I like to take naps with my son. I was never much of a napper before Justin came along. Not because I don’t like to sleep. I love to sleep. Especially on weekends. There just never seemed to be enough time for weekday naps before. These days, when I can, I make the time. Honestly, the things we endure for our kids.
My two girls went down for their afternoon naps without too much of a fuss. Oh, Sandy and Savannah have both had their share of night frights, but noontime naps came pretty easily. Justin has always needed someone to lay down with him; I work nights and am at home during the day, so I got into the habit of doing it. (Note to the child psychologists currently reading this and shaking their heads…Yes, I know all of the reasons why the aforementioned napping with my son is supposedly “wrong.” And, no, I couldn’t care less.)
We lie together on his bed, and he tells me what he did in kindergarten, what he had for lunch, what kids he played with, what kids pulled his hair, whose hair he pulled, and before too long, he drifts off. Unless, as sometimes happens (OK, as often happens) I zone out first. Then he whacks me and tells me I am making that “tractor sound.”
Usually lying with Justin conjures up only the very best kinds of images. Days we have spent together, playing ball, digging in the sand at the beach, sneaking off for hot dogs at lunch so that his sorta-vegetarian-low-fat-mom won’t find out and make us, “Have some vegetables with that!” You know, Dad-and-Son stuff. Sorry, no girls allowed.
I look at him sleeping and think, as Dads will, about his future. Will he play soccer or baseball? Will he be good at math like his mom, or barely be able to make change like me? Will he learn to love music the way Savannah does, or will he shy away from it like Sandy?
Today, though, things were a bit different. Justin fell asleep on the couch in the living room while watching Nemo reunite with his dad for the three millionth time this week, and I had to carry him to his bed. For some reason, and God only knows where these thoughts come from, carrying my son today brought back a memory of the one and only time I carried my father. He was sick.
Although my dad was one of the first people in his crowd to take the Surgeon General seriously and he gave up smoking his Pall Malls pretty early on in his life, his lungs wound up killing him anyway. He contracted asbestosis from work, which led to the emphysema that left me without a father too early. Way too damn early.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was taking him to the doctor for what would turn out to be his final visit. There were no close parking spaces, and dad couldn’t make it to the door on foot; his breath had grown too short by this time to manage more than a few steps. There were no wheelchairs around, so I lifted him out of the car and carried him the 25 or so feet to the entrance, where a nurse finally turned up with a chair.
Not a very long distance, but I know it felt like a million miles in the mind of a proud man like my dad who never needed or wanted to be carried anywhere. And it was more than enough distance for me to realize that there was almost nothing left of my father. He had never been a big man, but he was always scary-strong and tougher than most guys twice his size. My dad actually coulda whipped your dad. But as I carried him to his doctor’s door on that day, I could feel everything that he was and had been was emptying out of him somehow. And I knew in that moment, if I hadn’t accepted it before, that my father was going to die. And, just a few far-too-short weeks later … he was gone.
I am a different kind of father than my dad was. He was a good man, but he was a product of his times. We never said, “I love you” to each other. Even sitting by his bed as he lay dying, I couldn’t say the words. It just seemed unnecessary to say out loud what we both already knew. His presence at a thousand Little League games, the countless hours he spent busting his knuckles keeping my cars running, and all of the times he bailed me out of yet another of my seemingly endless jams had already told me everything I needed to know.
I am sure my dad weighed more on that sad day I carried him to his doctor than Justin does now, but when I carried my son to his bed this afternoon, he seemed heavier — more solid — more “there” somehow. It is as if he is filling up with the same life force that was emptying out of my dad.
I like to take naps with my son. I love my son, and I loved my father. And I have now lived long enough to have carried both my father and my son. I recommend one of those things very highly. And I pray with all of my might that my boy never has to do the other.