I am eating a cheeseburger, sipping beer, looking at a restaurant full of families and kids.
There is a band playing. They couldn’t be any worse if they detuned their instruments and started making bodily noises over the microphone.
But the children are loving the music. Some are dancing. Others are screaming, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
“That’s all my kids know how to say,” says one of my exasperated friends. “‘Daddy, Daddy.’ Like a warped record.”
I love kids. I have always wondered how people with children enjoy their lives. I look around at a table of my middle-aged friends and I am thinking of this very thing.
These young parents seem to have more responsibility than the rest of us civilians. In fact, they’re so responsible that they can’t even focus on a conversation for more than one-point-nine seconds.
They are always too busy looking from the corners of their eyes, waiting for an impending catastrophe caused by a screaming toddler.
My friend Billy, for instance, is trying to tell a story, but his sentences are incoherent because he keeps diverting his eyes toward his kids. “Hey,” he begins. “You remember when we were fifteen…”
Billy turns his head.
“…And there was that water tower….”
Another head turn.
“…With the Hallelujah Chorus and..”
Then he jerks his head and shouts, “PUT YOUR SISTER DOWN, RIGHT NOW! RIGHT NOW, I SAID! DON’T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE! I SWEAR, I WILL WHIP YOUR LITTLE…!”
My friend Nathan tells me about being a dad:
“The thing about kids is, they say ‘Daddy’ about fifteen hundred times per day. It’s enough to make you nuts. You get so sick of hearing that word. ‘Daddy, daddy.’”
“Yeah,” another friend says. “For once, I wish my kids would just let me pee without having nervous breakdowns outside the door.”
Meantime, my friends’ wives sit at the other side of the table, rocking babies, talking. My wife is with them.
“DADDY! DADDY!” come the shouts.
My wife and I exchanged glances. We are the only childless couple here tonight.
We make these funny looks at each other because people with kids talk ONLY about kids. They breathe Playskool and Tonka Trucks. And we alone are outsiders.
Still, I can relate a little. If anyone even mentions the word “dog” I launch into a story and whip out cellphone pictures.
But a big part of me wonders what it’s like. What’s it like to be loved by a child? What is it like to be important to a kid?
When my wife and I first got married we thought we would have a kid. Maybe even a few. People in our church kept asking.
“When’re you two gonna put a bun in the oven?” Miss Willie would ask, week after week.
And I would only smile. We tried, but it wasn’t in the cards for us. It just didn’t happen. I don’t regret not having kids, but sometimes I think about it.
The truth is, my childhood was not pretty. I’ve never been sure that sharing such ancestral dysfunctions with an innocent kid was a good idea. This world is hard enough as it is.
“Count yourself lucky you don’t have kids,” said Billy, “at least you get to wake up at noon if you want.”
“Yep,” said another. “And you don’t have someone shouting, ‘Hey Dad!’ all day.”
Long ago, I thought the same way all young men think. Maybe one day I would have a kid with red hair. Maybe he would be a junior. Or maybe we’d have a daughter.
Sometimes, my wife and I would fall asleep talking about it.
“What if,” my wife would say, “he has grayish-green eyes like his father.”
“Yeah,” I would add. “Or brown eyes, like her mother.”
“You like the name Rose?”
“Sounds like one of the Golden Girls.”
“I like the name Rose.”
“Not me, I like Blanche.”
“How about Sophia? I’d name a kid Sophia.”
“Sophia sounds like the name of an AARP representative.”
“I think you’d make a good father.”
“You’d be the best mother anyone ever saw.”
I would fall asleep thinking about teaching a kid baseball, or showing a boy how to bait a treble hook. And anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling you this.
I guess you spend the first half of your life making plans. You spend the second half of your life realizing that God laughs at plans.
It’s probably a blessing I didn’t have children. I likely wouldn’t be a writer if I did have them. And well, I guess that’s something.
I am interrupted by a toddler walking toward me. Her name is Marie. Marie has more freckles than I’ve ever seen. Red hair. She is cuter than a duck in a hat.
“Hey, Mister Sean,” comes her high-pitched voice, cutting through the sound of a godawful rock and roll band. “Can I sit with you? This band’s too loud.”
“Sure,” I say.
Marie crawls into my lap, and she’s asleep in a matter of minutes. Head on my chest. Soon, there is drool all over me, and the face of an angel against my shoulder, and my heart is aching.
I don’t have any regrets. And I’m glad for the freedom I have. I like the way my life turned out. But I believe my friends are wrong.
It can’t be all that bad being called Daddy.