When I was a young, The Old Man used to try and set me straight. He would explain the way life works and the way a man should and should not behave. Then The Old Man would tell me, “You’ll understand more when you get older.”
I always wondered when this would be. When does the great so-called revelation take place? Or is there even such a thing? I always assumed getting older was a relative term. I was older, but older in my case did not mean enlightened.
Ten years back, I stood on a line in a delicatessen. My daughter was two years old. Her blonde hair was short and curly. Her words were few. She was so small and fit perfectly in my arms. She played with her tea set. My daughter played with her dolls. She especially loved all of the Disney princess characters.
On a nice warm day, I took my little girl to the playground behind Barnum Woods Elementary school. This was a place that I used to go to when I was very young. The playground has change since I was a boy.
There is less to do and fewer things to climb on. When I was a bot, the playground was a large wooden kingdom. I suppose after the years and splinter complaints by overly protective, irate parents, the school decided to take down the wooden kingdom.Instead, the playground is made up of monkey bars, small rock-climbing walls, an uneven bridge, and a few small slides.
My daughter was still in diapers then. And like a good dad, I brought along my diaper bag, complete with diapers, wipes, snacks, tissues, clean clothes, first aid stuff, and a small hat to cover her head from the brightly shining sun. I had sun block for her arms and legs. I was careful when putting the lotion on my little girl’s face. I was not only responsible for my own life; I was responsible for my little girl’s as well.
The field behind Barnum Woods is very large. The grass was beautifully green and the trees near the playground were filled with big green leaves. I could hear wind moving through the leaves. The breeze swept through like the sound of a hush. There was no one around but us. There was no one to interrupt our little play time. There was nothing but a dad and his little girl.
It had been decades since I walked around that playground. I watched my little girl explore. She ran in her little shorts with her little white shoes. She wore a little white tank top and the curls of her hair that would not fit beneath her hat swayed in the wind.
There was a small jungle gym shaped like a tiny school bus. My daughter and I chose this little school bus as home base. We played tag with an imaginary bear. As far as I know the bear did not have a name.
We ran around the sandy part of a kindergartner’s playground. My little girl screamed the high-pitched little screams that could only come from young little girls that played with their dad’s. Then we ran to the school bus because the school bus was home base and said, “The bear can’t get me up here!”
She was two then
Marriage is not an easy thing. It becomes complicated when kids are involved. Divorce happens, but divorce is not an easy thing either. And like marriage; divorce becomes complicated when children are involved.
It was hard on me—not seeing my little girl on a daily basis. It was hard to see her crying when I dropped her off. It was painful when she would have the common meltdowns that comes with being two. It was painful when she would ask to go home or ask for her mother.
I had to learn how to blow dry her hair. I had to learn how to play with dolls. I had to watch her shows with her, which was not always bad. I used to like Bear In The Big Blue House. Bear was my favorite. Teletubbies was pretty painful though. I couldn’t stand that show.
That’s for sure.
I had to learn how to feed her properly, change diapers properly, tie her shoes, dress her properly, keep her warm when it was cold and cool when it was hot. I had to be careful of her sensitive skin. I had to watch for breakouts of rashes.
I had to read bedtime stories, lay her down, and put her to sleep. I had to change her when she woke, feed her, and get her things ready.
My little girl fell once. I remember the pause that came before the cry. It was a moment of shock on both parts. My daughter’s eyes opened wide. I froze in a moment of terrorized panic. When she fell, she fell hard. I heard her body slap against the floor. Her hands were up, and palms slapped down on the hardwood flooring in my apartment.
There, in the brief pause, I felt my heart fall down to the pit of my stomach. After the brief pause came the crying. My little girl screamed the sort of scream that shook the house. I was scared. I was nervous that she was really hurt. I was frightened that her pain was not something I could fix.
She was only two.
My daughter is 12 now. She is not so little anymore. She has her own ideas and her own thoughts. She has her own personality. She likes her own music. On a side not, however, the metal-head music fan in me must explain that my little girl used to wear a shirt that said, “I listen to Slayer with my daddy.”
One day, somewhere in the middle between then and now, I was driving while the radio was playing. My daughter was sitting in the back booster seat. The song on the radio played without me paying much attention. When I stopped at a traffic light, I saw my little girl dance her own version of the happy dance. She was singing along with the words to the song. She knew them by heart and she sung with such intensity. When I saw this I felt an instant tear build in the corner of both eyes.
I never knew what beauty was until I learned how beautiful it is to create a life. And yes, divorce is a hard thing; however, it does not have to be the worst thing. In a conversation with my child’s mother, I explained, “We’re still kindred. I just think we both needed to go off in different directions.”
She agreed, which shows growth on both sides.
The Old Man used to tell me I would understand when I grew older.
I’m older know. I understand a few things.
I think it is important in life that we address the line. And by line, I mean the line in which we are not willing to cross, nor will we allow anyone to cross it. When people take a stand—this is their line.
I have come to my line. I have learned its value. I understand that being a man has less to do with my gender and more to do with my character.
I’m older now. I have lives that depend on me. Whether I go or stay, whether I stay in bed, or decide to get up, get out, and earn a living; I understand that there is a lot riding on my decisions.
Back then, I never understood why The Old Man was so frustrated with me. I never knew why he was so worried. When I fell, I never knew what he felt in that brief pause before the tears came. I am unsure of The Old Man ever saw me dance the way I saw my little girl dance. I cannot say if he looked at me and tears built in his eyes for no other reason than he was proud. I can only say that I’m older now . . . and you we right Pop . . .
I do understand now.