When my son was born, Dad took what turned out to be the last trip he’d ever take when he traveled with my mom to Seattle for the impending birth. That trip marked only the third time I’d convinced my parents to leave their well-worn spots on the sagging furniture in their living room and venture beyond the state borders. It took the birth of his first grandson to dislodge Dad from that seat and convince him to endure a five-plus-hour flight clear across the continental U.S. He wanted a grandson that bad.
I eschewed tradition, familial rituals, and myths of ancestral lineage, but it was important to Dad to “carry down the family name.” I never understood why it was so paramount, but I humored him because I loved him. Mom, who had dedicated her entire life to taking care of Dad, despite the fact that he was a grown man, parrotted his sentiments. Not a single call home went by without a reminder of the crucial nature of these things as Mom had long ago surrendered herself to the repetition of the obvious.
Tiffany and I decided on Troy James for our boy’s name. James, my dad’s given name, is also my middle name. I’d been happy to give him a completely unique name to set his own path within the family, but I felt a nod to Dad was in order given he’d waited so long, and I wanted Troy to have a connection to his paternal grandfather much like I did. Needless to say, my parents were ecstatic, especially Dad.
On the morning Grace turned 18 months old, Tiffany and I left Dad and Mom alone with Grace at our house and headed to the hospital to induce the arrival of our second child. We arrived bright and early and spent the greater part of the day cajoling Troy to join us in the real world. I should have known from how long his birth took that he’d be a stubborn little guy. By the evening poor Tiffany was exhausted with the effects of the epidural fading, but she kept going, and our almost-ten-pound bundle of joy finally arrived before the day was over.
I’d never bought into the whole idea of some special father-son bond. Dad and I had a good relationship and we had a lot in common, but I resisted the idea that the father-son bond was any different than that of a father-daughter connection. I didn’t want Grace to feel like she was second fiddle to Troy because of her gender, which, to me, is an absurd bifurcation of the world. My daughter would rain down the glass ceiling upon the affectless patriarchs who doubted her.
Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t something entirely different about having a son. That electrifying moment when I held him for the first time had a different energy about it. I loved him just like I loved Grace from the first moment I saw him, but in his eyes, I saw myself and all of the hopes and dreams that never came to pass. I wished that for my son at that seminal moment, but I knew the weight of such expectations would crush him. I saw in him the chance to relive my own childhood without the pressure and disappointments. He was barely ten minutes old and already my wishes threatened to swallow him whole. I had to tamp down these inclinations if both of us were going to survive his meandering trip to adulthood.
Troy was a chubby little guy more so than most babies. He had an out-sized belly that protruded like that of an old man carrying the weight of too many stagnant years along with cherub-like cheeks that shined like new money. He looked like the Michelin Man or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters. The fat rolled off his thighs like frosting on a warm cake. I loved it. I’d hug him tight just to feel the weight of him and kiss his chubby cheeks until he couldn’t take it anymore or until I got tired of holding him, which didn’t take long as much as he weighed.
The next day after his birth, I brought Grace and my parents to the hospital to see Troy. Grace, already a vivacious and engaging little girl, was ecstatic to see her new baby brother. She asked lots of questions and shared her observations on the arrival of her younger sibling. One of my most cherished photos is one where she’s holding her brother for the first time, a moment forever burned into my happy memories.
In another heart-warming moment, Dad held his grandson for the first time. He didn’t get emotional, but I could tell he was over the moon. In the space of less than two years, he went from no grandkids to two beautiful, healthy ones. His life felt complete. I wished we could have talked more about it, but I was harried from a sleepless night spent on the cushioned bench in the hospital room, and he was getting antsy about getting back home as he always did when he left his house for any extended period of time.
My parents left soon thereafter and returned to North Georgia, but not before Grace gave them a run for their money. Tiffany and I had eagerly anticipated the day when Grace would start talking, and as if she knew what we had hoped for, she started talking pretty early, and she didn’t stop. She quickly developed into a loquacious little girl, and while my parents were keeping her, she apparently talked them to death. Dad, whose contributions to conversations could be measured in syllables, didn’t know what to think of the constantly chattering granddaughter who followed him around the house in our absence. His cigarette breaks on our front porch relieved him of the cacophony for a moment, but Grace waited patiently for his return so that she could continue their “conversation.” I laughed heartily when Mom relayed this story because I knew Dad avoided lengthy conversations like he avoided leaving his house.
As we settled into our lives as a family of four, I loved watching Troy’s personality emerge. He didn’t know what to think of his sister at first, often staring at her in that perplexed-baby way that is usually reserved for animals. For a while, Tiffany and I feared he’d be overrun by Grace, who can be dominating and intimidating to others, but we quickly realized that would never be the case. Troy emerged as a high-energy and quick-witted little boy whose curiosity and atypical risk-aversion was only outmatched by his refusal to do just about anything asked of him, especially when said requests came from his sister. He was going to be okay, my little Bartleby.