In a More Mortal Moment

Before my son was born, I was immortal. I had a few dozen different lives behind me, a hundred thousand ahead. Croak? Not me. Too damned busy.

Then, KA-BOOM! I was a father. Suddenly I felt as vulnerable as the flame on a birthday candle. In the path of a Florida hurricane.

I've spoken with several moms and dads who've experienced the same instant mortalization. The only conclusion we've been able to come up with is that parenthood gives you so much to lose.

I have never been a goal-oriented kinda guy. There was never much of anything in my pre-dad days that I just had to get or accomplish or do or see or feel. My stock answer to the question, "How ya doin?" was, "Great! I made it to Wednesday." That was my only goal. And once Wednesday came and went, my aim was to make it to the next Wednesday. Succeed in doing that for eighty or ninety years, I figured, and you've done all right. In the meantime, you might even get, accomplish, do, see and feel things you never thought to enter in your Daily Planner.

But for four years now, I've been hoping to make it far beyond Wednesday. Far enough to see my son grow up. To see what kind of human being I've foisted on the world. To see what kind of world I've foisted on my son. To see how they mesh.

I want this so badly that almost every day I wonder, "What if I don't make it to Wednesday?" What if the O-ring goes, or the engines fail at 30,000 feet, or all my years of idiotic, self-destructive behavior catch up with me in some dark alley. What if I miss it all?

Too hard to think about. This is easier: What if I had, oh, three minutes to tell my son everything I want him to know? What would I say? Cliches, mostly. Gooey, goopy, sappy, sloppy, straight-from-the-soul cliches--thicker than molasses, and precisely as thick as love.

Let's see.
First of all, I'd tell him that the hardest mistakes to learn from are the mistakes you make when you mistakenly thought you'd learned from your mistakes. I learned that while learning everything else I know.

I'd tell him that life is too short for slasher movies, telemarketers and regrets.

That one perfect diamond is worth a quarter ton of rhinestones, and together the whole truckload is worth a fraction of one badly connected phone call from an old friend you thought you'd lost.

That when you're looking for forgiveness, start your search in front of a mirror.

That pain is a handy reminder that you're still alive and functioning properly--and that joy wouldn't be nearly as much fun without it.

I'd tell him that his world will be whatever he makes of it, not what his world makes of him.

That he should always trust his heart, no matter how often the sneaky little organ gets him in hot water.

That when he can no longer make faces at small children, it's high time to loosen up.

That if he likes black-velvet paintings, screw everyone and buy 'em by the crate.

That all life is sacred--with the possible exception of cockroach life. And maybe lawyer life.

That the only way to destroy an honest-to-God friendship is to try real hard . . . and not to be grateful for the second chance your friend'll give you.

I'd tell him that some people will dislike him for dumb reasons, some will dislike him for imaginary reasons, and some will dislike him for no reason at all. Let them.

I'd tell him not to forget that he beat incredible odds just to exist. That he beat some more incredible odds to exist right now in the flerzillion-year span of eternity. That he beat even more incredible odds to exist right here, surrounded as he is by ardent admirers with a serious kiss-hug fetish. And I'd tell him never to take such awesome luck for granted.

Finally, after a minute or so of very mushy blubbering, I'd tell him to make it to the farthest Wednesday he can. And to have a child of his own for some really terrific company.

There I'll be, taking my dying breath. And I know exactly what my son will say.

"Ummm . . . What? Dad? Were you talking to me? Dad? Dad? . . .

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Michael Burkett

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