It’s hard for me to believe he is 21. I close my eyes and I can easily see white-trash cracker me, living in a trailer, rocking a mullet, working in a foundry, dreaming of one day becoming a writer, and loving that little boy with all of my heart. Fast-forward a few years. He’s moved out of state with his mother, I no longer work in a foundry, and the first few strands of mullet are circling the bathtub drain, a harbinger of hair loss to come. I’m on my way to see him for the weekend when a story idea presents itself. That idea will become a book called The Rising.
He’s a young man now, rather than the little boy who used to snuggle up in my lap and read Teeny-Tiny Tale and The Lorax and Hulk comic books. He no longer needs my advice on how to ride a bike, or catch a fish, or what to do if he likes a girl. He doesn’t need me to explain what happened to Simba’s Daddy in The Lion King or why nobody ever stays dead in the Marvel universe. These days, his concerns and questions are a young man’s concerns: how to deal with the stress of college and things like that. Today, he wanted advice on drinking. I told him stick with beer or liquor and don’t mix the two, make sure he has a designated driver, don’t get into a car with anyone who has been drinking (no matter how hot she is), and maybe stop after four beers and see how he feels before proceeding.
Those are the things I tell him these days. I don’t tell him how a parent, looking back over the great barrier reef that is time, sees nothing but the mistakes that they made — decisions that impacted the child, even if the child is unaware of it into adulthood. I don’t tell him that there’s no instruction manual handed out when you’re a father, and that you do the best you can, and hope you don’t fuck it up too badly. I don’t tell him that I’m facing similar decisions with his little brother, and that I’m trying to make better choices this time, and that 21 years later, those choices don’t get any fucking easier, but I’ll ultimately make them with the same criteria that I used for him — that my boys are the most important thing in my life, and I have to watch out for them above all others. I don’t tell him these things because he doesn’t need to know them yet. These are the good years for him, and I want him to enjoy them. He doesn’t need me to tell him these things yet, and he wouldn’t understand them if I did. He’ll find them out for himself, eventually. When he becomes a father, he’ll learn those lessons just as I learned them.
And that breaks my heart.
So, while he’s out tonight discovering beer and puking in some nasty college bar restroom, I’m sitting here by myself with a glass of Woodford Reserve (It’s okay. F. Paul Wilson says as long as I lay off the cigars, I can still enjoy a glass of whiskey once in a while. And I have lain off the cigars, because F. Paul Wilson is a doctor, and also because he created Repairman Jack, and Repairman Jack could whoop my ass, and also because I promised Joe Lansdale and Nick Kaufmann that I’d quit cigars too, because they could also both kick my ass, as well. But I digress…)
I’m sitting here alone, enjoying a rare moment of quiet contemplation, and as the last rays of the setting sun filter through the trees outside and reflect off the whiskey in my glass, I know that I am a good father, and that being a good father is never easy, and sometimes it will cost you everything else, but there’s still nothing else I’d rather be, because it is so very worth it at the end of the day. Being a father… they are all good years.