Be A Dad

Your kid is hurt. Not badly or suddenly but hurt. It's her leg. She started running cross-country on a whim and probably ramped up too fast. Whatever the case, her left leg isn't right, the calf is tight even when she's just walking around school. She's in constant low-grade and occasional high-grade pain. Or, as she would say high-key pain. These things happen.

Your wife makes an appointment with an orthopedist. Your job is more flexible than hers, so you get to drive your girl to the appointment.

On the way, you say to her you're glad she's not a little kid, that it's good she's in high school. She shrugs. You explain: When you were tiny it was worse. You couldn't help yourself. You couldn't tell us what was wrong. This, you tell her, is still bad, but better. You know you're not explaining it right.

Okay, she says. She's nice that way. Knows when to throw the old man a bone.

You're her dad, so most of what you do is drive where she needs to go, try to be quiet and let her talk with the doctors, listen more than you talk, and head her off when she begins to spiral into anger or depression. You know about such spirals. Bet your ass you do. Trying to head her off helps head you off. Sometimes.

The orthopedist looks her over. Kick this leg up. Now that one. Stand up and walk across the exam room. Lie down and put your leg up. How's this feel? This? He figures out where things are at. He suggests an MRI.

She is nervous about that. He says, no sweat, but she says, isn't that the thing that makes you feel like the world is coming down. You smile. You know what she means. Claustrophobic, you say. The orthopedist says she won't go all the way in. Just her leg. He asks, is your leg claustrophobic? She smiles but only a little, like it's a dad joke. He smiles back. No sweat, he tells her.

And there's a job opening.

The job description: nod and make sure she believes him. Say, it's no problem. When she says it still high-key makes her nervous, nod again and say that you understand. Don't try to fix things. Just be there. Be a man. Be her dad.

You step up. You do the job. When she raises her eyebrows at you, that's when you know you've done what you were hired to do, what you were born to do, all you've ever wanted to do. And you both smile.

One Last Stocking Stuffer

Dad used to do my brother's and my Christmas stocking stuffers. He shopped at hardware and dollar stores, often duplicating gifts year to year. Duct tape and black electrical tape. Utility razor blades, glue, picture hooks, and Velcro. Almost every year I opened a scraper and a tire pressure gauge. A can of WD-40 filled the top of my stocking nearly every year.

My brother and fill each other's stockings with Dad gone the last three Christmases. This year I asked for duct tape, glue, razor blades, and pads for chair legs. No scrapers and pressure gauges, but I needed WD-40. I filled my brother's stocking with Crazy Glue, a pocket tape measure, chrome polish and other things Dad would have bought including a tiny can of WD-40 but he forgot mine. He apologized. I told him not to worry.

Yesterday I took Mom for coffee. I sipped my Americano while updating her phone and showing her how to read notifications. Mom is better than all her friends with her iPhone but needs occasional tutorials and phone maintenance. We chatted while working that through, stopped at the liquor store to get bourbon cream for her afternoon cocktails, and went back to her house where I helped put away some boxes, emptied dehumidifiers, and replaced the battery of a chirping smoke detector in her basement. (Mom worried the chirp was a mouse. A very regular and electronic mouse. Those are the worst kind.)

She had a fresh battery upstairs. I took it down to the basement and snapped it in. After testing the smoke detector I took a moment in Dad's workshop looking around to feel his presence. Mostly I felt absence. On the workbench was a can of WD-40. It was full like it had never been used. I held it for a moment maybe a minute then took it upstairs where I said goodbye to Mom, went out to my car, and drove home.

Before starting to make dinner, I texted a picture of the can to my brother: "Dad got me one last stocking stuffer." I hit send and stared at the message smiling with my eyes fogging over, my breath catching. I sniffed and set the phone down on the kitchen table, its screen still on. I cut vegetables for soup. The onions had me crying.