Let me tell you why Daddy’s been quiet lately.
First, of course, it’s because I’m a writer. So there is always a narrative or a story running through my head. I’m always “turning sentences around,” as one of Philip Roth’s characters described it.
I was already doing it when I was in second grade, like you, Bud. When I was in second grade, my friends and I all watched the Davy Crockett shows on Walt Disney, and, and when those hour-long TV shows were put together into a movie, we eagerly went to the theater to see it there. We didn’t have videotape back then, but we were every bit as interested in flintlock rifles and coonskin caps as you are in light sabres and Naboo Starfighters. And just like you reading Star Wars books, I read all the books I could find about Davy Crockett, about the old American frontier, and about the wars and conflicts of that time, long ago and far away.
When I played outside with my friends, we played Davy Crockett. I used to organize those games, just like you organize your pals when you say, “Let’s play Star Wars!” One time, I got all the guys to charge an imaginary enemy position in our next-door neighbor’s hedge. As we ran toward the hedge, I turned, waving my sword in the air, and yelled out, “The bushes vomited smoke and fire!”
All my pals stopped.
“What?” said Greg Skoglund, one of my best buddies. “What did you say?”
“Uh, the bushes…I mean…” I mumbled. I had read it in a book. You mean it wasn’t real? Didn’t everybody read the book?
My buddies all laughed at me.
No, not everybody has a story going on in his head all the time. But I do, and you do, too, and I understand.
I understand how beautiful everything is. I sit on the front porch smoking a cigar and watch you and your little brother Joe play, and as I look across the street, the houses and trees and mailboxes and flowers, the people puttering in their yards, the kids skipping home from school, the occasional jet overhead climbing out Newark, all these things look as sharp and clear as an image etched in a crystal ball. But it’s real. It’s dewy and jewel-like and the colors look like they’re about to burst and drip from the very images of all I see.
Perhaps Joe, at age two and a half, sees things this way, too. He’s constantly stunned by surprise.
“Daddy, a bug!”
“Daddy, a bug! A bug, Daddy!”
This morning, Bud, you said something wonderful. You said, “Daddy, Mommy, I know Daddy’s going to have to go in the hospital and he’ll have to recover for a while, and I want you to know that I’ll take care of Joe. I’ll be the Daddy.”
That’s wonderful not because you can be a Daddy, or because you ought to try to be, but because, in searching for an image to describe how you wanted to help, you chose me.
Out front, as the light slowly moves across the trees and the houses, little Joe tires of his scooter and sits down on the step.
“Sit nexta me, Daddy,” he says. And he cuddles up close.
You, too, Bud. Come here and sit next to Daddy, and we’ll all look together.