It’s late in Grove Hill, Alabama. There are dirt rows stretching from here to the tree line. The sky is starry.
I miss my father. No. I miss having a father. At this age, I can hardly remember what it was like.
When I was a boy, my friends and I once climbed a water tower. It was midnight. We were colossal fools. We could’ve fallen and ended up as teenage pancakes.
We leaned over the railing, looking at the farmland. Our boyish conversation drifted toward fathers.
“Daddy took me hunting last weekend,” said one boy.
“Oh yeah,” said another. “My daddy’s teaching me to throw a fastball.”
Daddy this, Daddy that. Give me a break.
We rode home on bikes. My friends snuck back into their own beds. Picture-perfect homes, with two parents sleeping in master bedrooms.
That night, I sat on a bicycle seat, looking at the sky. I asked how Daddy was doing up there. I needed something. A voice. A bright light. A gust of wind.
So I answered myself.
“Oh, I’m doing fine, son,” I said to myself. “How about you?”
A colossal fool.
Anyway, I grew up trying to father myself. I’ve been doing that for a long time. Truth be told, it’s not very hard. You learn how to take yourself fishing, how to carve a Thanksgiving turkey, how to give yourself advice.
On my wedding day, I talked to my reflection in the bathroom mirror.
“You’re a good kid,” I told myself. “You make me so, so, so proud, son.”
The day I finally graduated college, I sat in my truck for nearly an hour feeling like I should celebrate. I needed someone. Anyone.
So, I drove. I rode upward through three counties. I stopped at a joint where cars were parked. I sat at the bar. A little girl sat beside me on a stool, eating a hamburger the size of a football.
“I graduated today,” I told her.
With a mouthful, she said, “My brother can eat a whole bottle of ketchup.”
You win, kid.
Later that night, I talked to the sky. “I graduated,” I told the stars.
There was no response. So I answered myself, “Way to go, son.”
And I cried.
Anyway, tonight is different. I’m out of town. I’m older. Wiser. I wouldn’t climb a water tower on a six-figure bet.
I had a burger and a beer for supper, outside Frisco City. I rode past water towers, cattle, and rusty mobile homes. I pulled into an overgrown hay patch and looked at the stars.
I talked to Daddy like I often do. I told him about my life. Work. Family. When I finished speaking, I let him know I didn’t need him to answer tonight. He never talks, anyway.
Maybe stiff breezes on calm nights are only coincidences. Maybe wind blows ball caps off people’s heads in Grove Hill all the time. Maybe it’s all just a big fluke.
Either way, tonight I didn’t have to talk to myself.