the moment i learned that 3 year-olds don’t get sarcasm, was when i asked my first born what was wrong with his chubby cheeks. i laughed right when i said it. i love his chubby cheeks, they are the most adorable part on his mom as well. i told her, when we first imagined kids, that i would kiss my children’s cheeks all day if they were anything like hers. i was right. i can’t be around this kid for more than 10 minutes without kissing his cheeks, without covering teeth with lips while pretending to eat his face up, “numb, numb, numb!”. but the one moment i joked with the three year old, like the roundness of his face was a problem, the look of worry and despair that crossed his face, while simultaneously grabbing his cheeks, was heart breaking. “i’m kidding chubba-wubba! i love your cheeks”. my words shape his world, even my lack of them.
i’ve had a bazillion conversations with my father, most of them blending seamlessly into each in the montage of my memory. many of them were about the Redskins, or the Orioles, or the Bullets. as we got older they became about George W. Bush, and Jesse Jackson, and Rush Limbaugh. when conversations get serious, they always end up in Fort Lawn, South Carolina. how he was the spoiled rotten youngest child in his great grand parents house (that’s how he made it out of the south only tasting chitlins’ once). we talk about his mother’s hair salon, and political campaign, and mental illness. we talk about his grandfather’s cars, and his baby brother’s murder. he recalls his train ride north as his class valedictorian, to be a theater major at Howard. his story of getting picked off at 1st base when he was fresh off the bench as the pitch runner. i still laugh at him admitting how much of a innocent “country bama” he was that he didn’t realize, until a decade later, how gay his roommate was. i still like hearing him admit to buttering up my uncles with ice cream and football games in the front yard, just to get closer to my mom.
i’ve asked him before what he would ask his own father if they had ever had a conversation. my dad told me confidently that because of his great-grandfather, grandfather, stepfather and uncles he never spent a moment missing this man. he use to say he wouldn’t recognize his own father if he ran into him on the street (they had only met once). i found out later it wasn’t true, that he would’ve known him when he saw him. one morning i stumbled onto a picture that was on his desk, and i at first thought my mind was playing tricks on me. i knew my father was too young to be in the military during World War II. it took me 3 seconds to realize it was his father, a man he would have recognized like he’d recognize himself in the shaving in the mirror in the morning.
i use to think my father being such a well balanced person despite not knowing his father was a sign of his innate strength, not realizing that the men in our family made sure he was never truly fatherless. he was probably having the same conversations with them that i have with him. at the same time, i know he would’ve loved to see his father in action. maybe not have any questions for him, but just observe him to see what traits he picked up from him through DNA. at least i know i would. shoot, i’d have questions for him. pondering this makes me realize i haven’t asked my father everything i need to know about him, what stories i should tell his great-grandchildren so they’d understand him. i’m making a list of them, and i’m making sure they all get asked. it’s probably time to figure out which stories i’ll tell my own sons so that their grand-kids will understand me.
what stories about yourself are you going to tell your children? what questions do you wish you asked your parents?