Day 3 of our Father’s Day Week celebration in honor of the wonderful men we love and read about is an exclusive from Liz Crowe’s book – Mutual Release.
One Father’s Day in Ann Arbor
Jack rolled onto his back and covered his eyes, hoping like hell there were another thirty minutes he could snag before facing the day. The last few had been hell on wheels, mainly thanks to the nasty ear infection Brandis had managed to not only catch, but share with his toddler sister and their mother. As the only two non-sick people in the house, he and his oldest daughter Kate had spent Friday running around with water, tea and Tylenol. Saturday they tried to placate a bored but slowly recovering five and two year old while Sara slept.
After the scary night spent in the ER Thursday when Bethany’s temperature had been so high Jack had revisited long lost prayers to a God he’d mostly abandoned as he held her hot little body to his chest and waited for the antibiotics to work. Every time he tried to lay her on the bed, she would scream and hold out her arms for him. By the time her fever finally broke his shirt was soaked with her tears and sweat.
And by the time they got home in the wee hours of Friday morning, his wife was running her own fever. So he’d gotten the baby settled, and shoved Sara under the covers of their bed before taking Brandis off his older sister’s hands for a few hours so she could rest.
Amazing what an entire forty-eight hour period strung together on about two hours of catnaps would do to a nearly fifty- year old guy. He had never felt his own mortality more keenly. Dropping his arm and hoping to snag Sara for a quick snuggle before they had to get up, he barely registered that her side of the bed was empty. Allowing himself to register that so far he was still fever and earache free his brain shut down quickly.
The next time he woke it was to a violent yanking of his hair. His chest felt like as if an elephant were sitting on it. Great, now he was gonna have a heart attack? His eyes flew open at that barely conscious thought, panic adding to the stew of exhaustion in his brain.
“Daddy!” Bethany screeched, clapping her hands. She was perched on his chest. Her bright blue eyes sparkled but not with fever anymore. He blinked and smiled as she patted his face and hair as if reassuring herself he was not dead, had only been sleeping. She’d been daddy’s girl from the moment of her birth, this baby he’d wanted and Sara had allowed herself to be talked into having. He would never forget the moment the doctor handed her over and she’d immediately quieted in his arms. The entire world centered her tiny face for him as he counted her fingers and toes, kissing each one, marveling that this, a third living human being, was the result of the powerful love he had for their mother.
He sniffed. “Baby sister, you stink,” he said, hanging onto her while he sat up. But she jumped to the floor and scurried away in that funny, straddle-legged way of diaper-wearing toddlers, hollering for “Kay!” and “Ma!” and saying “’tinky! All the way down the long hall from the master suite to the kitchen. He rubbed his eyes and noted the time. Nearly ten o’clock. An unheard of hour for him to be still in bed, being the morning person he was. He groaned and flopped back, shocked at the thought that he could probably sleep another six hours if allowed. Thank god she was okay. Now, please, more sleep for dad.
He blinked, and saw the overhead fanning turning slowly above him. Brandis, his strong-willed, energetic son must also be feeling the positive effects of modern antibiotic medication because he was in rare form. Jack watched him clamber up on the bed and start crawling around with his toy cars. Another miracle, that kid, but with a very hard to control edge to him that sometimes stymied everyone in the house. His sister Maureen was many times the only adult that Brandis would listen to, and she’d been over more than once as he made his way past toddler-hood and into little-boy land to have some one-on-one time with the kid. Now that she had her own baby it wasn’t always convenient but she made every attempt, claiming that she loved Brandis more than anyone other than her own kids, because he had the most to lose, she claimed, already fighting inner demons of good and bad behaviors at only five years old.
He rolled onto his side and let Brandis sit on his hip a while pretending to ride a horse. Still groggy from lack of sleep he looked up to see Bethany again, her face covered in what looked like blood until he realized it was just ketchup. “Ban!” She hollered, her short hand for “Brandis.” “Get off!” She commanded. Bethany’s early sentences always sounded as if they ended in exclamation points.
“Where’s mommy?” he asked, grabbing his son and holding him over his head, making the kid giggle and flail around like he was swimming in the air. “What have you monsters done with mom?”
Bethany shrieked with jealousy and climbed up Jack’s leg, nailing him in the nuts at least twice with her fists and feet as she made her way up his torso. “Me! Me!” She kept going, trying to climb up his extended arms to her brother so she could yank him down and get the full focus of her father’s attention.
“Dad, Bethy smells bad,” Brandis struggled out his father’s grip and sat on the bed, holding his nose. “Pew. Stupid babies.” The boy grumbled, frowning at his sister who sat, triumphant, on Jack’s chest again.
“Yeah,” he got to his feet, watching the two of them mess around with the toys a minute, hiding under the covers and, in Brandis’s case, shooting them off the end of the bed as hard as he could, managing at least one dent in the far wall. “Shit,” he pulled Bethany into his arms. “Let’s go smelly girl.”
“’Melly!” the girl yipped as she tried to climb up on his shoulders.
“Where in the hell is Sara?” he mumbled as he changed her very disgusting diaper. Modern antibiotics worked wonders but wreaked havoc too. Deciding to let the girl run with just her diaper on—her preferred outfit these days—he tried to put the dirty one in the pail, only to discover that at some point in the night, the dog must have felt left out of the attention-getting and had tipped it over and dragged two or three of the fucking things around the room. No wonder it smelled so bad back here. “God damn it,” he yelled. “Check the living room. The dog’s been in the diapers again.” He hollered before securing the pail’s and now floor’s contents in a garbage bag.
As he made his way towards the family noises in the kitchen, still only half awake, he came the rest of the way conscious when his bare instep met a plastic block. Stumbling, cursing, he lurched left and pinned the garbage bag full of baby shit against one leg as he did the lego dance of pain down the hall. He was met by a grinning yellow lab, with suspicious looking brown stains around its mouth. “You,” he growled, still hobbling and hoping the bag held. His head pounded. It was like the worst hangover ever, without the benefit of having gotten drunk the night before.
Brandis zipped by him, rolling one of his cars down the wall and putting a dark line in the paint. Jack stopped, took a breath and turned the corner to the kitchen. “Dirty.” He dropped the bag in the mud room. “Foot,” he dropped into a seat, examining his throbbing instep. “Hungry,” he muttered, looking up, and starting to sense a pulse of irritated anger between his eyes. “Anyone paying any attention to me?” He leaned on his elbow and watched as his wife and eldest daughter turned, holding out a huge plate of bacon, eggs and toast. Brandis and Bethany ran in, chattering and trying to out-do each other as they both hit his legs and climbed up into his lap clutching envelopes.
Sara smiled, put the plate in front of him and gave him a long soft, kiss while the kids tugged at his tee shirt and Bethany did her usual tap dance on his crotch while gripping his neck so hard she felt permanently attached. But his wife’s lips were sweet and they drowned out every thing else for a split second.
“Happy Father’s Day!” the kids hollered at once. He blinked. Then smiled.
“Me! Me!” Bethany shoved her envelope in his face.
He opened it to find a piece of paper covered in green crayon with a little blue at the top and a black mark in the middle—some of her better work, he mused, munching on a piece of perfectly crisped bacon.
“Golf!” Brandis helped, pushing his envelope at Jack’s nose. It contained a slightly more coherent portrait of a couple of stick men next to a golf cart-like-thing with wheels and smiling huge, toothy grins. The sun above them had the same big smile. He looked up at Sara.
“I think we should enroll in them in art school, right away. Prodigies, all around.” He held onto their wiggly bodies and planted kisses on their dark hair before letting them down so they could scramble into their own seats. Katie handed him another envelope. He raised an eyebrow. “I can’t afford for three of you to attend. I hope this is something other than a future masterpiece.”
She rolled her eyes and sat, shoving the dog’s face out of her lap. It was a certificate, carefully crafted with her sharpie collection, stating:
Happy Father’s Day. One round (18 holes) of golf, starting at noon. With your bestie. We love you. Kate.
He grinned up at Sara who patted his shoulder and leaned into his ear just as Bethany started to cry when Brandis grabbed her orange juice and drank it even though he had a perfectly good glass of his own at his plate. “Evan will be here in an hour,” she whispered, running her fingers through his hair, naming his golf buddy and old law school friend. He turned to her and gripped her hips, looking up into her deep green eyes.
“You sure? You feel okay?” But he was already quivering in anticipation of getting a small break from the home front chaos and was never more grateful for the simple present of time he had just received from his family.
She leaned over him, giving him a whiff of soap and shampoo and a great shot of her tits. He cupped one, using the hand away from the table. “I’ll give you my present tonight,” she bit his earlobe then smacked his hand away. “Hurry up,” she said pouring his coffee and grabbing the stolen juice class from Brandis’s hands at the same time. “He’ll be here soon.”
Jack smiled and watched his family sit and eat, fight and make up, laugh, smile and just…be themselves. His luck seemed boundless, and a little scary at that moment.
“Daddy!” Brandis belted out, through a jelly-smeared set of lips at his usual volume of loud, as opposed to louder.
“Yes, son,” he sipped his coffee, his heart light, tiredness banished.
“When I grow up I’m gonna work where you work.” The boy declared, digging into his eggs with gusto.
“Oh?” Jack said, as he caught the toast Bethany gleefully tossed down for the eager dog.
“Yes. That way,” Brandis pointed his fork at Jack, his blue eyes dark and serious. “We can be together every day.”
Sara winked at him, then reached over to wipe the worst of the mess from the boy’s face. “Happy Father’s Day,” she mouthed.
“Thank you,” he said. “Think we need to make another?” he looked over at the kids who were ignoring them in favor of fighting over the last piece of bacon.
“Hell. No.” she said, getting up and smacking Brandis lightly on the head for teasing the dog with forbidden table scraps. “Now go, before I change my mind.”
He got up, patted her ass on the way out and towards the shower, never happier.