During his wife Melinda’s pregnancy, Lyle attended a class for expectant fathers. The facilitator prompted him to visualize quality time with his future child, and he trained his mind on teaching his little boy how to throw a ball. The smell of the leather of a baseball glove and freshly cut grass tickled his nose. When the imaginary boy dropped the ball while lifting it over his shoulder, Lyle comforted him with a, “Chin up, Mikey!” and showed him how to do it right.
But once actual fatherhood came along, the experience shaped up differently than he expected. At first the problem seemed to be merely that the Mikey was too big. At only eleven months old, Mikey was already six foot one and taller than Lyle. A great mass of plush, sweet-smelling baby flesh, he cut a striking figure. He toddled about the house with sudden bursts of energy that sometimes sent him stumbling. The family China never stood a chance.
But the surprises didn’t stop there. Mikey’s first word came one evening when he saw Lyle putting some fish on the grill. Mikey pointed at one of the darkish filets and said, “Mackerel.”
Lyle thought he might have heard wrong. As he studied his son’s giant, guileless face, he felt the prickles of a change of complexion on his own mug—whether to pale or rosy, he didn’t know. Mikey continued pointing and said, almost as if to clarify, “Holy mackerel.”
Another evening Lyle was watching TV in the living room when Mikey lumbered up to him with a jigsaw puzzle. Lyle emptied the pieces from the box onto the carpet, thinking he’d show his son how to put a few together. He sifted through the hundred-odd pieces for a few moments before realizing they were all black—a heftier challenge than he was in the mood for. He was about to start shoveling the pieces back into the box when Mikey set to work, slotting together a first pair with his huge, pillowy fingers. He fished around for more matches, and after eyeing a couple pieces carefully, attached them to the others.
Lyle’s jaw slackened. He felt both amazed and nervous. He had no choice, it seemed, but to shove his hand into the pile of pieces and have a go himself. But the pair he came up with didn’t fit. He fiddled around with a few more only to wind up with the same result. Meanwhile, Mikey had assembled together a large black patch of about fifteen pieces, which sat on the faded carpet staring up at Lyle like a bruise.
Melinda entered the room with a basket of laundry. She sat down next to Lyle checking out her son’s handiwork. “Is Mikey showing you how to make the puzzle?”
“So it appears,” said Lyle, his arms limp at his sides.
“Well, you know what they say about teachers learning from students. I guess the same could be said for parents, right?”
Lyle knew the correct response to the question, and he hoped that one day he would be in full agreement with it. But for the time being—as he looked at Mikey’s large, brilliant head and his plump, tree-trunk-like legs—he could only bring himself to say, “I feel small.”
© Thad Fowler. All rights reserved.