My youngest keeps his cards close to his vest. Doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. Well, he is sporting a vest. So really, he doesn’t have any sleeves on which to paste his feelings. Especially what with clutching all those mysterious and unknowable cards to his chest. Everett isn’t one to share his emotions, is what I’m trying to say. His waters may be still, but they are bottomless. Wrong word choice. Strike that. Let’s go with “deep.” His waters are deep. They run deep. There, that’s better.
Here’s how things transpired: I posed my plain vanilla afterschool standard, “How was your day, bud?” I fully expected the age -appropriate, totally opaque, “Oh, fine.” Instead, I get, “Well, someone I like found out they are someone I like.”
I found myself in uncharted territory. Woefully unprepared. I almost wish he had copped to selling smack in the 7-Eleven. Or robbing a Chevron station. Those scenarios seem easier to navigate than that of unrequited love: “Were you caught? Arrested? Let’s get you legal counsel immediately. Wait, are you wearing a wire?”
That stuff is easy. But capital L capital O capital V capital E? Fuggedaboutit.
I chose to keep my mouth shut. Any wrong-headed words in this moment, no matter how well-intended, would surely doom my smitten 5th grader to a life devoid of meaningful attachments. Playing checkers on a park bench with strangers. Pigeons pecking at his feet. Paper-bagged bottle at his side. Emotionally alone. All because his dipshit dad gave the wrong advice at that critical moment: 4:05 pm PST on March 23, 2017.
The pressure. I bit both of my lips together with both rows of my teeth. Hard enough to leave a mark. The sound of my heartbeat pulsing in my skull. All my energy focused on trying to come up with something useful and important and encouraging and fatherly. Covering up my rising panic with my go-to: slow nodding of my head with a slight, all-knowing squint of my eyes. Like I’ve seen in the movies.
“Was it “Livy??,'” I heard someone say. I froze and held my breath, suddenly realizing that “someone” was me. That incredibly dumb question — dare I say, the worst possible question — was mine. My intrigue regarding the identity of his little heart’s desire overwhelmed my apparently weaker instinct to embrace his little heart. (Note to readers: For what it’s worth, “Livy” is not the real girl’s name here. At least I don’t think so.)
My faux pas was ignored or instantly forgiven or perhaps catalogued for later, added to the long list of “Dumb Things Dad Said.” Ev soldiered on in the face of my ineptitude, explaining that he had even gotten into a scrap with a classmate whom “Livy” apparently preferred to my second born son. A little physical altercation. I must admit, my spirits brightened for a moment. A fistfight fell well within my smack-selling/gas station-robbing fatherly advice wheelhouse! Now we got ourselves somethin’ to discuss!
But the moment passed. We were, I realized, firmly ensconced in matters of the heart. Well above my pay grade. Beyond my ken. (Note to readers: For what it’s worth, “ken” isn’t a real person in this particular situation. At least I don’t think so.)
Fortunately for me, a mad dash to Little League practice interrupted our discussion. And bought me some time during which I could (and did) plumb the depths of my better half’s encyclopedic emotional playbook. I will spend the rest of the day now preparing an elaborate Decison Tree. Ready to dispense perfect advice to my heartsick 11 year-old at 4:05 pm PST today. I only hope he hasn’t put his vest back on by then. Wish me luck.
And thanks for reading.