Thursday, January 15, 2009
It was thirty years ago today
I don't remember the day clearly, but becoming a father for the first time lays an awful responsibility on one's shoulders.
Thirty years ago, my son Brendan was born. Happy Birthday, B.
That responsibility, the need to protect this helpless infant from the vague and looming horrors of the world, is a heavy mantle to bear, but one that's mitigated by the joy in watching the formless infant take shape as a human.
Brendan became Brendan early. He cried, with colic, for nine months.
He taught himself to read via Sesame Street and magnetic refrigerator letters at 4, and a year later he was at the breakfast table reading stats from his favorite team, the Yankees. How he ever found baseball or the Yankees with me in the house, I'll never know.
His brilliance in the years that followed never ceased to amaze me.
When I would say, "It's a bug," he would identify an insect by its Latin name.
He woke earlier than anyone in the house and would watch evangelical broadcasting, and one morning preached to me over Cheerios.
When we encountered a senior citizen at the mall during Christmas season, who somehow explained that he was all alone for the holiday, Brendan insisted on sending him a Christmas card.
When he began explaining math problems to me, I knew I was in trouble.
Nearly ten years ago, my first wife and I divorced. It was a difficult time, as it often is. Brendan and I stopped talking, and we haven't found a way to talk again since.
Men being men, and McKeon men being McKeon men, we have found it impossible to begin that conversation.
But what happened to me thirty years ago is that a part of my heart was lost forever to a helpless infant. And since that day, I've worried, and hoped, and admired, and boasted, and felt pride, and felt loss, but I've always felt love. That hasn't diminished with any of the rancor, or hurt, or guilt, or time.
Counselors, and friends, relatives and strangers have told me that the wound might be impossible to heal. They warned me to steel my heart. But I know Brendan, and I don't believe that's true.
Happy Birthday, Brendan. We need to talk.