The night is nearly over, it is winding down, and there is no missed call on my cell. I’m not sure that I even care at this point, but usually I hear from him. It is always late, but it always comes. I’m sitting on the deck at the local pub, me and a couple of my closest friends. It’s tradition in a way, or at least it’s starting to become one. Family is slowly being phased out; there is no need for parties, going out to eat, or ripping open gifts. It is just another day; it just so happens I was born thirty-three years ago. A couple of friends, a couple of drinks, and a couple of laughs will suffice. We break away and head home around eleven. We all have things to do. We all have lives to live. Just like today, tomorrow is another day of school or work. At midnight I know the call will never come; I suppose it is all right because he has been teaching me these lessons for a long time.
He taught me to make pancakes. He taught me to put a drop on the pan and wait for it to start bubbling – that is when the heat is just the right temperature. He made them from scratch with flour, baking soda, milk, oil, and vanilla. Of course this was his ritual: Sunday morning pancakes and turkey bacon (paper thin turkey meat which was colored to look like bacon). We would sit in silence, just me and him, at the table eating pancakes and fakecon. Sometimes he would read the paper. Sometimes there would be nothing between us but a generation gap that neither of us could understand – an awkward silence.
He taught me that there were only two types of people in the world. You were either a man or you weren’t. Like binary code, you are either a one or a zero. He taught me this in lessons. Real men do not have real feelings. They have triggers. You are either mad or you aren’t. You are either cursing and throwing things, or you are calm, cool, and reserved. He taught me that men ruled the house with an iron fist; they did what they wanted, whenever they wanted. He taught me that a man should never be expected to be anywhere they didn’t want to be. He was never home. He was a magician, disappearing for days sometimes. Even when he was home, he wasn’t really there – a ghost which haunted my home.
He taught me that I was not as important as work or sports. My homework, my permission slips, my wants, and my needs, they sat in the inbox of life. When permission slips aren’t signed you have to sit in the principal’s office all day; you have to sit there while your friends go to the zoo. He taught me that children should be left to fend for themselves until an age when they are useful. Till they serve a purpose great enough to catch his attention. Until they can say I raised a man. The measure of a man is through money, like being a man, you either had it or you didn’t. Money equals success. People who were poor were nothing but a burden on their families and the system. They were mistakes, a lapse in evolution that hadn’t quite died off. His father was an accountant during the great depression. Lessons are taught from father to son, from son to their sons, a repeating cycle until it just isn’t; until one generation doesn’t understand, until it just stops making any sense.
I didn’t understand.
He taught me that a son doesn’t need a father to get through life, that a man is just a sperm donor; they don’t need to stick around. They wait longer and longer to call on birthdays and holidays, until at some arbitrary point it isn’t a big deal that the call never comes. My father taught me that all degrees aren’t equal. He taught me that college is only worth anything at all if you go when you’re supposed to – right after high school, not at the end of your twenties. By that time you are supposed to be fully capable of never needing them again, severed both physically and emotionally. He taught me one time that if a belt wasn’t around, anything could suffice. A tobacco stick is just like a switch, in the same way a flyswatter is just like a baseball bat.
I learned a lot from that man. I learned that to be a father is something that takes commitment, that it takes time, and patience. I learned the difference between fathering and being a father. I learned from him that as long as I was going to be a failure that I would fail doing it the way I thought was right, not the way that lived up to his expectations. I learned how to love my son, to listen to him, and to give him what is needed to succeed in life. I wanted to be everything my father hadn’t been for me. I wanted to be more. I feel that I have. Although I guess I will have to wait until my son is grown and writes his own stories. Only then will I ever know if I was what he needed me to be. All I can do is try. To know trying is better than the alternative.
I have taught my son to make pancakes, except we do it with water and instant mix. We use real bacon instead of turkey and I try to talk to him while we sit and eat. It is something he doesn’t always want to do, but even still there is something there besides a newspaper or a generation gap. I want him to be a good person and if he chooses, to be a good father too. I think that man is a dying breed, a genetic mutation that has survived even though it is negative to our culture and family; a Neanderthal living past its prime. There is much more than the old binary code, ones and zeros, man or not man. I chose not to be his definition of man, I am my own man and I hope that I am raising my child to be who he wants to be, and not some cookie cutter facsimile of a century past masculine club.
I call him on his birthday. Sometimes, I even wake him up in the morning.
Aaron Z. Hawkins is a college student finishing up a dual degree in Psychology and Sociology at a college south of the Mason Dixon Line. Upon a closer examination of his life goals, he has opted to leave it all behind and pursue his love of the written word. Aaron loves long walks on the beach, the occasional open mic night, and lengthy discussions around such issues as politics, gender, and religion; over a couple of drinks at the local pub.
© 2012, Aaron Z. Hawkins