I sit watching him on the playing field moving as one with the ball. He steps this way and that way using the footwork he had spent so many afternoons trying to perfect. He passes one defender then another and finally fires the ball with his left foot into the wooden fence surrounding our yard.
“Goal!” he shouted raising his arms to the cheering of the on looking crowd, our golden retriever and our part beagle mutt. How much I adore him and how very proud I am to be his mother. I hate this day, though. I hated this day even as a child. It is the day every year that I am reminded of my loss and his.
My own father died in a plane crash six months before I was born. All through my childhood I heard wonderful stories about my father, a West Point graduate who was a member of the diving team; an avid golfer with a sarcastic wit and a warm heart; a decorated veteran of the Korean Conflict. Growing up without him, I had an obsession with fathers and the way they interacted with their children. I would watch them with great curiosity at the pool tossing their children in the air. I thought how sad it was that my father never got to do that with us. I felt sorry for my father because he never got to throw the football or baseball with my brother; attend one of my sister’s piano recitals; or come to my horse shows. I always hated that he was just my father and never got to be my dad. He never got to call me his little girl I hated that he didn’t get to walk my sister or me down the isle, or comfort my mother when my brother died from cancer.
When my son, Brett was born, I picked my maiden name, Hutson, as his middle name in honor of my father. The week before Brett’s first birthday, his father left us. When Brett was two, I moved to North Carolina to be closer to my sister. I remained very close to my former in-laws and Brett spent several weeks in the summer, the week after Christmas and many long weekends in Georgia with them. Yet when Brett visited, his father, who lives in the same town, saw him maybe once per visit for lunch. Any reason for this was beyond my understanding.
If I imagined the kind of son a father wishes for, I would imagine Brett. He is funny, polite, kind to little kids and popular with both his peers and their parents. An athlete, in high school Brett played soccer, baseball, golf, football; pole vaulted and was on the swim team. He also maintained academic excellence. Though Brett’s father had also excelled in sports, he only saw Brett play once. He also never visited his school or the house he grew up in; nor did he know the names of his closest friends. I never felt sorry for myself growing up because I knew my father didn’t have the choice of being a dad or not. I look at my beautiful son and I wonder what it must be like to have a father who chooses not to be your dad.
Brett comes in the back door holding a lavender peony he has picked. He comes over and hands it to me giving me a kiss on the cheek. I watch him head back outside and I think of how much I adore him. I am so proud of him and lucky to be have been a part of his life. My mind then wanders to my own father and as I did as a child, I feel sorry for him. I think of how much he would have enjoyed my son, and me.
Becoming a father is a simple biological act. Being a dad is something else altogether.
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