Last night, during a trip to the local discount chain for some essentials, I found myself looking for a new toy for my boy.
So I picked one out, a plush elephant with lots of little doodads which would certainly be adequate to keep him entertained for a while. I came home, and he greeted me at the door. In all his psychic proficiency, he had to know, shooting me that expectant look. What do you have for me today, Daddy?, presuming. He’s not always this much of a brat–really, he’s not…okay, only mostly–but I’m impressed when he realizes that I have something for him, even when all evidence indicates that I got toilet paper, a coffee filter basket and laundry detergent.
I think back to when I was little, our family still struggling toward entrenchment in the middle class, and my own father’s gifts: the trips to the cookie place in the suburban Minnesota mall, the year things probably weren’t that great for the familial bottom line and I got a rolling ruler and some word search puzzles for Christmas, the bags of honey roasted peanuts from when he came back from his regular cross-country travels for work, even things more subtle, like the one time I got to play catch with him in my first little league practice (his recovery from back surgery prevented him from being able to be more participatory.)
I recognize those things now as gifts, and all the more that my father and mother both gave me. Like any other enfant terrible, I only enjoy being sated with a gift then, not knowing the fact that it cost something and came from a place of love and kindness.
I wonder if children can understand the more abstract dimensions of gift-giving. I suspect that they might, in the face of the fair assumption that they could not. Giving is not an obligation, but an extension of our care for and commitment to another. Giving my boy a small, relatively inexpensive plush toy wasn’t something I had to do, but something I wanted to do. After all, he was a gift for us, needing serious medical care after coming into our lives wasn’t cheap, and still isn’t. The cost isn’t the point, though. I would do what my father would do for me–anything to keep him well.
So, when I awoke this morning to see the innards of that plush elephant all over the living room floor–like father, like son; I, too, had a propensity for dismantling things when I was little–it stung a little. I recall the time I got a new book when I was little in Minnesota and, at nap time, tearing the pages out of it, presumably out of protest for being forced to take a nap. The rolling ruler never did get a lot of use–and I wish I knew where it was now, it’d be quite helpful–and the other things I was given out of love which were neglected. I never was the most grateful child, though I’ve learned to be thankful in (and for) most things now. So many things go bad that the good nouns necessarily stand out. I’m sure I follow in my parents’ footsteps that way, as well. My own boy comes to mind.
How did my boy respond to the fact that he had destroyed a gift I gave him? By wagging his tail, walking up to my legs and pressing in, begging to be loved.
It comes as no surprise to most of you that my ‘child’ is not human, but a newly-adult yellow lab-golden retriever-probably a bunch of other stuff too dog. We don’t have actual children, at least not yet. I don’t talk much about the fact that many of my friends with whom I grew up are now parents or in successful careers. As of now, I can’t lay claim to either. And if I am honest with myself, it hurts. Sure, given everything we’ve endured over the past few years, it’s probably for the best. But having been married now approaching six years and only now beginning to approach even the possibility of being able to be a parent leaves a noticeable gap in myself. Seneca has been a huge help in preparing me to be a daddy, in being a daddy: the very wet dry run. Exposing the paternal instinct in me–which runs far deeper than I ever knew it could, because I’m, unquestionably, a bona fide weenie–was the best and worst thing that could happen. One, it proved to me and everyone who cared enough to give a crap that I wasn’t a cold robot like everyone else and I thought; and two, the thought of being a father to a human doesn’t terrify me (unless it turns out that I, defying decades of Sirvio genetics, father a human female, at which point my head would likely explode and the universe be torn asunder.)
Married non-fathers typically don’t mention the hurt that comes with being unsuccessful at reproduction. There are entire online communities of would-be mothers who are open about their struggles and hurt when it comes to infertility or losing a baby during pregnancy. Unless I’m oblivious, there aren’t a lot of men who share in the same way (and don’t give me that gender stereotypical crap about men not sharing their feelings. We do, though it’s often interpreted differently.) Father’s Day becomes a reminder every year of what, read: who, is missing.
I had a nice little talk with my dad on Sunday, wishing him a happy day and catching up. He said it wasn’t much different from any other day. He fulfilled his duty to his children; we’re grown and have children of our own. Of course, the elder brother Sirvio has actual children; I just have the four-legged butthead.
And I am thankful for the gift I have, while hoping for the day I can buy a toy for a child who may or may not leave its remains all over the floor. After all, there may be nothing more torturous than being generous without being able to express that generosity, either in means or by way of having a recipient.