A Father’s Prayer

When you were five, we’d get out your little step ladder in front of the bathroom mirror. We’d paint our faces in shaving cream, and you and I would shave together. You would study me to know just the right way to do it. Tilt your chin, go slow, wipe the slate clean.

You wore your “puma hat” for a full year because you hated that long hair. And it was always Diego, never Dora. Cowboy boots, Buzz Lightyear, and Spiderman. We’d pretend your closet was an elevator or a rocket ship taking us to the moon. Kung Fu Panda got you into taekwondo. You had a black belt before you turned ten.

You held the door for strangers who said, “What a fine young gentleman you are raising!” They were right. I was wrong. Being so incredibly dense, the Thanksgiving when you were six and your sister was two, I raised a glass to give thanks “for my girls.” Mom corrected me: “Give thanks for your kids.” She was always smarter than me. I was still only starting to comprehend.

The next Thanksgiving, finally with your short hair, our dear family friend asked how to address you, saying there are three choices: your first name, your middle name, or your nick name. You said, “Actually, there is a fourth choice. My initials.” Those initials, I think, saved your life. They were a bridge, not for you, but for me to walk over to the real you. There is a fourth choice, another option for getting names to match Being. You taught me that. I was looking without seeing, the way someone doesn’t notice the elephant in the room only because they never expected it to be there. Expectations, like comparisons, are such horrible things.

What’s in a pronoun? A word, a world. Existence is in the smallest words. You. Me. I. Us. He. Him. His truth. Your truth. Our truth. After changing your name at the courthouse, we got tacos and ice cream. So much had changed, and so little. All this mystery. And all this shared history, and yet some folks think they know! They don’t know.

When you were nine, we spent six months camping in the American West. The Ponderosa under the turning moon. Volcanic hoodoos at Chiricahua and the kivas of Chaco. Your sister stuck her hand on a prickly pear cactus and accidentally broke your beloved hiking stick that you brought all the way from Big Bend. It had lived as a reed on the Rio Grande. You had reinforced it with duct tape at nights in the camper. We held a funeral for it at Joshua Tree. A few days later, we saw dolphins on the boat to the Channel Islands. I remember the sea mist in your wondering eyes. A Saguaro your age would be two inches tall. All things change. They change in their own way at their own pace. “God is change,” wrote Octavia Butler. Amen.  

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