The thing with these children is that they remember everything. They get this from their mother, who can remember the look I had on my face three years ago when I asked if that's what we're having for dinner. This, by the way, takes all the fun out of arguing with the woman.
So we flash back to three little boys getting immunization shots. There is Isaac, seeing if he can't find something in the doctor's office to break. And there is Caleb, declaring quite confidently that he is absolutely not going to let anyone stick a needle in him. And then there is precious little Eli, asking his mother why he has to get a big ouch. The answer, he is told, is that it will keep him from getting sick.
Flash forward five months. Eli, sniffling and coughing, confronts his mother: "We got those shots so we wouldn't get sick, but I got sick. I'm not getting any more shots ever."
Being a father has opened my eyes to how often each of us thinks he sees the whole picture, when in reality we only see a sliver. Yet even though Eli thinks we made him get a shot for nothing, he loves us all the same. Would that each of us had the same grace for others.
I'm sitting in an airport restaurant near three men, three boisterous men drinking at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. The oldest, who appears to be about thirty-five and dressed like he's twenty, is instructing the others on the tragedy of fatherhood. "My advice," he says, "is not to have kids. Or if you have them, just have one. You can have one without changing your lifestyle much. But once you have more than one, everything changes. The people with kids tell you it's great, but I think they're just saying that so you'll fall for it and be miserable too. Even with one you've got to wait twenty years until the little bastard's out of the house."
Meanwhile, Crosby, Stills, and Nash's "Teach Your Children Well" is playing over the restaurant's tinny speakers. I find myself shaking with anger. I come close to getting up and hitting him. I haven't hit someone I didn't know since 7th grade, but now I am certain that I am going to beat this man senseless with his bar stool.
"So just look at them and sigh," whisper the restaurant speakers, ". . . and know they love you . . ."
Their conversation meanders on to golf and women and work. I eat my food, and I can't taste it. I think, though my own three boys are near to killing me, that I'll take all of them, all the children not wanted because they don't fit someone's lifestyle. You sit on a bar stool in an airport and laugh out your contempt and you think they don't know, but they know. They always know.
On my way out I stop to interrupt their laughter. "I overhead what you said about how it's terrible to be a father, and I want to encourage you, as a man who has three little boys and who's buried his little girl, to see them as a blessing."
He smiles, embarrassed, all the wind out of him now, out of his boisterous friends. He nods, and says: "Oh yeah, I do, every day." I pat him on the back, not believing him, and tell him to have a good day, not meaning it, and he smiles a thin smile and tells me to do the same.
I hope he remembers. I hope he puts to death in himself some of the selfishness that would lead him to declare, in an airport bar over a drink on a Tuesday morning, that he wishes his children didn't exist. I hope I remember, too, because at times I've been no less selfish, simply less honest. I wanted to punch him, because at times I have been him.