3 am and I can't sleep. Too much is on my mind. Fatherly stuff, stuff that makes you lay awake and plot revenge. Justice. The world needs more justice. My wife, daughter and two sons are asleep. The dog is heavy on my feet. My eyes are closed but I can't get there, to dreamland. Dad's got heavy dad things on his mind. I'm not all jokes and good times. Sometimes, when the kids are asleep and my wife is snoring, I'm wide awake.
My daughter is a reader. If she doesn't have a book in her hand, even for a two-minute drive to the grocery store, I wonder if she is sick. She reads way above her grade level. It's freaky and I have to read a lot of things with her so that we can talk about what she is seeing. YA novels. So many YA novels. I could use them as stepping stones in the backyard, we have so many.
Do you know what YA novels have in them? Jackass love interests. Jerks and peckerheads that treat the main female character like shit. Oh, she's so mad at that boy. He's so rude! But ya know what, she loves him. Yup, there it fucking is. The main character will eventually love him. Every fucking single time. It's ok though, the main character can change him! He's not really a bad guy, no really. He just needs someone who can understand him. If she is determined enough, her attention will teach him that being shitty to her is a bad thing. Then he will love her. What the Jesus fuck. Seriously. I have to give her a lecture every day to let her know that if a boy is a dick, he will always be a dick. The real world doesn't work that way. If the demon vampire goes to your school, he's not going to be all shiny and love you oh so much Bella! No, he's going to want to suck your blood. I've lectured my niece on this as well.
I talked to my wife tonight. The "me too" conversation that is going around twitter and the internet. I've been with my wife since she was 18. 22 years of being by her side. When I asked her, she said "Well, nothing physical, but in college...." Jesus fucking Christ. How did I not know about this, about what she has to go through? The demeaning comments. The "because you're a girl," bosses have said to her over the years.
I demanded names. I want to make a list. How many fists of justice can I dole out throughout the day? Can I track someone down from 20 years ago? I bet I can. Who fucking catcalls? Seriously? I don't even need a name. I can just follow behind my wife when she walks downtown. I'll take notes. Give her a kiss on the cheek when I hear it, then go do the justice thing. I tell my wife this.
"You know you can tell me anything, right?" I say.
"Of course," she says and rolls her eyes.
"Look, I'm a big guy. And it's all yours. Every stitch of it. Yours. Just say the word and things can happen. That's all I'm saying."
She snorts at my bravado but it's all I got. It's the only thing I know how to do.
I'm an ex-football player. Sure, not in shape anymore but a lot of that strength remains. It's all right here. And, not to be humble here, I can take a punch. Never, not once in my life, have I felt attacked or demeaned like my wife has felt. I have never felt belittled. It's rare that I was even challenged. I suppose as kids but then my brother and I would go and have us a good old-fashioned fistfight. Good times. I miss my brother. He's got a wife and daughter, we should talk more often.
And as I lie here, wide fucking awake, thinking about my wife and daughter, I can't forget about my sons. Two of them. 10 and 4. Little guys. And what makes me worry, what puts that ball of tension in my chest, is that I know exactly what they will have to go through.
Competition. Day in and day out competition. Can't be helped, it will always be there. Subtle things, peer pressure things. Things that will be in their own heads. Little boys are constantly one-upping each other. I can go faster, I can hit harder, I can jump further. I dare you I double dog dare you. I'm tougher than you are. It doesn't stop when you become an adult. For a while there, in your twenties, it gets worse. I have no idea why. Then your own thoughts come in. Am I good enough, am I tough enough?
Don't cry. Only the weak cry. Stay level-headed in a crisis. Don't panic. Sissies panic. Are you a sissy? Control your emotions, can't let them get out of control. Don't disappoint dad. Be like dad. But what if I'm not as tough as dad? What if dad is cross with me, have I failed dad? That's the rub, that's the one that is the hardest to deal with. Dad always loves you, without fail or condition. You are always tough enough for dad. But in your own head, as a young boy, you never think so. I didn't. I think being 10 is exhausting.
So I can't sleep. I can't sleep because I know that there is not a whole lot I can do. It's a thought that is defeating. My one job, my one real job, is to shield them all from the shit in the world. To right the wrongs, to protect them from those things out in the shitty world. To confront those thoughts that they might have. To get into their heads to make sure that it doesn't lead them down the wrong path, make them jaded and lie awake at night. My job is to take on the world.
And I can't. As big as I am, as strong as I am, as tough as I am--it's not enough.
I can teach. I can read the YA books with my daughter. I can reassure my sons that dad always has their back. I can teach all of them that confidence is your shield and that Dad is never disappointed in you. And I can hug my wife, keep things away. Sometimes. Not all the time. Because the bottom line truth is that Dad can't fight all their battles for them. My wife knows this. She's the beacon of strength that I hope my children see. I want to fight all their battles for them. I can't. They have to. I can be in their corner, I can cheer them on. But I can't fight them. Now I feel powerless, and perhaps for the first time, I can really feel like they all do sometimes.
That's why you find yourself in the middle of the night worried about all of them. A father's worry, deep and gnawing.
This is how you find yourself rooting for the sharks in the volcanos.