Ignorance like a gun in hand
reach out to the promised land
Your history books are full of lies,
media -blitz gonna dry your eyes
You're eighteen wanna be a man
Your granddaddy's in the Ku Klux Klan
Taking two steps forward
and four steps back
Gonna go to the White House
and paint it black
Turn around, they'll try to keep you down
Turn around, Turn around
Don't drag me down

--Mike Ness

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mood Indigo

Softly the silky smooth voice of Billie Holiday slinks across the room to me while a large stuffed fish rotates lazily overhead. Her voice contrasts starkly with fish, the rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” is somber, quiet and melancholy while the fish is garish. It has exaggerated eyes and mouth and is stitched together from fuzzy fabrics of fluorescent orange and cobalt blue with cream colored accents. That unusual contrast reminds me how rarely I come up and lay here in top bunk. How rarely I partake of what the climb has to offer. My oldest son sleeps next me. His rhythmic breathing seems to underscore the song. It is quiet. The kind of quiet that makes you aware just how noisy "quiet" can be if you stop to listen. Everyone save me is asleep, dogs and children and now that Sun has set even the birds outside have ceased to sing.

As the dusk descends on our little town that "quiet" slips into my boys’ room revealing sounds that are always there, hidden just under the more demanding diurnal sounds. Their fish tank bubbles away while it's air pump gives off a quiet hum. The bunk bed creaks with every slight shift of my weight. My oldest son breathes softly and just below us I can hear the breathing of my youngest son. It's warm and the window is open letting in the exterior night sounds. Leaves of trees and shrubs rustle in a slight breeze. A few blocks away the railroad crossing begins to ding, and then a loud long mournful wail of a freight train cuts though the night. Twice more the train blows its whistle robbing the night of its serenity. As the echoes fade the sound of the train rolling over the tracks combines with the ringing of the crossing signal in a vain attempt to blend with the other night sounds. It's a futile attempt though. The sound of the train and crossing is harsh and out of place to the other night sounds. It strikes an odd contrast with its surroundings, like the fish. Like my own presence here.

I don’t know why I’m reluctant to make the trip up to the top bunk these days. Partly it is pragmatism I suppose. Everyday constraints of raising three children all with different needs provides an easy excuse not to. There are always excuses. I need to do dishes. I have things to pick up. I have to get your baby sister ready for bed. Your brother is younger he needs me to lay down with him. All are just rationalizations used to mask my ageism and notions of masculinity. A boy who is almost six shouldn't have to have someone lay down with him. It somehow makes him a baby, less of a man. Having your father lay down with you becomes at some unspecified point an unacceptable contrast to the process of growing up.

How did I come to believe this? Is it true? I don’t know and take enough comfort in the night sounds to question myself. Question my perceptions of fatherhood and what it is to be a male. My son runs his hand up my sleeve, he has been doing this from the time he was an infant. It must bring him some small measure of comfort, a sense of security in world that at times doesn't feel very secure. It feels good. Simultaneously it feels uncomfortable to me. The close contact of him reminds me how in frequently I am in this spot. Reminds me of how out of context I seem in this place. I wonder if being here makes me less of a man. If being here makes him less of a man. Does this now infrequent trip up become like some cruel joke to him? Have I become some Robin Goodfellow making mischief on him as he sleeps? Leading him astray from the man he is too become?

The fish has stopped twirling and now looks down on me accusingly. “Are you going to go?” He says. “No,” I whisper. “I’m going to stay.” I decide that whatever my notions of manhood and growing up are; right now, right here, this feels right. That if even for just a few short minutes the world with its problems and perceptions has melted away, has shrunk down to this small place for this brief period. As out of place as the train and the fish seem they serve a purpose and have a function. I come to the realization that the whole point of growing into manhood, of having strength, honor and virtue is to be able to provide an atmosphere that fosters moments like these. Without them masculinity would be little more than hollow shell in which to hide.

Absent now is the sound of the train. I pull myself in close to the warmth of my son. My nose is full of the sent of him, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, it just is. As I am now. I embrace the moment and close my eyes. Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” plays on the radio as sleep takes me. Right now for this moment all is right in the world. The fish stands guard over us.



  1. Nicole said...

    This was beautiful. Good for you.

  2. Lisa said...

    I feel so lucky to have you as my husband and the father to my children. Even though sometimes you are a dunderhead, there are not many men who question themselves and their motives in order to become better. And not only do you do that, you can express it so amazingly. It makes me tear up.

    I’m in awe of your writing. I’m thankful you’ve started the blog so I can see the you that I know is there but doesn’t always surface.