I wouldn’t dare speak for my wife, but I didn’t believe I was worthy of children, of being a father, and I didn’t think I’d be any good at it. We’d been married ten years when we finally decided to try to have a child. We hadn’t wanted to bring children into such a world, and that was twenty years ago. I imagine young parents today probably watch television and think the same thing. Nonetheless, we were excited with the pregnancy test results and later confirmed it at the doctor’s office. Before Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, we shared it by phone with our relatives and friends and with those with whom we worked. After work at night, we would talk about decorating a spare bedroom, names, and wondering if it would be a girl or boy.
Three months in, Michelle felt sick, and we learned the heartbeat we’d heard on the ultrasound was gone. She had to have the little one removed through a DNC, and one by one, I called family and friends. Leaning on our deck railing, I wiped tears from my eyes and gazed into our back yard, the Hackberry trees, and the creek. The most difficult relative to tell was my wife’s dad, who had been through a recent divorce and was depressed. I could tell he was upset. My grandmother, too, hurt for us, as did many others.
We talked about it, tried to decide if we should try again, and we did, the next year giving birth to our daughter. We loved her and took care of her and while we were not perfect parents, we did the best we could. Now, in high school, she can still melt me and I have given in way more than I should, but neither of us have ever regretted our decision and both of our children completed our lives.
Recently, my daughter put her hands on her hips on the stairwell in our house and was sarcastic to me about staying out later than I wanted her to. The fact was, I simply didn’t want her going out, being around other teens during a pandemic, especially when none of them wore masks, despite the Mayor’s proclamation. While a parent might get angry, it was like she threw up a mirror and I saw myself as a teenager to my own parents, now elderly. I also recalled her sassy attitude as a child on at least two occasions.
I remembered us in a grocery store, my daughter in the buggy seat facing me. We were in the frozen section and I noticed a woman with her hand and part of her arm missing, clearly having had it amputated or cut off in some accident. My daughter, watching everything, had followed my eyes, and I could see her getting ready to say something, so I wheeled the buggy in the other direction and around the corner as fast as I could.
“Shhh,” I said.
She pointed. “But Daddy, that woman broke her arm!”
It took all I could do not to laugh at her logic, her innocence. Of course, that’s what it would be to a child.
Sometime later, we had friends over for dinner and were sitting in the living room. My son who arrived two years after my daughter wore a diaper and rocked in his swing. My daughter came in, twisting, turning, and fidgeting, and I asked her if she needed to go to the restroom.
She replied, “I sure do, damn it.”
She was three, and I told her to go ahead. She could tell me what she wanted when she finished and washed her hands. As soon as she walked away, my friends laughed, and my wife told me she’d warned me about using curse words around the children.
I knew I hadn’t used the word damn. That wasn’t one of the words I’d use, so when she came back into the living room, I simply asked her: “Do you remember what you said before you went to the bathroom?”
“Yes, you asked if I needed to go to the restroom, and I told you I did, damn it.”
“Where did you learn the word damn?”
“Mama said it the other day when she was changing baby brother’s diaper.”
We all laughed, and I felt vindicated.
At the end of the day, children will be children, and they will soak up like sponges what they hear and see. Their responses often provide much needed comic relief and there’s an innocence to it all that makes the experience of being a parent well worth it. Even when they are grown up and making bad decisions during a lockdown.
Niles Reddick is author of the novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in thirteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, The Boston Literary Magazine, Cheap Pop, Flash Fiction Magazine, With Painted Words, among many others.