My dad turns 66 today. They were 28 when they had me (do the math…). I can’t imagine the me of eight years ago being with it enough to be a good father. Hell, I can’t imagine the me of eight minutes ago being with it enough to be a good father. I’ve spent much of this year (and at times this column) talking about those who I have leaned on to get through the last couple of months, but the truth be told, the line forms behind my old man. A couple of months ago, while at my parents, I found a pair of pictures taken when I was maybe less than a year old. My dad is holding me like a lopsided bag of rice. He’s staring into the photograph with a combination of pride and anxiety. He looks content, but tired (a seven day swing shift will do that to you).
28. The world is still rolling out in front of you, a surging tide pulling away from the mainland, revealing stretches of beach unknown to you. 28 and you are still wandering out into the surf, taking to water rather than taking on water. The ship you sail out into the great unknown of the seemingly endless horizon still figuring out the rigging–the mechanics of being seaworthy. Of course, you left a coal mining town to see the world from the deck of an aircraft carrier. 28 and have already found your way back to your hometown with the island girl. 28 and the surf metaphor is probably beginning to wear off. You came back to town after seeing the world. I don’t question where I get my restlessness. You are still restless, I can hear it when you ask me to describe whatever town I’m traveling to or from; whenever I tell you about a reading you want to know about the place–how’s the food, did I find a good bar, how’re the people?
28 and you’re nose hadn’t been crooked that long. I wrote a poem about it–how you got sucker punched in Guam hustling the locals at pool. I’m guessing half the reason you got clocked was because of pool, the other half is because you are a world class ball-buster and couldn’t leave things well enough alone (again, thanks for the genetics). The poem got published. I don’t know if you’ve read it. The pool table at home hasn’t been used in years. That’s a shame. The last time I was in the basement it had paper towels and a gross of tissue boxes stacked on it. I’m hoping when you sneak out to the VFW you’re still playing pool.
28 and you’re tired because I’ve probably been keeping you up all night when you aren’t working third shift. You don’t sleep like I don’t sleep. Even now that you’re retired, you don’t sleep. I remember calling you on third shifts at PP&L late when I couldn’t sleep and you were taking cat naps, Homer Simpson style. Usually I’d call and give you an update on the Phills when they were playing on the West Coast. Padres, Dodgers, Giants–you’d talk about San Diego and the naval base. We’d both bitch about the Phillies lack of a bullpen or how it seemed they always had a glut of OF/1B utility players. In ‘93 we would talk John Kruk and Mitch Williams and when they clinched the NL East we talked about 1980 and how you kept me home from school so I could watch all of Game 6 and Tug McGraw striking out Willie Wilson to win it all. In 1993 I was eighteen. We still talk baseball. Even when there’s nothing else to talk about–even when there wasn’t anything else to talk about, we talked baseball. It’s cliche but it’s the common language of the house.
I remember when I first came back to Danville last year, I watched my dad with my young cousin, Grant, down at the little league field. The old man was giving him the same advice he had given me way back when–stay alert, keep your head in the game, take what they give you and make them pay for underestimating you.
28 and I wish I was that laconic. You are not quick to anger (or to anything else–true story: his nickname at work was Rocket Man and not because he was an Elton John fan. I guess a sea turtle stoned out of his mind on Mandrax towing a school bus full of Smiths fans across a field of molasses during a blizzard would move faster.). When I talk about baseball being the common house language, it’s not like I ever really didn’t get along with you. You have actually has spent more time negotiating the peace between my mother and me that he should have run for public office. A natural peacekeeper–probably out of simple survival instincts. I can’t imagine having to put up with 18 years of nonstop butting heads. You still don the ref stripes when I come over, although now we’re good for almost a solid six hours before diplomacy needs to be exercised (but hey, you’re not my therapist…yet.).
28 and I wonder if what you were thinking about in the picture came to pass. The tide is rolling back to shore. You’re retired. You’re as healthy as you’ve ever been. You move even slower. You take long walks to feel the world pass beneath you but are never too far from home or mom. You are less tired now. More awake. More aware. You spend way too much fucking time on Facebook–seriously. You’ve built and closed in two porches. You’ve remodeled the house. You bought a Chevy Equinox. You pick my cousins up from the bus stop. You get mom out of the house to go shopping. You always bring coffee over when you stop by. You walk with a cane. You have a new hobby–complaining to customer service. At least no one is going to break your nose over it.
66. You are 66 and I wonder if I’m going to be able to be as satisfied with life as you are right now. I wonder if I’m ever going to grow up and be half the man you are. I hope so. We are not that far from shore.
Jim Warner is the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University. Pound for pound, he is the best half-Filipino poet to adopted by Scranton, PA. Follow him on Twitter: @whoismisterjim.