by Clayre Barkema
The cries of his newborn son fills the room as David is given him for the first time. His wife places the red-faced baby gently in his arms and David fights back tears as he stares in awe at the tiny human before him. He wipes the tears from his eyes then gently places his lips on his son’s soft forehead, kissing it gently, soothing the baby.
This was all too real now. He is holding in his arms, someone he would have to care for, raise, teach, and love for the next couple of decades. Was he really ready to be a father? Did he know how to be a father? He suddenly remembered his childhood, his father. He didn’t know how to do this. He wasn’t ready.
“DAVID!” he yelled for the millionth time that day. Michael, David’s father, was an impatient, short-tempered man, a single father of one, workaholic and an alcoholic. What else was he supposed to do? If he stopped to think, even if just for a second, the pain of losing the love of his life would rampage him. He had been five months without her, he didn’t know how much more he could do. So he yelled, didn’t think, just yelled.
“Yes, Dad?” his only son said hesitantly, nervously.
“You told me you would get your math grade back up. Your teacher just emailed me saying you failed another test. You also didn’t do the dishes, your rooms a mess, and I don’t see any dinner being made now do I?”
“I’m sorry, Dad. I-“
“Sorry doesn’t cut it anymore! I’m sick of you not doing what you’re told. How many times am I going to have to tell you to obey me!” Smack. A red handprint shows up on David’s surprised face. Michael takes a step back, shocked with himself, but at the same time, feeling so much better. It felt so good. It’s as if a tiny amount of his grief escapes on to his son’s face.
There are tears in David’s eyes, Michael can see that he is trying so hard not to let them fall. He should be disgusted with himself, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t feel anything anymore, so he hits David again, this time a little harder, throwing all his anger, frustration, and grief into every punch after that for years and years to come.
Remembering the first time that his father had hit him, makes tears fall from his eyes, tears that felt as if a monsoon of grief has swept over him. He had lost his dad the same day his mom died. He was no longer the loving, caring man he was when Mom was alive. The light from his eyes had gone, the smile on his face he had when mom made him laugh never appeared. The minute David left for college was the minute his father stopped talking to him completely. He wanted his dad back, he wished every day for twelve years that his dad would get better. Until he met his wife. Then, he had her to comfort him, he had her to love and be loved by.
“You’re going to be a great dad,” his wife says.
“You think? I’m not so sure,” he replies in a hushed voice.
“Look at him. He stopped crying as soon as I gave him to you. Look at you. You’re a natural with him.”
She was right. The baby was no longer crying but looking up at his father with wide, wondering eyes. David was bouncing up and down lightly and he hadn’t even realized it. He made funny cooing noises and funny faces at his son trying to get his son to giggle. He didn’t get a giggle, but he got a cute gummy smile and a squirmy body in return, it was just as cute as a giggle would have been.
“You are not your father, David. You are a completely different person. You guys aren’t even related. He’s just someone who unfortunately gave you some DNA. You have a son who you loves, you have me. I love you so much Dave. You have friends and a life and a good job and a nice house.”
“My dad did too. He had those things, then he didn’t.”
“You won’t lose me, you won’t. I promise you that we will grow old together and watch our son graduate high school, then college, then get married, and have our grandbabies. I promise.”
“Please don’t promise that. You can’t know for sure. My mother was supposed to see all that too. She was supposed to be here right now to see her grandbaby.”
“You’re right. I can’t know for sure that I’ll never get cancer like she did. But I can promise that I will fight so hard that my body will have no choice but to heal from whatever is crippling me. I will never leave you. I love you too much to leave you. We are parents now. We are in this together. For better or worse.”
“Thank you,” he whispers, both to his son and his wife. She smiles at David so brightly his heart melts, just like it did when he first saw her.
“I am going to be such a good daddy to you,” he whispers so only the tiny ears of his child can hear. “I promise you I won’t be like your grandpa. I will never lay a hand on you. One day, you’ll be a teenager and you’ll hate my guts. Even so, I’ll love you more than anything. You will have the childhood I missed. You’ll want for nothing. I promise.”
He forced himself not to scream at the sky. He wanted nothing more than to fulfill his promises and he would scream at the sky for him not to break them. Love was still new to him. He was still learning, but his wife had already taught him so much and he was a completely new man than he was
I got this, he thinks to himself, I can raise this boy. I can be a better father than mine was. He can see it now; his baby boy walking across the stage in a cap and gown, in a tux marrying the love of his life, in the hospital holding a baby, just like he is now. The future looks so much better than it did, even just a few short years ago. There is so much hope and light and possibility that tears stream down his face again, but this time for a much happier reason.
He is not his scars.
The scars are just a memory.
He is him, David, with his son, wife, friends, life, job, and nice house.
He had a new life.
He is not his father.