a hundred years ago, or so it seems, a man i know, a man who at the time was on the brink of becoming the father to our firstborn son, fluffed the pillow under his head and let fly with this: “you’ve never seen the side of me that’s coming. i am going to be mush.”
his point, a point that made me sit bolt upright, or at least as upright as a woman at 38 weeks gestation is able, was as if God had rolled back the tincan lid of tightly packed rainbows, and given me a peek of the indigo and violet to come.
“mush, eh?” i remember mulling the words around and around in my head. i wonder what that means.
now, mind you, when a youngish woman (okay, so i was 30 when i met him, and 34 when i married him, but for the sake of story, and relatively speaking, let’s call it young) is out there in the game of love, she is not probably carrying around a checklist, which, in the top three slots, lists “must be mushy for the children.”
no, i’d say i was more taken, at the time, by his holey loafers, and the seersucker shorts, rumpled with the hem hanging down on one leg, that he wore to meet my mother. (she was wholly taken, pulled me aside, whispered, “he’s so old shoe!” which in her book was/is the highest form of desirability.)
so, yes, i carried on with this old-shoe fellow for quite a while. i believe i was mostly taken by his way with words and his holey loafers. and the fact that i felt i could talk to him for forever.
i did know that i adored his papa, yet another old-shoe fellow. an old-shoe fellow who had a charming habit of inhaling stacks and stacks of newspapers, and loaves of challah at shabbat dinner, and who, too, had a remarkable knack for listening and carrying on hours-long, heartfelt dinner conversations.
(note to mother-in-law: i adored you too, but this is about papas. today is papa day here at the table.)
i don’t believe i thought much about what kind of papa will this long, tall, holey, dapper, son of newspaper fellow be.
until the morning he made the comment about the mush in the making.
that got me wondering. that made me want that baby to come right then, so we could do away with the distractions and get a real live look at mush in action.
sure enough, the baby came.
although, given that, in the thick of the child’s laborious arrival, the papa of the impending child was drawn deeply and distractedly into the chicago bulls three-peat celebration on the little labor-room tv–so much so i had to ask him if maybe we could pay attention to the seismic contractions coming from within me–i might have suddenly wondered where his definition of mush and mine parted ways.
but i was too busy pushing out that irish-headed child. (psst, for you who’ve not pushed out an irish-headed child, the term is code, as i shouted out mid-push, for a big head that’s going to hurt like holy flames as it escapes the womb.)
but we digress.
to telescope the story here, to bring it down to size, is to say that you sometimes have not a clue, just an inkling maybe, of the sort of father to your children you are taking on when you wander down that wedding aisle.
in ways i never would have guessed, i have learned to be a better mother watching my mushy mate be a father to his sons.
two things leap to the front of my brain: midnight snakes and captain fun.
midnight snakes would be the time-honored tradition around here of man and boy coming down the stairs when all is dark, lifting box of cereal from the shelf, pouring little o’s and milk, spooning.
and while they spoon, they talk. they giggle. they share the day. it is a rite the man i married shared once upon a time with his grandpa. and nearly every night around here, i see his grandpa come back to life in the form of a bowl, a spoon, and a shared placemat at the table.
you see, the man i fell in love with because we could talk forever, about really important things, about things that matter, well, he does the same with the boys i birthed.
so i have learned from him the fine art of not rushing to bed because it’s bedtime and the clock says that children need to be asleep. but rather to honor that the day is drawing to a close, and closing a blessed stretch of hours with crunchy o’s and milk and conversation is a consecration of the day that’s worthy of momentarily delayed slumber.
and besides, it tells a boy that he is worthy of his father’s full and complete attention before he nods off for the night.
then there’s captain fun. there is no fluttering cape involved in this. no phone booth either. just a papa who picks up the slack in the mama’s less-than-spontaneous department.
whereas the mama might say something wholly lame, like, no, let’s stay home and weed the garden, the papa will be digging through the stack of maps and guides, plotting out some eye-opening adventure, taking this show on the road.
the duties of captain fun include spins to dairy queen, hikes in the woods, museum outings. banging buckets of golf balls, riding amtrak trains across the country, or just downtown (when the metra train, a reasonable alternative, is closer to home by a few miles, but nowhere near as romantic–to a locomotive-loving little boy, that is).
of course it is not all fun and games around here. but i am only saying that those boys had better get on their knees and thank God they do not only have a mama because if she was plotting out the days, they might be short on all of the above and long on chores.
or ticking through the list of to-dos so that some day, some godforsaken day 100 years down the road, there might be a chance of carving out some fun to go along with all the drudgery.
the man i married has taught me the incandescent beauty of up and making room for adventure, and laughter, too. as hardworking as he can be, he can be pure unbridled escape.
i sometimes wonder if it is born of a deeply-steeped jewish sanctification of the holiness and blessing of every drop of light and life. as opposed to my deeply-steeped catholic inclination to scrub my soul of all my sins before i can even think to knock at the gates of paradise.
while i spin that notion around in my tumble dryer, the one at the top of my neck, let me say simply this: while i never knew it was coming, hadn’t a clue ‘til i first heard word of the mush, i am so delighted, and so deeply eternally blessed, that i signed on for a lifelong stint with captain fun and the midnight snakes.
and my boys, especially, oughta high-five me for that one.
see, it’s a blessing, ain’t it, that whoever invented human procreation realized, unlike worms, it takes two to tango. that often means that one is yin to the other’s yang. and, baby, i got some yang that needs yinning. in your house, or in your life, how do the grownups balance each other out? or, if you’re doing this whole thing solo–and God bless you if you are–how hard is it to strike your own personal yin and yang? what fine traits, or traditions, have you seen passed down from one papa to the next?
and while we’re at it, happy blessed fathers day to all those who father, a verb that might be pinned to either gender, as to mother is to all who tenderly embrace the world. to father, i suppose, is to absorb the shock of the tough, cruel world, to shine a flashlight on the wisdom lurking out in the dark, and to teach a thing or two about sliding into home. feel free to add your own definitions down below…..