By Paul Beckman
The Sunday of my sixth birthday I was waiting on the stoop for my father to pick me up. Usually he’d take both my older brother and me together on his monthly pickups but not on birthday months. He wanted those to be special and memorable.
That Sunday turned out to be memorable but not special. I sat on the stoop from eight in the morning until it got dark and mom made me go into the house. I fought her. “What happens if he comes in fifteen minutes or ten or even two minutes and I’m not sitting and waiting?” I asked, “He’ll honk his horn,” my mother said, “so go sit in the kitchen and have something to eat. You know he’s not coming. You know he doesn’t like you and that means he doesn’t want to be alone with you.”
“I haven’t eaten because he always takes us out for a special birthday dinner, and I don’t want to miss it,” I said.
The shrink listened as I told this story, made a few notes, and hmmed after each sentence.
“How did that make you feel?” he asked.
“I’m not going to answer that question,” I said.
“Is it too painful?”
“No. it’s too trite. Be creative, show some interest, don’t ask the question that’s become a cliché.”
“We should examine why that question bothers you so much.”
“You bother me more,” I said as I got up, grabbed my jacket and walked out of his office. He followed me. There was a young woman sitting in his waiting room. “Same time next week?”
“Not on your fucking life,” I said. And then I told the girl the shrink was useless, and she should leave, and she told me he was her father and they were going out for dinner, “Watch he doesn’t duck out the back door,” I told her.
I’m forty-eight and this was my fifth and last shrink. I had other more pressing issues besides my father but after sitting they all asked me to tell them about my family and the shrink problem finder always homed in on him.
Later, I got on the I95 parking lot that some call a highway and headed to Milford to pick up my ten-year-old son, James, to go to Chuck E. Cheese and then a batting cage. I didn’t call because he had no cell phone and I didn’t want to get ragged on by my ex so when I pulled into their driveway forty-five minutes late they were out in the backyard at the picnic table eating pizza with a couple of James’ friends.
“Hey, buddy. Did you save room for Chucky?”
“No. I got hungry and mom heated up a couple of pizzas.”
“OK. Grab your gear and let’s hit the batting cage and we’ll have time for a movie.”
“Too late, Dad. Sorry. I figured you weren’t coming so I invited Mel and Alex over for the weekend.”
“Well, why didn’t you call me?”
“Why didn’t you call me?” James asked.
“Talk to you later,” I said.
“Bye, Dad.” He said and I could hear the sadness in his voice, so I turned and waved him over and we sat on the front lawn. “James, I’m sorry. I was at the doctor, left my appointment early and got caught up in the turnpike rush hour traffic. You’re right. I should’ve called but I didn’t want to get into an argument with your mother.”
“You shouldn’t blame her for your mess up, Dad.”
“I’m not blaming her. I already told you what happened and apologized. What more can I do?”
“Why don’t you say goodbye to your friends and grab your duffel and come over for the weekend.”
“I can’t. I gave them my word we’d hang out together and they could stay the weekend. You wouldn’t want me to not keep my word, would you? Smell you later.”
I stared at James as he walked back to his mother and friends and never turned around to look at me. With tear-filled eyes and angry thoughts, I headed over to the batting cages to take out my frustration with some cuts at the ball. On my third time hitting with the speed cranked up I turned and saw James and his friends standing, watching me. I stared at them as ball after ball passed by me. “Three strikes, you’re out!” called the ticket taker and I dropped my bat on the ground and walked to my car.