A picturesque scene. A father playing catch with his son. A father helping with the fishing line and releasing the catch from the hook. Throwing his little kids in the air. Blowing raspberries on their bellies. Wrapping his arms around them and embracing them in a hug. These are the things good fathers should get to do.
It took him a week to tell me what those tears were for. Why he cried uncontrollably on our way home, and the next morning. Not that it was hard to guess. But hearing him say it hits me at a completely different level. Because he is not a dad that gets to be a dad.
It’s our brother in law that plays catch with our son. It’s Papa that takes the kids on the boat and helps them fish. It’s Grandpa that shows them how build projects. And its me that has to try to wrestle and outrun them in races. These are the fun things for the dad. These are the hard things to watch someone else live for you.
It’s complicated, to feel gratitude that someone is there to fill his shoes, to give your kids the experiences kids should get. To know your boys have plenty of good role models and good times to fill their hearts with happy. But to also feel resentment that it has to be someone else, that all he can do is watch on the sidelines. ALS is robbing his strength way too early, taking far more than it’s ever deserved, leaving him a spectator in his own life.
The boys will say things like “remember when Daddy could…” and “I wish daddy could…” and I say “we all do” and “it’s not fair” and we’ll hold still in the silence for a moment. I try to talk up who he was while reminding them who he still is. He gives the best wheelchair rides, he turns the living room into a dance party, he answers all the questions about science and math and space. They agree. And then someone asks whats for dinner and one of the boys jokes about farting or butts or burping and they both smile brightly and genuinely and joyfully and we’re back to being a normal family. Because this is the good life they know. This is the hard life they know.