For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
As long as I can remember, my father has been an early riser. Some of my earliest memories are of him walking past my room before dawn on his way to the stairway. I'd hear him draw in deep breaths while he did twenty knee bends, exactly twenty, right outside my door before descending the stairs two steps at a time to the landing below. Next he'd grunt out fifty sit ups and fifty push ups and then finish up with a jog around the house, living room, family room and kitchen breathing through his nose which would tweet like a whistle every now and then. He'd jog twenty-five laps, always, no more, no less, pausing on the odd numbered laps to sprint in place for a hundred count. This was his routine Monday through Friday, altering only on the weekend to allow for yard work on Saturday and church on Sunday.
This morning was no exception, even though technically he was at my house now, and there weren't any stairs to navigate. I heard his alarm faintly announce from down the hall that it was precisely 5am, and propped myself up on one elbow. I listened for him to jog past my room and start his ritual just outside my door. A low muffled moan emanated from the form curled up beside me, her mop-topped head snuggly wedged underneath both of her pillows.
“Aww come on Patrick, he’s your Pop! Can’t you get him to take that noise outside?” groaned Michelle, scooting toward me and trying to push me out of bed with her bottom.
“Maybe we can find him a girlfriend or something to redirect all that extra energy.” I snickered, rolling her way, spooning up to her.
“I bet I can take your mind off of his noise if we make a little noise of our own,” I said, whispering in her ear.
“In your dreams hot stuff, I need a couple more hours sleep,” she mumbled sleepily.
“Tell you what though, you go and cool your Pop’s jets and I’ll meet you in the shower around seven, deal?” she offered playfully, kissing the air and patting me reassuringly on my rump.
“Promises, promises!” I sighed, swinging my legs out of bed and reaching for my bathrobe hanging on the footboard. I felt around for my slippers on the cold hardwood floor with my stocking feet and worked them on without hands.
I tied a sad little knot around my robe and walked out of the room and into the hall. There he was, my old man, still in tip top shape and full of piss and vinegar. He paused for a second to acknowledge my unexpected presence, and looked me over like a drill sergeant, grunting something unintelligible.
“What was that? You say something ya old fossil?” I asked sarcastically.
“Ah, I was going to ask if you wanted to join me. But, I can see that you didn’t even have the strength to tie a proper knot,” he quipped, pointing out the embarrassing gap in my loosely tied bathrobe. I looked down and quickly put the mouse back in his house and cinched the terrycloth knot snuggly as Dad disappeared through the living-room and into the kitchen, lap number one under way.
“Hey, wait up!” I hollered, chasing after him. I caught up with him on turn two as he passed the living room sofa. I had to trot behind him as there wasn’t room enough to run along side.
“Listen Pop, why don’t we take this outside so Michelle can sleep in? You’d be doing me a really big favor, believe me!”
“Can’t do it son, shrapnel in both of my knees courtesy the Nazis, you know that,” he replied.
“Aw come on Pop, we can run on the grass and stay off the concrete altogether to save your knees,” I pleaded.
“Oh alright, I suppose I can do my part to support your love life. Besides, it’s high time we put some giggles back in this house, Gabriel’s been gone for a year now,” he added, stopping to man-slap me on my back. We walked through the kitchen and out the sliding glass door that led to the backyard. I sighed, uncomfortably, knowing that my father could see right through me. It had always bugged me how he was always so direct, so blunt. I slid the door closed behind me as we stepped into the cool pre-dawn air. It was still dark, but you could smell the morning coming, the dew on the grass was ice cold and crunched a little under my bare feet.
We jogged along in silence for a quarter hour, our breath visible on the cold air. I admired my father’s square posture as he ran, secretly hoping that I would be as spry when I reached his age. We pulled up at lap twenty-five and started to run in place at a sprinter’s pace. I was sweating more than I had expected to and was having trouble keeping my robe tied shut. Mercifully the wind sprint run was over quickly and I watched my dad stop and reach to take his own pulse, a pair of fingers placed over the carotid artery at his neck. He watched the second hand on his Timex and counted the beats of his heart. After 30 seconds he put his hands on his hips and took a very deep breath, letting it out slowly. Then he smiled broadly and slapped me on the back, bragging, “I’ve got the heart of a 30 year-old!”
We walked over to the patio table and sat down. He studied me for a moment and then leaned back heavily in the chair. Clasping his hands and lacing his fingers together as if he were praying, like he always did just before he lectured me. Somehow he always knew when I had something on my mind. Maybe it was a skill he learned from my mother, I knew it wasn’t a natural instinct because few men have that kind of sixth sense naturally. Most guys have the attention span of an African tsetse fly; we're just too easily distracted. Women on the other hand study people as a hobby, and have that nagging sense of “I know what you’re thinking” that they use to keep us in line, most of the time anyway.
“So, are you going to tell me about what you’re up to or are you waiting for me to guess?” he asked sarcastically. That pissed me off this early in the morning so I let him stew in his sarcasm for a moment before answering.
“I never could keep secrets from you or Mom,” I said.
“And why would you? You should know by now that I’ll support you no matter what as long you're not breaking the law or hurting anyone. I'm your father after all, right,” he quipped?
“Yeah, well this time Papa, this time I’m planning to step over that line,” I replied.
“Which line?” he asked cautiously.
“Technically both,” I answered, unconsciously biting at my lower lip.
“Oh,” was all he could come up with as he studied my face. He stared at me for an uncomfortable couple an moment before my impatience got the best of me.
“Papa?" I said, rudely snapping my fingers in his face.
“I was just deciding how much of this I wanted to hear is all,” he replied. His face betrayed his concern but he remained cool, carefully choosing his next words. He sighed heavily and I braced myself for a nickel lecture.
“You and Michelle have been through hell son. I know how it feels to visit there, how easy it is to surrender to evil thoughts when you’re convinced you’ve been wronged,” he said, delivering cent number one of the nickel lecture.
“That being said, I also believe that God’s ways are mysterious, and that sometimes the ends may actually justify the means. If the end is righteous of course, does that make sense?” he asked.
“Who’s being obtuse now?” I teased using one of his favorite terms.
“Touché,” he chuckled.
“Seriously Patrick, what do you have up your sleeve?”
call you?” I asked suspiciously. Sandy
“No, but I have to admit that I’ve had a few questionable thoughts of my own where that hospital is concerned. I’m guessing that is what this is all about, am I right?” he replied delivering cent two, three, and four.
“Let’s go back inside and make some coffee, we’ll have a couple of hours to chat before Michelle wakes up,” I said, nodding my head toward the warm house.
“Alright, go make the coffee while I finish my work out,” Papa answered, getting up to slide the big glass door open. He motioned for me to step inside and as I walked past he put his hand onto my shoulder.
“Top secret, right?” he asked with a knowing wink.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Not for Michelle’s ears, right?”
“Right, top secret,” I answered with a wink of my own.
Papa smiled at me as I went inside and closed the door behind me. He turned and jogged back out to the yard, continuing with his laps, twenty-five, no more, no less.