My dad came to visit for a week in June. He taught Roan a lot of valuable things: to sing "Skunk in the Barnyard, Pee-You" everytime he pooped in his diaper, which is about three times a day. He also taught Roan a song about bananas that makes absolutely no sense, but one that Roan loves to sing. And he gave Roan whatever he asked for. One afternoon, Jay and I stepped out into the yard for no more than 5 minutes. When we came back in, Roan was double fisting popsicles. "What," said my dad, "you don't usually give him two at the time?"
Roan looks a lot like my father. When they went to the playground together, people would comment on how they look just alike. No one has ever said this to me.
Of course we went to the beach. I packed a decadent lunch, which we forgot at home. We got a pizza instead, which we ate in the shade of our umbrella, along with half a dozen oranges. Together, Roan and my father are capable of eating a shocking number of oranges. They egg each other on.
On my dad's last full day in town, he wanted to take Roan on the F train to the Aquarium. Jay and I had to work, and my dad's not familiar with the subway system, so I tried explaining it to him, pulling up maps and writing down directions. Like a typical guy, he blew me off. "Ro and I will figure it out, we don't need all this," he said. And, "Roan knows the way." Roan and my dad both nodded at me, their mouths full of oranges. I tried a few more times to explain the challenges of taking a 2-year-old on the subway, but I could tell it wasn't sinking in. I went to bed uneasy, imagining all the possible things that could go wrong.
I needed my father to take me seriously.
The next morning, over breakfast, I laid it all out. "Listen, dad, every week someone falls in front of a train and dies. Just last week I read about a 21-year-old girl who fainted, fell on the tracks, and was cut in thirds. The subway is dangerous, even for adults. You must always hold Roan's hand on the platform. He loves to look at the tracks, and will try to go right up to the edge, so never let go of his hand. And make sure he steps over the gap when he boards the train, because it's a big gap, and I've heard of kids falling down and getting stuck there, and getting electrocuted by the third rail. Once he's on the train, he thinks every stop is his stop, so hold his hand tight when the doors open, so he doesn't sprint out of the train before you can stop him. Also, be careful when you're swiping your card, because he'll go under the turnstile, and you need to make sure you have enough money on the card, and it's valid and goes through okay, because you need to be right behind him to grab his hand and make sure someone doesn't knock him onto the tracks."
I paused to take a breath. My father looked thoughtful. "Maybe," he said, "we should just take the car."
Roan wasn't having any of that. "No Popi, we will take the train!"
"Once you promise him the train, it's hard to take it back." I said. "About the Aquarium. It will be fine until 11, when the field trips show up. Then that place will be mobbed with kids, and Roan thinks it's really funny to play chase so if you let a group of kids get between you and him, he'll be gone. Then you'll have to knock down a bunch of field trip kids to grab him before he face plants into the stingray pool. And just so you know, a lot of those kids are gonna be black, so you'll have to choose between being the big racist white guy who bulldozed a bunch of black kids, or the polite guy who said "excuse me" and lost his grandson at the Aquarium."
I talked about the pros and cons of taking the stroller over the ergo. I packed them a lunch. My father had a look on his face that I couldn't recall ever seeing. His lips were set in a thin hard line. It took me a while to figure it out. My father was afraid.
Too late, I realized I had done a horrible thing, and sucked out any joy my dad would get from this day with my horror stories and neurosis. I gave him a hug which he only partially returned. "You're going to be fine," I said. But I think we both felt a little sick. I ended up walking them to the subway and helped them safely board the train.
Needless to say, everything was fine.
Dad, I'm sorry. I still feel like a jerk - for freaking you out and for grossly exaggerating the number of people who are run over by trains. But mostly for the lack of trust in you that all my worry implied. You are a parent too, and somehow you got to a place where you were okay with me taking big risks and hanging out with some pretty questionable people. Obviously I'm not there yet. And to be honest, getting there from here seems impossible. I guess you just loosen your grip, just a fraction, every day, and eventually, without really realizing it, you give up control.
And in his own way, Roan has already begun his getaway.
Dad, I think I understand why you spent so much time talking to Roan on banana phones. Today he picked up a peach and tried to call you. You know what's coming. You were teaching him to keep in touch.