What will you be like, the future papa of my child? Will you be tall, but not necessarily dark? Or will you be just competent, quietly but certainly, in the way all good men — with nothing to prove — are?
Yes, I’m pretty sure, you’ll be tall.
“What are you chirping about over there?” my own — tall — father chuckled on the phone last night, “My little sparrow…”
He hadn’t seen me grow up. To him, I am still a child treading on the edge of her womanhood with the same gentle balance and vulnerability as if I were walking along a curb: one foot in front of the other, thrilled and focused, not certain about the destination but quite alright with that uncertainty.
He used to follow me whenever I chose that activity on our walks. Hanging just a few steps back, as if giving me enough room for my budding self-esteem and competence, he, while smoking his cigarette, would be equally as focused at putting one foot in front of the other, upon his own flat ground. And according to him, puddles — were always the height of my thrill.
“Don’t get your feet wet: Your mom’ll kill me,” he’d warn me — the best co-conspirator of my life. Yet, he’d never prohibit me from my exploration.
Besides, with me — it was useless to object. He knew that. It was his own trait: If I got an idea into my little stubborn head, you could bet your life I’d follow through. So, he’d rest, while smoking his cigarette on a bench or leaning against a mossy boulder; or on that same curb marked up with my tiny footsteps. And yes, most likely, I would get my feet wet; and I’d look back at him with a frown:
“Alright, let’s hear it!”
But all that would be given back to me was a grin that my father would be trying so very hard to suppress.
And, the future papa of my child: Will you be of a quiet temperament, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me; hanging back most of the time, as if giving me enough room for my sturdy self-esteem, but then always knowing when to step up to the plate — just because you will be taller — most certainly, taller! — stronger than me? Just because you will be — my man?
True to my stubborn passion, half way through my teens, I decided to leave for a different continent. That time, it was no longer a matter of exploration (although when wasn’t it, with me?) but a matter of a vague hope for better choices in my youth.
My father knew that: The country of my birth was about to go under, and there would be no more gentle balancing for any of us, but a complete anarchy. Yet, never in that chaos, would I see my father lose his composure. Quietly, he’d take in one merciless situation after another, light up a cigarette and hang back while waiting for the best resolution to become clear. And then, he’d step up to the plate and follow through, true to his quiet, stubborn, competent temperament. My father: The first tall man I’d fallen in love with.
So, when I delivered to him the news of my scholarship for a study abroad (something he’d never even heard of, in his lifetime), quietly, he smoked, hung back and took in the information. Surely, there had to be a million questions chaotically arising in his head: questions related to the unpredictable situations my life was certain to present. But that day, he knew better than to get in the way of my decision to leave. Because you could bet your life I’d follow through. He knew that: It was his own trait.
“Don’t tell your mom I agree with this: She’ll kill me!” he told me that day, suppressed a grin; and we began mapping out our next conspiracy.
And, the future papa of my child: Will you be the more lenient of a parent than me, hanging back while letting our kiddo explore his or her own curbs and puddles? (Because you better be certain our child will inherit my tendency for stubborn passions.) Will you quietly follow, hanging just a few steps back, alert enough to catch, pick-up, sweep off, dust off him or her, right on time?
Will you be more courageous to allow for our child’s falls: Because that is the only way one learns? And will you be calmer, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to me, when it is time for our unconditional acceptance of his or her missteps?
It would be one giant puddle I’d select to tread in my womanhood — an entire ocean, to be exact; and then — a whole other one. No matter his own heartbreak, my father chose to hang back. There would be many falls of mine he would be unable to prevent, a million of questions he couldn’t answer; many chaoses he was powerless at solving on my behalf. But no matter my age — and no matter my defeats or victories — I could always dial in on his unconditional ear.
He would listen, hang back — suppress his tears or a grin — then launch into our next conspiracy.
“Don’t tell you mom I know about this,” he always warned me.
Because besides being an exceptional father, he also knew how to be a man: How love a woman with a dangerous habit for stubborn passions. My father would be taller than her, and always much stronger. Yet, still, he would hang back, leaving all the chaotic emotions up to his wife and giving enough room for her budding self-esteem as a woman — and a mom. And when he’d happen to catch us at our feminine chaoses — or silly conspiracies of our gender — he’d suppress a grin and say:
“What are you chirping about over there, my little sparrows?”