you and Mommy and Danny.”
“I’m sorry, Devin. Mommy and I would be so lucky to have you here with us always,” I said, soothing him.
Like Devin, when I was six I always wanted to be with my dad. One of my favorite things to do was attend his barbershop chorus’ rehearsals. I loved sitting in the back of that old auditorium listening to the voices of more than one hundred men. I was amazed that they could sing so softly one moment and then push song from their cores with freight train force the next. The music moved through me, leaving me goose-bumped.
Although these were late nights for me, we’d stop for hot chocolate with whipped cream after rehearsal. On the way home the car was dark and quiet, except for the glow from the dashboard gauges. I sank deep into the vinyl seats feeling warm, sleepy and safe, as my dad drove me home.
But I couldn’t stay six forever and my relationship with my dad couldn’t remain the same. By the time I was thirteen, spending time with him had become painful. I was searching for myself, struggling to be me. He wanted me to be someone he understood, a jock, like him and my sister.
I preferred pondering, exploring ideas, especially alone. I used to sit for hours on the edge of my bed staring out the window, wondering. One day, I had been there unmoving all morning when my father came to my door.
“The deadline for soccer camp sign-ups is this week,” he said.
“So,” I replied.
“It’d be good for you and improve your game. You guys have a shot at the title next year.”
“What are you gonna do all summer?” His voice began to rise. “You’ll be in summer school because of your “F”s, but what else ya gonna do? You’re not gonna sit around here like this all summer.”
“Well, why don’t you do something?” he said as if thinking wasn’t anything at all.
I escaped summer school that year, barely. Instead, I worked at a grocery store, slicing watermelon, wrapping grapes in green foam and clear plastic, and piling apples into pyramids. When I wasn’t working I was alone or with friends. We hung out anywhere parents weren’t. We drank whatever alcohol we could find, smoked pot from a four foot bong and popped Valiums that I stole from the bottle in my dad’s sock drawer.
My family struggled for the next several years. We woke up each morning and endured until we were no longer so angry. At age 21, a few years later than most, I went away to college. I drove home every weekend to work. After hours, a group of us shot hoops at my friend’s house. Later we’d eat pizza, drink beers, and listen to music late into the night. Sunday mornings I’d drag myself out of bed for church and breakfast with my parents. I suppose it began as a sort of penance for me, but after awhile I looked forward to this time together.
Last Christmas, I sent my dad a barbershop chorus CD. When I went home for a visit, we listened to it on the way to a hockey game. I was surprised the music could still give me goosebumps. The game ended late, but we stopped for hot chocolate on the way home. We talked easily for a long time. He especially loves hearing about his grandsons, my boys.
Devin and Danny are my favorite subjects, and I am their favorite playmate. I’m no Batman or Buzz Lightyear, but they think I possess superpowers. Awake before the sun, they beg me out of bed each morning. Throughout the day they bounce from tag to whiffle ball to wrestling on the big bed. They settle for spells with playdoh, coloring or cartoons. But it’s only a pit stop, a time to recharge before breaking loose again. They always want me with them. I do my best to keep up, but I can’t match their energy.
They’re surprised whenever they discover my limitations. Devin, being a few years older than Danny, is beginning to glimpse that I am more human than super. Slowly, we are approaching the day when delighted shouts of “Daddy’s home!” are gone, and I am greeted by grunts or silence. I wonder how much distance will form between us before we build a bridge back to one another.
But tonight, Devin and I are together on the edge of sleep, cuddled up under the covers.
“Dad, do I have a day off tomorrow?”
“Yes, Devin, it’s Saturday.”
“Can we go to Chuck E. Cheese?”
“I was thinking Linvilla, to get pumpkins and do the corn maze.”
“Sweet! Can I get my face painted?”
“Absolutely. Okay, quiet down, the sooner we get to sleep the sooner it’ll be morning.”
He sleeps now. It’s quiet and dark except for the green glow of the bedside clock. I kiss his forehead and pull him closer. These moments are few and fleeting. Smiling silently, I lie next to my boy, in no rush for sleep or sun.