Fatherhood: A Memoir of Sorts
Originally posted at http://jakev.vox.com
When I was little my father used to pick me up every so often and take me to his house to spend the weekend. The memories I have of my time with him are small but now that I look back I guess there is something to them.
He would show up driving his white Pontiac Grand Am. I remember thinking it was an amazing car. My father had worked for General Motors most of his life and all of mine so I would sit during the three hour drive assembling a Rube Goldberg style factory where my father had built this car himself. I would sit in the passenger seat and play with the automatic door locks. My mothers car was nearly as old as I was and had the metal plunger locks at the top of the door. The locks in the Grand Am had a bright orange strip at the bottom so you knew if they were locked or not. I'd play with them on and off most of the ride and my father never yelled at me to stop.
The two of us would always stop at some dirty corner market where I was allowed to pick out any type of pop, some candy, and some chips. Now that I'm older I realize this was just his way of keeping me occupied for the drive. I don't think he realized how much of a treat this was for me. He would let me get whatever junk food I wanted, stuff that kids typically love. The difference was that he never told me not to get something because it would make me fat or that eating junk like that was the reason I was already fat. He just let me be happy with pop and candy without any shame or nervousness.
As he drove us past the sprawling middle class Michigan lives that lined the highway I'd look at all the billboards. I was captivated with what they said, always waiting for one of them to be addressed directly to me. I would ask how far away we were from his house every fifteen minutes or so. I wasn't trying to bother him, I was just always trying to memorize the route to his house. After years of taking the same roads over and over again I was never able to remember it. I do remember some of the billboards, especially the ones for strip clubs.
Our conversations in the car are hard to remember. The only one I remember was about a girl I liked named Laura Hutton. I lied to my father and said she was my girlfriend. He laughed and said I wouldn't know what to do with her if I had a chance. What I do remember about the rest of our talks was that I was always completely fake. I had this idea that fathers and sons should have things in common. That they should naturally be bonded. Whenever he would start talking about something I would pretend that I knew all about it and agreed with whatever opinion he had on the subject. I always wanted to tell him about the abuse I was suffering at home from my step-father but I never did. I didn't understand how the whole father and son thing worked I guess.
On Friday night we would get to his house and there would be a meal prepared for me in the fridge. I'd sit at the table and eat, then play with my brother Rick who was not my actual brother but the son of my fathers girlfriend. Once it got later my father would be sitting in his chair and turn on HBO. I remember watching Eddie Murphy's Raw while sitting on the floor by my fathers chair. I didn't understand most of the jokes but the things I did get made me laugh until I almost passed out. Sometimes the shows we watched weren't as funny but I would laugh when my father did so he would think I understood the jokes.
When I woke up on the Sunday mornings it was always the same. I could smell shower running and my father using his shampoo. I'd wait awhile and then get up and go out into the living room. He was always sitting there in his chair wearing nothing but his underwear. On the television he would be watching the old World War II movies on TNT or TBS, I don't remember which channel. I never liked the movies, now they remind me of Sundays. After the movie was over we'd get into the Grand Am and start the drive back. The pop and candy, me trying to connect with him on some superficial level, and reading the billboards.
Once I became a teenager I moved away from my father so I didn't see him for years at a time. Bi-annual phone calls to connect on Christmas and my birthday and that was about it. When I began living on my own and later bouncing around the country contact between the two of us was even more infrequent. I would call him to let him know what state I was living in and he would ask me what the weather was like there. Thats how we conversed, an update of the situation and then talk about the weather. After five minutes the conversation was over and I wouldn't have to do it again until I moved it was holiday time again.
A few days ago I found out I'm going to be a father. The woman I love is pregnant and we're going to have a baby. I decided to call my father and tell him. I was hoping it would go to his answering machine but it didn't.
“Hey it's Jake. I've got some news.”
“Oh hi, what's that?”
“You're going to be a grandpa. I'm having a baby. Ashley is pregnant.”
“Oh a kid huh? Well that's cool.”
“Yeah we just left the doctors office, figured I'd give you a call and let you know.”
“Alright well cool.... So how's the weather there?”
“It was real cold, then it warmed up a bit but now it's snowing and stuff again.”
“Yeah we got some cold stuff headed our way too.”
I don't want my child to ever have to fake laughs, pretend to understand something I'm talking about, or try to memorize the route to my house in case it wants to escape the hell it's living in.