Drive By: A Short Story

 

I stand by the window, looking out, watching my daughter play in the front yard.

My heart fills with dread.

They should be here any minute.

Should being the operative word.

Will they come?

Why should they?

I’m amazed how everyone seems to know everyone—everyone but me. How do they all know each other? Our kids are in third grade. When I was a kid, if my classmates didn’t live in the neighborhood, my parents didn’t know their parents at all.

I seem to be the only one upholding that tradition. How would I even begin to meet the other kids’ parents? PTO? Sports?

I honestly have no idea.

I don’t want my daughter to pay for my ignorance. She’s going to be the outcast. The weirdo. The kid with the dad who’s clueless about throwing birthday parties under ordinary circumstances. But during a pandemic? Hopeless.

When the mom emailed, my instinct said not to trust her.

She wanted to organize a birthday parade for my daughter. She said my daughter’s teacher asked her to do it, which is also how she got my email address. She said she’d be happy to lend a hand—I just needed to make sure my daughter hung out in the front yard at a certain time. She included her phone number and asked me to call.

I did.

It wasn’t bad, but it was awful.

Against my better judgement, I agreed to it. I asked if I could assist, and—to my relief—she said not to worry about a thing.

Why?

She doesn’t know me. I’m not even sure she knows my daughter. She owes me nothing—no favors, no kindness, no mercy. Yet, she supposedly got in touch with all the kids’ families and set up a parade.

But what if she didn’t? What if she changed her mind? What if she got busy with her actual friends or her real commitments?

I’m expected to trust her without knowing her.

Maybe I should have just thrown a party. Screw it. Get the bouncy house. Hire the clown. Order pizza. Invite the entire third grade to our backyard. Pandemic be damned.

No.

I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It would have been hard when things were normal—but I would have done it. I keep telling myself I would have bitten the bullet and hosted a party.

But now? I can’t bring myself to take that risk. No matter how unlikely, I can’t jeopardize my daughter’s health.

The neighborhood thinks I’m a freak for taking this so seriously. My daughter will likely be ostracized for the rest of her school years because of me. She’ll be the kid with the nutty dad. The house nobody wants to come visit. She won’t be invited places because no one will want to deal with me.

What they must think—all those normal parents. I can’t even organize a birthday parade on my own.

What’s wrong with me?

I watch my daughter.

She’s the only bright spot in my life. The only thing I got right. I’m doing the best I can, but I’m not equipped for parenthood. It doesn’t come naturally. I never expected to be doing it alone.

I watch her.

My heart is full of joy, fear, confusion, love, anxiety, and happiness all at once.

Tears zigzag down my face.

For the longest time, nothing happens but the hitch of my chest.

And then I hear it—a blaring of horns. I see my daughter begin to jump up and down, waving her arms. Cars and minivans appear. Most have balloons attached. Some even have her name written on the sides, wishing her a happy birthday.

She looks at me through the window, gestures for me to come outside, and then goes back to jumping for joy.

I wipe off the tears, walk to the front door, and reach for the knob.


 

Copyright © 2020 by Scott William Foley

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this story may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews or articles.

On Fatherhood

With Father’s Day rapidly approaching, I find myself reflecting on what it means to be a dad.  For me, it’s hard.

Really hard.

I’m currently thirty-six years old, and with a four year old and a thirteen-month old, I feel like I’m barely keeping it together.  My wife and I are both well-educated, well-adjusted people with good jobs and stable backgrounds.  But even with that being said, it’s a challenge every single day.

Don’t get me wrong – I love being a dad.  And what I’m about to write is going to sound very sentimental, because I’m a sentimental guy.  But I don’t want the reader to think for one moment that I find being a dad easy and free of adversity.

But, the truth is, I was never comfortable in my own skin until my first daughter arrived.  Growing up, people always told me I’d be a great dad, and I never really understood what they meant.  I get it now, because I think I’m a pretty good dad, far from perfect, of course, but I try my best.  I think it’s really interesting that people saw a “dad” in me decades before I saw it in myself.  I actually used to cringe when people said that, because I felt it a weakness in my personality.  Now I know that it’s a strength, one that I hope to foster with each passing day.

In the past, I tried to be cool.  I tried to be hip.  It never really worked well for me because I’m neither cool nor hip.  Now I couldn’t care less if I’m either of those things because I’m too busy trying to take care of my two kids with my wife while pursuing a Master’s degree and holding down a full-time job.  I’ve never been busier in my life than I am right now, and that’s okay with me.  Every day I see my children gain a new achievement, and that’s an achievement for my wife and me as well.  We work hard at trying to teach them and give them new experiences, we strive to help them realize right from wrong, but by no means is it a walk in the park.

When I hear about young men running out on their families, I get it.  I don’t accept it, and I certainly don’t condone it, but I understand it.  Nothing can prepare you for being a parent.  It’s a nonstop, unending, unrelenting task, especially if you’re trying to do it well.  For most of us, me included, it’s overwhelming.  But, in my mind, being a dad is one of the greatest responsibilities a man can take on.  In my opinion, a father must always stick by and support his children.  No matter how hard, no matter how much of a burden, a man must stay with his family.

I’ve heard people say in the past that they had to relinquish their dreams for their children, but that’s not the case with me.  I honestly feel like I hadn’t really found my true self until I became a dad.  It made me a better teacher, a better student, hopefully a better husband, and definitely a better person.  If anything, it’s helped me to manage my time better.  I still chase those hobbies that intensely interest me.  I still read, I still write.  I do everything I wanted to do before they were born, but now I just do it more efficiently.  Instead of procrastinating for weeks at a time and finally getting something done in one bluster of activity, now I chip away at things, a little bit every day.  It helps me to feel more productive than ever.

Do I get frustrated sometimes?  Absolutely.  Do I want to go hide behind the couch sometimes to get a few moments of peace and quiet?  Yes.  But I know exactly the kind of guy I’d be right now if not for my wife and kids, and I’m glad I’m not that guy.

Being a dad is difficult and demanding, but it’s also the most rewarding experience of my life.  I love being a dad, and that’s pretty cool.