Sunday, June 19, 2011

Last Tango in Los Angeles: Father's Day.

Last Tango in Los Angeles: Father's Day.: "I have a couple of close friends who are fathers. Which always surprises me because I knew them when they were mostly just sons. I don't ..."

Father's Day.

I have a couple of close friends who are fathers. Which always surprises me because I knew them when they were mostly just sons.

I don't know where they learned to be fathers. Maybe watching Oprah over the years, maybe some book that's passed around in secret, maybe endless viewings of old 'Little House on the Prarie' reruns, I just don't know for sure.

But they're both pretty good at it as far as I can tell. One is a new father. He has a two year old and his wife is pregnant with another child right now. We spent a good deal of time over the years being less than perfect human beings together. We wallowed in our political incorrectness and jointly celebrated our myriad conquests over the years. We stayed up late together and got up early, daily swaggering through our narrow lives always keeping a crusty veneer over anything remotely resembling vulnerability.

We leapt in and out of romantic entanglements like a night in a bouncy room, steering clear of anything out and out crass but at the same time firmly clutching, like some sort of ephemeral trophy, our pride in ducking the commitment bullet time and again. Wearing our bachelorhood like a shiny pendants.

Today, he doesn't take calls on Saturdays and Sundays because that time is 'baby time.' Today he routinely sleeps on the floor beside his daughter's small bed when she has trouble drifting off. Today, everything in his life that does not directly impact his baby girl holds a distant interest on his 'to-do' list. He works to make money so he might spend it all on her or her future. He plans for schools and play trips and even college in all his spare time. Whenever we speak I hear first about her and then, when he's done boasting, about him. Nothing comes before his daughter, nothing. He is half the man I used to know, not because he's half the man but because he now only has half to share.

My other buddy adopted two little girls, both with special needs. Not serious, overt, physical special needs, but the kind of needs that come from growing up in foster homes and feeling unloved. The kind of special needs that come from living without immediate grown-up protection and approval. And love. He and his wife adopted them and are making a beautiful home for them. He, too, learned somewhere how to make them the explosive priority in his life somewhere along the line. Don't know where. This is a guy that matched me nearly tequila shot for shot on the sawdust floors of New York City's dingiest bars for about a decade, all the while arguing violently about the place of art in our lives and in the world, shouting down mediocrity and drawing up war plans for life without compromise. Now he matches their outfits before they go out and gently scolds them with ten minutes of 'quiet time' if they get a little rambunctious. Now he's a guy that carefully monitors what they watch on television, which movies they see, what words they hear.

And both of them know, by heart, dozens of songs from Hannah Montana and Barney. They could sing them if awakened in the dead of sleep on a winter night at three in the morning. They are both armed to the teeth with reassurance.

And because I am perceptive to the point of clinical diagnosis regarding the slightest facial tick or change in countenence (it's what I do for a living), I sometimes see fleeting and shadowed fear and concern and protectiveness wash over their faces, my two close friends, as they cluck and wade through their little ones. And I am astonished.

I've known them both for a good many years, well over a quarter century, and these are minute muscle configurations I've never once seen allign on their faces before. It's new face, a new thought-pattern, a new concern and it often takes me completely off guard. And I realize it is the face of a father. Not the face of my friends, my goaded and cynical, life-charging friends, but the face of a man with babies. It confuses me and makes me envious and surprises me and makes me think about it later when they've gone.

It is the face of inevitability. Of responsibility. Of love and self-sacrifice. Of total devotion, come hell or high water.

Today my two father friends are on my mind. My sleep-deprived, love-swollen, agenda-planning, face-lined friends, both battling, against unspeakable odds, to make a perfect world in their little corner of the universe for their kids. Both constantly second-guessing themselves, right out in public for everyone to see, both shouldering an unimaginably heavy boulder made up of choices and decisions, their eyes searching down one road and then the other, blindly trying to choose the one less traveled, the one less threatening, the one less painful, the one that will be kinder in the end to their daughters. It's an awesome and humbling sight.

Happy Father's Day to my two, old warrior friends. Happy Father's Day to you and your young families. Happy Father's Day to you both. Happy Father's Day, Jim and Jeff.

See you tomorrow.