Published on February 8th, 2015 | by Richard Black1
Carrying My Daughter to Bed and Why I Love Being a Stay at Home Father (The Slightly Snarky But Also True Version)
Carrying my daughter to bed is one of the most rewarding experiences I have as a father and not just because the act signals the end of another grueling day and the consumption of many alcoholic beverages upon its conclusion.
As I carry Darcy to bed every night I’m reminded of many things; the young infant I used to hold some four years ago and the girl I’m carrying now. I think, as I hold her, about the young woman she will become. Always in the background with all of these thoughts is the memory of my father as he took me in his arms and the rhythm of his steps as he carried me up a flight of stairs and placed me in bed. I remember, in short, what it felt like to be loved and cared for as a child.
It’s such a simple act but it was, for me, one of the most tangible displays of my father’s love. As I became a little older I realized that there would soon be a day where I would become too old, that I would weigh too much or my lanky body would become too unwieldy for the old man to carry me to bed. I cherished those moments and I clearly remember feigning sleep in the car or the couch knowing that it could be the last time I would ever be this close to my father.
Like most of my childhood recollections even this tender memory is somewhat tainted. On one fateful night, after I had fallen asleep from a day trip to my father’s parents, the old man took me from the backseat of our car, held me in his arms as he walked into the house, up the stairs and promptly stepped on my gerbil Gary.
In my father’s defense Gary probably had it coming. I’d piled books on top of his cage to keep him contained, strapped down the hood with giant industrial strength rubber bands and finally duct tape when all else failed. Gary was not to be deterred. Gary was Houdini reincarnated and the little bastard wouldn’t stay put which, even as a child, I understood.
I don’t know why the caged bird sings or young hearts want to be free, but I know why the gerbil escapes his cage. It’s because he wants to chew on books, crap under the bed and bite the living shit out of a young boy with the gall to take him in his hands and place him back in his cage. Some of them also, presumably, have the urge to be stomped on by a middle aged and slightly overweight man carrying his son to bed.
After a cursory inspection my mother and father determined that Gary’s back had been broken by my father’s gargantuan foot. We put him, Gary not my father, in a small bathroom garbage can we’d cleaned out and filled with cedar shavings and I spent the rest of the night listening to the scurrying sounds of a paraplegic gerbil in mortal pain.
Gary finally passed two agonizing days later. In retrospect it was probably worse for Gary but it wasn’t a picnic for me either. I lugged Gary in his trashcan back and forth from my house to a childcare facility while I fed him drops of sugar water and watched him twitch and fidget and squeal for forty eight hours until he finally left his mortal coil.
My father and I buried him in the backyard and, for a bedtime story, the old man reminisced about his time in Vietnam when he was a sergeant and some idiot in his platoon didn’t listen to my father’s instruction and jumped, under fire, into a Huey that was promptly shot down by the NVA.
To this day I’m not sure exactly how my father’s story related to Gary’s death but I appreciated the sentiment. I was young but even at the age of seven or so I knew my father’s story was his way of empathizing with the pain that I felt on Gary’s passing. I also knew that dad was never one to let a life lesson go without a bit of advice and that, in his mind, my gerbil’s death was some sort of fucked up metaphor for how I shouldn’t jump into a helicopter as a teenager and get a girl pregnant.
It’s a fitting metaphor for parenthood really. At some point during our children’s lives, when they feel safe and secure and loved, we will accidentally step on their gerbil and attempt to console them with a misguided story about Vietnam, childbirth, how we caught a case of crabs or that one time we tried on a pair of skinny jeans.
It’s really a wonder I, or any of us really, are so well adjusted.