It’s the “Love, Recorded” Father’s Day, but hasn’t it been Father’s Day every day?
A few months ago, I applied for a Ph.D. program in Houston. I have a friend in the program and she’s about the most convincing person I know. I’m about the easiest person to convince that his life needs to change.
My wife was on board. Houston has the second largest Korean population in the country—who knew? Cathreen knew. Plus, the weather might take care of her allergy to the cold. Cathreen said she was ready to leave Boston. I thought she was just starting to like it. This was before the rough winter, the worst she’s ever seen.
I considered the application, as I think of most things at their beginnings, as on a whim. As an outside shot at a new life, but not essential. I didn’t particularly want or not want to go. I didn’t apply anywhere else.
Of course, then I really wanted to go, as the months passed.
When I got in, I felt panicked about moving my family again, putting my eggs into the basket of a degree on top of the “terminal” degree I already have. Panicked over the implication that this step would be the thing to make or break us, when I had given little thought to first applying.
I spent this past week, leading up to Father’s Day, on goodbyes. I gave two readings, taught a last class. We took Grace to a behavioral doctor, one step in setting up care that will extend to Houston. The doctor specializes in diagnoses.
Grace doesn’t like transitions, the doctor said. Which bodes how it bodes.
It was a week of less-than-average fathering, at least in terms of time. Wednesday morning, I realized I hadn’t seen my daughter since waking up the day before, that I had gone 24 hours without a moment of applied fatherhood. I was gone again almost all of Friday, so I promised to take care of Grace over the weekend. I forgot about Father’s Day.
Father’s Week, it has been. Not “Fathers’ Week,” not a week to fathers in general, but a week where I have dictated events and my family has built their schedule around me.
The day before Father’s Day, Cathreen says to choose something I really want to do, and we will see how she feels about making it happen after a good night’s sleep. I list a few day trips, or the beach, and Grace says, “beach.” Though she has a habit of repeating the last syllables we speak, and this may mean nothing. Our last beach trip, the wind kicked up the sand so forcefully that we had to wrap Grace in a towel and retreat, as she yelled that the sand hurt her.
This is another of her hang-ups: she hates sand. She says, “hurts, hurts,” in Korean. She says this when sand gets on her hands, or when something spills on her clothes, or when she doesn’t want to be picked up.
Still, we think it’s a good idea, the beach.
Grace goes to bed at midnight on Father’s Day Eve, so we wake up near 11. She’s had this sleeping inconsistency since she was born, or even during pregnancy, when Cathreen couldn’t go to sleep until the sun came up, most nights, our daughter rolling around inside her.
We should probably stay home and start packing or selling our things. Little is decided. We reserved an apartment sight unseen. We took the cats to the vet, and they screamed and pissed and turned feral, so bad that the vet had to get out the big leather gloves and it took two people to hold each down. We will have to drug them to get them on a plane. It’s a worry, that the cats are harder to move now than a baby.
But we are going to the beach. We let Grace have more than her half hour of TV while we prep breakfast and get ready. Tarzan is on, and she loses interest quickly but I realize that we are watching an adoptee movie, in its way. I watch the gorilla patriarch reject Tarzan and I think about the fathering to be done in each moment. I remember how, on Mother’s Day, Cathreen said, “Mother’s Day, not Father’s Day,” and I think I should probably write about Father’s Day, to be fair—how Cathreen has given me Father’s Week, Father’s Life. I am leading us through a jungle with nothing but my instinct.
On the way, Grace is supposed to nap but does not. This means that she will not nap until the drive back home. “Persistent,” the doctor called her, trying hard (though slipping a few times) not to say, “stubborn,” as she classified Grace’s temperament. Strong-willed, we say. She knows what she wants. She will not let herself sleep while there is playing to be done. Her will is a thing that will help her later in life, but is difficult not to try to snuff out now, when it would be easier if nonexistent.
We walk around a loop that encloses the beach area, and the wind whips against us. Airplanes fly overhead, and each time, we stop the stroller so Grace can point and sing, “Bihaengi,” airplane, to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” (This tune from a show hosted by a teletubby-like character who is named “Fart” in Korean.) We stop and go, repositioning the stroller each time we hear the roar in the air. When we are halfway, Cathreen reaches down and scratches her legs. The wind has died a little, and in the change in temperature from the cold breeze to a slightly warmer humidity, from one part of this landbridge to another, her allergy has left hives all along her thighs.
“Houston,” I say like a spell. Though we worry that going from the air conditioning in Houston to the hot outside air will have the same effect.
Pregnancy caused this, and yet Cathreen still thinks about having another child.
On the other end of the walkway is a grassy area and an old military fort. Grace runs around until we get hungry, and then we make our way past a smaller, toddler-friendly beach, to a fast food stand. We order hot dogs and hamburgers that come with nothing on them, and I squirt ketchup into the little paper containers. Grace dips a french fry into the ketchup and licks off the paste, again and again. “Just bite it,” I say. She brings the container to her mouth. “The french fry,” we say quickly. “Bite the french fry!”
After we eat, we take her to play on the beach. She has tools. She doesn’t have to touch the sand. We want more, though. We want her to walk barefoot on the beach without feeling uncomfortable, to pick up sand in her hands. She loves the water, so we take her closer, and I pull off her socks and shoes. “Will she do that?” Cathreen asks, but I assure her that it will be fine. I lower Grace toward the ground and she lifts her legs up, not letting me put her down.
“It’s okay,” I say, showing her my bare feet.
“It’s okay,” Cathreen says, taking off her sandals.
Finally Grace lets her feet touch. At first, she won’t move. But I can see she wants to go to the water. Sometimes we wonder whether we should let her take her time, have faith that she will get over everything. The doctor says babies outgrow their sensory issues. We tell ourselves not to compare Grace to other babies. Yet we can see that she wants to touch, wants to get wet, wants to play with abandon—the desire is written in her little baby-frown. I inch toward the water with the bucket, dip my feet into the surf, shiver with the cold. Grace steps forward until she gets her feet wet, too. She lets the waves wash into the bucket. She pours the bucket out on the sand in front of her and fills it up again, pours it out, fills it up again.