The Happy Homemaker: An Episodic Story Series
“He’s in his room,” Bradley answered.
“Is he okay?”
“We’re not sure. He won’t tell us anything. He just walked in and told us that he wanted to talk to you – and only you – as he went up to his room.”
“He wouldn’t say anything to me either as we headed home from the beach,” Jake added.
“And he wants to talk to…me…of all people?” I asked.
“I was just as surprised as you are,” Bradley replied.
“Try to figure out a teenager,” I said as I slowly made my way up the stairs.
I stood outside the door to Giago’s bedroom for a few moments. As clueless as I was as to what he wanted to talk to me about and even more clueless as to what I was going to say about whatever it was he wanted to talk to me about, I was completely clueless about why he wanted to talk to me – and only me. After all, it wasn’t as if he and I haven’t had our share of arguments:
We’ve argued over his putting gas in the car.
We’ve argued over his cleaning the bathroom.
We’ve argued over how he wore his pants.
And I’m sure we’re about to have an argument over something else.
But yet he’s involved in some sort of situation that he wants to talk to me – and only me – about? Try and figure out a teenager.
I knocked on the door. “Giago, it’s dad. Can I come in?”
“Yeah,” a deflated Giago responded.
I opened the door and walked in. Giago was sprawled out on his bed with his face in his pillow. I sat down on the edge of his bed. “Jake and your pops told me you needed to talk…to me. What happened at the beach?”
Giago turned around to face me. His eyes were red from crying. He sat up, threw his arms around me and started crying again. I hugged him back and he rested his head on my shoulder.
“Whatever it is, it’s okay,” I assured him. “You can tell me what happened or you can just cry until you feel better.”
“How could she do that to me, dad?”
“I don’t know,” I responded blindly.
“It was so embarrassing.”
“I’m sure it was.”
“And in front of Jake.”
“I can imagine,” I said before realizing what he just said. “What does Jake have to do with it?”
“He kinda looks up to me.”
I tilted my head dubiously, but decided against questioning the validity of that statement at this moment. “And now he won’t?”
“Why would he? I’ll be the laughing stock of the entire senior class.”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“It is. I want to be home-schooled.”
I chuckled. “Well before we resort to that, why don’t you tell me what happened?”
Giago flopped back down onto his bed. “There’s this girl that moved into town mid-year and started going to our school. She was beautiful and smart and funny. And I liked it her right away. All the guys noticed her, but I was the first one who started talking to her – and from what she told me, I was the first one who wasn’t obviously trying to get with her. That didn’t even cross my mind. I just wanted to be around her. When I told her that, she thought it was cute and we started hanging out. After we went out a couple of times, I told her that I liked her. She kissed me on the cheek and said that she liked me too. And we kept hanging out. So Jake and I organized this day at the beach with a small group of us – actually, Jake did most of the planning since he likes to do that sort of thing. Is that a gay thing, Dad?”
I was caught off-guard by the sudden shift in the conversation, but I went along with it. “Not necessarily,” I replied. “That’s more a Jake and your pops thing than a gay thing. I hate planning things when more than one other person is involved, but your pops loves it. When you were younger though, I had to plan things out because you were involved in so many different things. But now that you’re older and planning things on your own – or through Jake – I let your pops do the planning for us. But I digress…carry on.”
“Anyway,” Giago continued. “I had Jake organize this beach day for us. At some point during the afternoon, I was going to pull her aside and ask her to officially be my girlfriend. Then when she said yes, we could announce it to our small group of friends so that no one would be upset that they weren’t told first. I didn’t even tell Jake that I was doing this. I wanted it to be a surprise for everyone. It was going to be great. But then she showed up at the beach with some other guy who was clearly her date for our date with everyone else.”
“Yikes,” I said.
“Yeah. And she was like, ‘I hope you don’t mind that I brought a friend,’ in that adorable way that I wish I hated right now more than I actually do.”
“But what’s embarrassing about that?”
“Everybody knows I like her. Everyone thought she liked me too. And everyone has said that we’d make a cute couple – well, clearly everyone except her.”
“And I may not have covered up my feelings about what she did as much as I now wish I had.”
“I was kinda rude to her date.”
“In words or in action?”
“Both. I peppered him with questions about who he was, how he met Samantha and even asked him what his intentions were with her.”
I chuckled. “I once did that with one of your Uncle Jasper’s boyfriends. And also to your Aunt Jessilynn’s husband – at a nightcap following their wedding reception.”
“Well, Samantha didn’t find it as funny as you did. But that just frustrated me more -- so I used his beach towel as a napkin after we all ate, I put sand in his bottle of sunscreen and I kept laying in between the two of them whenever I struck up a conversation.”
I rubbed Giago’s back. “Yeah…you should be embarrassed.”
Giago chuckled. “Thanks, dad.”
“But not for what you think she did. And it’s not the end of the world. You’re a hormonal teenager and as such, you don’t always think clearly when it comes to matters of the heart. You like girls and you think they like you back but then it turns out they only see you as a friend – which you don’t always find out until someone else enters the picture. It works the same way when girls like a guy – only the guys are generally more willing to juggle two or three until they decide which one they want the most.”
“I bet dating would be easier if I was gay.”
I snickered. “Not from what I remember about it. So unless it's changed -- and from what I'm hearing, it hasn't all that much, the gays aren’t any better about such things than the straights.”
“Does Jake know that?”
“He’ll find out soon enough. So brace yourself. We like to cry, too.”
Giago sat back up. “I’ve never seen you cry.”
“And hopefully you never will. I saw your Grandma Stephanie cry a lot after she and Grandpa Derrick divorced. It wasn’t pretty. And there was nothing I could do about it. I’m hoping never to see that again. But know that crying is not a sign of weakness. It’s actually a sign of strength. Being vulnerable, letting people help and being in touch with your feelings are all signs of strength.”
Giago thought about this for a moment. “So I should have cried in front of Samantha instead of mistreating her date?”
“Absolutely. I don’t know much about women, but they love sensitivity. They like strong and silent, but after a while they all come around to appreciating sensitivity more – generally speaking.”
“I’ve messed things up with Samantha, haven’t I?”
“For the time being, yes. But if she’s smart, she’ll eventually give you a chance to explain. And if not – you’ll always have Jake.”
Jake gave me a hug. “Thanks, dad.”
“Anytime, son. I love you.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.”
“I’m glad you came to me about this, but you could have also spoken to your pops.”
“I know, but he always just tries to make me feel better.”
I considered this for a moment. “And I don’t?”
“No, you do. But you’re a lot tougher on me than he is and you have no problem telling me when I’m being an idiot.”
I tussled his hair. “You’re welcome – and becoming very wise in your young age. Are you ready to re-emerge or should I just send your pops and Jake in?”
“Nah. I’ll come out there,” Giago said as he slid out of bed.
I walked over to the door and opened it to find Bradley and Jake standing on the other side.
“We just wanted to make sure everything was alright with Giago,” Jake said as he walked in to give him a hug.
“I just wanted to hear what happened at the beach," Bradley said as he leaned against the doorway. "And now that I know, I can say that this little Samantha chippie doesn't sound like she's worth all this drama. So get over her and move on to the next one so we can have dinner."
Giago, Jake and I returned his statement with looks of mild surprise.
"See? I can be just as tough as your dad," Bradley said proudly to Giago as he headed back downstairs.
"He's just showing off," I said to Giago and Jake as we followed Bradley downstairs.
“And what time is curfew?” I asked Giago as a reminder.
“Midnight. So we’ll be back around then.”
“No. You’ll be back BY then.”
“By then or sit here watching TV with your pops and me while Jake goes out with all your friends, has a good time and catches the fancy of some girl you like.”
“He’s gay. I’m not all that worried.”
“She may not know that – or care.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works, but fine. Midnight. If I have to.”
“You have to. And pull up your pants.”
“Why?” he asked – as if what I told him to do was merely a suggestion.
“Because…I said so.”
“But we’re going to be late.”
“Then hurry up and do as I say because you’re not leaving this house with your ass hanging out.”
“Because…and I’ll say it again…I said so.”
“What’s wrong with this?” he asked Jake or Bradley or both – as if either of their responses mattered to me in this instance.
I sat up on the edge of the couch. “What’s right with it?”
“That’s not style. That’s tacky. And you can look tacky all you want to within the confines of this house, but you won’t do it in public.”
“Why do you always have to be so difficult?”
This caught Bradley’s attention and he sat up on the edge of the couch as I rose up off it. Giago recently surpassed me in height and has since gotten quite mouthy.
I remember when my height surpassed that of my mother. I thought for sure that it meant I was grown and could therefore do what I wanted to, say what I wanted to and go (or not go) where I wanted to (or didn’t want to)…
…let’s just say I was wrong…
…just like Giago was about to be.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
Giago wilted a bit.
“I don’t think we’ll be going out tonight,” Jake said to Giago and then slowly took several steps back.
“You can go if you want to, Jake,” Bradley told him while I continued to stare intently at Giago.
“Let’s try this again,” I said, walking towards Giago. “How’s this for difficult? Pull up your pants – or go up to your room…until college.”
Giago tried to return my stare. When that failed, this strange look came across his face.
“Really?” I said, putting my hand on my hips. “I dare you.”
“Terrence…,” Bradley forewarned. “Don’t go there.”
“Why not?” I asked. “He thinks he’s big and bad enough to overpower me now that he has some height. I thought the same thing when I grew taller than my mother. But height didn't mean anything to my mother – just like your height doesn’t mean anything to me. And keep this in mind: if you actually do what it looks like you want to do, then you can’t live here anymore. Win or lose – you can’t live here anymore.”
Bradley walked up behind me. “This has gone far enough,” he whispered in my ear.
“So how much is your pride worth to you?” I asked Giago, partially ignoring Bradley.
“It’s worth more than this conversation,” Giago replied indignantly.
“Watch it, Giago,” Bradley warned him.
“Why is he always on my case?” Giago asked Bradley, nearing tears, as he started to walk up the stairs to his bedroom.
Bradley grabbed Giago by the arm, dragged him to the couch and sat him down. “I’ve had enough of this. Terrence and Jake, sit down. Giago, don’t you say another word until I’m finished – and that word had better be, ‘I’m sorry’.”
“Of course you’re going to take his side,” Giago mumbled.
“Don’t test me, Giago,” Bradley said, pointing a finger in Giago’s face. “The reason why your dad is always on your case is because when you leave this house – you represent US. And that US is an interracial gay married couple. And if some people aren’t raising their eyebrows over the gay thing, they’re certainly raising their eyebrows over the interracial thing. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a child of such a couple and we’ve tried to shield you from that, but it’s a reality of this world that you’re eventually going to have to contend with no matter how hard we continue to try to shield you from it. Regardless, there are people out there who are not only looking for my marriage to your dad to fall apart, but who also want to find reasons why our raising you together has somehow been detrimental to you. And if they make their case, you could still – even at the age of 17 – be taken away from us. That having been said, you can either pull up your pants and go out with Jake and your other friends or spend the evening in your room pouting and sulking because we won’t let you out of this house with your ass hanging out.”
Giago thought about this for a moment. “Is that really possible?”
“It’s unlikely, but it’s still possible if someone wants to make an issue out of us raising you.”
“I had no idea.”
“You weren’t supposed to – and until just now, there was no reason for you to.”
“But I still don’t understand what this has to do with my pants.”
“It sends the wrong message about who you are.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a negative connotation to sagging your pants as you want to do. And behind that, people see you as less than who you really are.”
“Plus – we just don’t like it,” I added snidely.
Jake stood up and pulled his pants above his waist. “Fine. I get it. Are you ready to go now, Jake?”
“I have been from the beginning,” Jake responded.
“Go where?” Bradley asked.
“Go…out?” Giago responded.
Bradley checked his watch. “It’s kind of late.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s kind of late for you to go out.”
“But our curfew is midnight.”
“I know. But at this point there’s no reason to go out since you have to be back so soon.”
“That, and because you were so uncooperative about us asking you to pull up your pants in the first place that we don’t think you deserve to go out tonight in the second place,” Bradley explained.
“That’s not fair,” Giago protested.
“Actually, it’s quite fair,” I said. “Especially since it looked like you wanted to hit me for a moment there.”
“I wasn’t going to hit you.”
“Oh I know – but just the fact that the thought crossed your mind is why it would be best for you to go upstairs and think about that.”
Giago stifled a smirk and shook his head as he started up the stairs. “Jake, are you still going out?”
“Will you tell the girls I said hello?”
“Nope,” Jake said as he started to leave.
“Midnight, Jake,” Bradley called out to him as he walked through the kitchen and out the door.
Bradley and I watched as Giago trudged his way up the stairs.
“Let’s go to bed to see if he tries to sneak out,” I joked.
“You think he’d dare?”
“I’m not sure, but if he does, I have a great punishment for him.”
“Which would be?”
“We don’t ground him. We just go out with him and his friends for two weeks. He’d hate it so much that he’d ultimately decide on his own to just stay at home.”
“Sometimes it’s just really fun being a parent.”
We knew this was something we wanted to do – especially when we first laid eyes on Giovannie at an adoption event a few months prior. And we felt that we were mentally, emotionally and financially prepared for the responsibility – or at least as much as one can be when tasking oneself with the upbringing of an entire human being other than yourself.
Bradley and I got out of the car and he joined me at the back passenger side door where Giovannie was situated in a booster seat. I opened the door and Bradley reached in to unfasten the harness. He and I smiled at Giovannie – who, having sat in abject silence the entire ride home from the social worker’s office, didn’t seem as sold on us as we were on him.
I reached out my hand to him and he just stared at it as if uncertain what I expected him to do with it.
Bradley took a different approach. He reached into the car,
lifted Giovannie out of it and stood him up on the driveway.
Giovannie looked up at both of us. He looked up at Bradley, who tousled his hair. And then he looked up at me. I leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.
And then Giovannie crawled under the car.
“What did you do that for?” Bradley asked. “You scared him!”
“I scared him?” I asked. “You’re the one who reached into the car and pulled him out like he was a load of laundry!”
“I thought that maybe he wasn’t sure whether or not he was allowed to come in.”
“Why would he think that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it happened to him before. I don’t know.”
It’s entirely possible. While Bradley and I were very much interested in knowing his cultural background in order to incorporate elements of it into our daily lives and provide him with a sense of identity, we opted out of knowing about the specifics of his home life because we felt safe in assuming that it was less than favorable. So we decided to leave it at that and “simply” do better for Giovanni than whatever we figured that was. Besides, that information would always be available to us if we discovered that not having it somehow made us deficient in raising him.
“I’ll move the car,” Bradley suggested in a moment of thought-free panic as he rushed to the driver’s seat.
“Now why would you do a fool thing like that?” I asked. “We don’t know what’s under there and what could latch itself onto Giovannie’s clothes --- or Giovannie himself – and drag him wherever you move the car to.”
“You’re right. I hadn’t thought that far ahead.”
I walked over to Bradley and placed a comforting hand on his left upper arm. “Calm down. Breathe. I’ll handle this.”
I took my shirt jacket off and laid it inside down on the pavement of the driveway. Then I laid down on top of it and looked under the car. Giovannie, the only thing I could ever actually recognize under there, was lying on his stomach with this head in his hands.
“Is he okay down there?” Bradley asked.
“Yes, but I can’t tell if he’s sleeping or crying,” I replied.
Bradley similarly took off his suit jacket, laid it inside down on the pavement of the driveway and looked under the car.
“I don’t think he’s doing either,” Bradley said. “I think it’s just his way of hiding.”
I reached my arm under the car and laid it near Giovannie.
“Giovannie,” I said softly. “I can’t even begin to imagine how scared, nervous or confused you may be by all of this. But I want you to know that your father and I chose you. We wanted YOU. And we’re very happy to have you here. This is your home now – if you want it to be. And from our previous visits, it seemed as if you did. So you can feel safe here. And know that we aren’t going anywhere. And as long as you want to be here – neither are you.”
We waited a few moments for a response.
“So if you want to stay under the car because that’s where you feel safe,” Bradley continued. “Then we’ll be right here.”
Bradley reached his arm under the car and we waited a few moments for another response. Bradley reached his other hand out to me and we interlocked our fingers together.
“Are you guys alright down there?” a voice asked. Bradley and I turned around to see Mr. Collins, our neighbor across the street.
“Yeah, we’re fine.” Bradley answered. “We just brought our son home and he’s hiding under the car.
Mr. Collins got down on his knees to look under the car – as if we were making this up.
“Is he okay down there?” Mr. Collins asked.
“As far as we know, he is. We figured that he’s just nervous and that he’ll come out in a few minutes,” I replied.
“Is there anything I can do?” Mr. Collins asked as he stood back up.
“I think we’ll be alright, but if you want to hang around and chat with us, that may help,” I suggested.
“How?” Bradley asked.
“I don’t know. But I don’t see how it could hurt.”
“Is everything alright over here?” Stacey, another neighbor asked us as she peered over us to check out the scene.
“Yeah,” I answered, looking up. “We just brought our son home from the social worker’s office.”
“And has soon as we got him out of the car, he hid under it,” Bradley added.
“They think he’s a bit nervous about coming inside,” Mr. Collins concluded with our conclusion.
“I see,” Stacey responded. “I was just jogging by and saw something under your car. I wasn’t sure what it was as I was approaching, but then I noticed it was a little boy. Is he going to be alright?”
“We think so,” Bradley replied. “But if he’s still under there as night falls, then we’ll have to figure something else out.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Stacey asked.
“Nope. We’ll figure it out, but thank you.” I answered.
Stacey’s wife Dina came jogging toward us from the opposite direction. “Stacey, what’s the hold up?” she asked.
“Terrence and Bradley just brought their son home from the social worker’s office and as soon as they took him out of the car, he hid under it and now they’re just waiting for him to come out from under it,” Stacey explained.
“How’d I miss this when I jogged by?” Dana asked.
“That’s a good question. You didn’t notice a child underneath a car?”
“I saw Mr. Collins so I figured that whatever it was, it was being handled. So I kept jogging.”
“Oy gevalt,” Stacey said as she and Dana started jogging in place. “We’re going to finish our jog, but I have my cell phone, so text me if you need anything.”
“Thanks, Stacey. Enjoy,” I said to her as she and Dana ran off.
“I should probably get going myself,” Mr. Collins said. “The Missus and I will check in with you guys later. Or tomorrow.”
“Thanks, Mr. Collins,” I said.
“We appreciate it,” Bradley added.
“No problem. I hope my being here somehow helped,” Mr. Collins responded as he headed back to his house across the street.
“We hope so, too,” Bradley I said in sync.
A few minutes later, Giovannie came from around the other side of the car. Bradley pulled him into a hug and I put my arms around them both.
“I guess it did help,” I said, coming out of the embrace.
“I don’t like spiders,” Giovannie said.
“What do you mean?” Bradley asked.
“There was a spider under there,” Giovannie explained.
Bradley and I chuckled. “Well, whatever got you from under there and into our arms is alright with us,” Bradley said with a wide smile.
“Are you ready to go home?” I asked Giovannie.
“Great. But the next time you feel the need to hide from us, can you do it under your bed instead?” Bradley asked, pointing to the oil spots on the front of Giovannie’s shirt that had seeped onto Bradley’s.
I waited a few moments for Giago to saunter his way from his bedroom into the bathroom – which of course he did with an attitude.
“Yes, dad,” he responded with a condescension – intentional or otherwise – that I didn’t appreciate, but would address later.
“How is it that you can hit a baseball with 86% accuracy, but your penis-to-toilet percentage is about half that?” I asked, pointing at the evidence lingering around the toilet bowl.
Giago shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know.”
“Well, while you figure that out – and I will need you to figure that – can you also help come to some sort of understanding as to why you can’t mitigate that low penis-to-toilet percentage by cleaning up after yourself?”
Giago groaned and rolled his eyes. “Fine.”
I raised an eyebrow and stepped up to him so that he and I were standing face to face. “I’m going to need you to fix your attitude – and fix it NOW because you brought this on yourself. Common sense should tell you that when you make a mess – whatever that mess may be – you clean it up. And since you’re sixteen years old, you’re about ten years passed the point of getting away with it because you’re young and don’t know any better. Now clean this up.”
As I started walking out, Giago grabbed a few paper towels from a holder situated on the back of the toilet. “No ‘please’ or ‘thank you’?” he whispered under his breath – or so he thought.
I was immediately stopped in my tracks. I slowly turned around and narrowed my eyes to slits. Giago took notice and sighed again knowing what was coming.
“You’ve got a lot of mouth today, you little pissant,” I said to him. “And I would watch it if I were you because you’re veering on some very dangerous territory.”
“I think you just like yelling at me,” Giago stated.
“Excuse me?” I responded. “Do you want to repeat that?”
Giago stared at me for a moment – unsure as to what to say next. It was as if he wanted to take this further but the way the look on my face seemed to register in his brain made him think wiser of it.
“I do not,” he replied.
“Good. But to answer your question – no, I do not enjoy yelling at you. Do you enjoy doing and saying stupid shit? Because the way you act could lead someone to believe that you actually like getting yelled at – or are otherwise completely unaffected by it. Or maybe you think it’s funny. Do you think it’s funny to see me flying off the handle? Is it amusing to you? Do you want to record it to show to your friends or even better yet, upload it to YouTube for the entire world to see? Maybe you’d like to set up a Twitter feed called ‘Shit My Dad Yells’ or an Instagram account with photos of some of my best contorted faces.”
“Now you’re just being ridiculous.”
“You want to see ridiculous?” I responded, crossing my arms. “You can just go ahead and clean this entire bathroom – bathtub, bathtub walls, mirror, floor, sink and toilet. We also have a second bathroom if you want to keep this going.”
“Then maybe you just hate me.”
I wasn’t sure whether to be mad at him for voicing such a thought or sad for him that he had it in the first place. But my voice softened.
“Of course I don’t hate you. I could never hate you,” I told him. “Now I want this bathroom cleaned before dinner.”
I chose to let that one slide as I walked away from him, stormed into mine and Bradley’s bedroom and slammed the door shut. It wasn’t that I was actually mad – I just suddenly became emotional about what he said and didn’t want to start crying in front of him.
I don’t even know why I started crying. My best guess is that it made me think about the children out there who are truly unloved – abandoned, abused and neglected by their parents, guardians and/or other caretakers. Giago is hardly one of them – at least not since we acquired him. But maybe before then he was. Bradley and I didn’t want to know too much about his home life before we got him. We just wanted to love him, raise him and hope to God he could forget whatever situation he was brought out of.
I never could understand bringing a child into this world and then abusing them. Why do people keep a child they actually hate and/or clearly don’t want? Getting rid of them is awful, but it has to better than the alternative. After all, there are plenty of individuals and couples who would be more than happy to welcome such a child (or children) into their homes with warm, open and welcoming arms.
My other best guess – and this one is probably more on point – is that I do yell at Giago a lot. But I’m not sure how much I chase that down with an “I Love You”. And I do love him. I can’t imagine he doesn’t know that or in any way doubts that. But if he does, then I definitely need to tell him that more. I know that showing love is great, but speaking it in conjunction is also important. And I don’t always remember that because he favors Bradley so much that I assume it wouldn’t matter to him if I did say it more since he associates me with the yelling and probably always will.
So maybe I should just stop yelling at him altogether.
He cleaned the bathroom, didn’t he?
A couple hours later, I was awaken by light shaking and a kiss on the forehead.
“Dinner’s ready,” Bradley said.
“Dinner? Damn. I forgot to make dinner.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Bradley said as he sat down on the bed. “Giago took care of it.”
“Giago? Wow. He hasn’t done that in a while.”
“You two must have had another argument.”
“Yeah. He’s been such a smart ass of late. And I won’t put up with that. But then he suggested that I hate him. I don’t know if he was joking or not, but it completely threw me for a loop. I ran in here, burst into tears and apparently fell asleep.”
“Jake told me he could hear the muffled sound of you crying into a pillow. He heard the exchange between you two and told Giago that he was being a brat.”
I sat up on the bed. “That’s why Jake is my favorite son that’s not technically ours.”
“But maybe we should cut Giago some slack.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Do you know what happens when you cut a 16-year-old some slack? You wind up bailing that 16-year-old out of jail. Or raising that 16-year-old’s baby. Or worse yet – visiting the grave of that 16-year-old.”
Bradley sighed. “Or maybe you have more open communication with that 16-year-old so that he doesn’t wind up in jail. Or with a baby. Or worse yet…”
“We’ll see how you feel about that when he starts smarting off to you,” I said as I slid off the bed and out of the bedroom.
Bradley and I headed downstairs to the kitchen where we found Giago finishing dinner and Jake setting the table for it. I tussled Jake’s hair as I passed by him. I walked over to the stove and stood next to Giago.
“I want you to know that I love you. I have always loved you and I always will. You’re my son. That’s all that matters. Your father and I chose you. We chose you. So hate is not an option. And because I love you, I’m going to always be on your ass to act right,” I said softly hoping Bradley and Jake couldn’t hear.
Giago looked over his shoulders at Bradley and Jake seated at the kitchen table watching us.
Giago turned his head back around. “I know, dad.”
“Are you sure?”
Giago smiled. “Yes, dad.”
“Are you positive?”
“Would you tell me otherwise?”
“Good. But I never again want to hear that you have any doubt about what I just said.”
“I won’t, dad.”
I took a look at the dinner he was putting the finishing touches on. “Grilled chicken parmesan over linguine?”
“You must really be sorry.”
Giago chuckled. “I was just hungry, dad.”
“Then there’d better be a cupcake somewhere.”
“There is not…but I am sorry for the argument we had earlier,” Giago said as he carried a platter of baked shredded chicken with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese over to the table.
“I know. I am too,” I said as I picked up a bowl of linguine and followed him over to the table. “Especially about those cupcakes that might have been.”
I was preparing lunch for myself in the kitchen when I heard the front door slowly open and slowly close. Then I heard the sound of teenaged feet running up the stairs. I checked the clock on the microwave and followed after them.
“Giago. Or Jake. Whichever one you are, get back down here now,” I bellowed up the stairs.
Giago appeared at the front of the stairs with a sheepish grin on his face.
“What are you doing home from school?”
“They sent me home.”
“Come down here.”
Giago took each step deliberately as if he were about to face a firing squad once he reached the bottom of the stairs.
I gently grabbed him by the shirt collar. “Why were you sent home from school?” I asked again.
“Because of this t-shirt.”
I stepped back to take a look. It was a black short-sleeve with “#blacklivesmatter” on the front in bold, white letters.
“Is that the shirt I told you not to wear to school?”
“Is that the shirt I told you not to wear to school because of the political nature of it?”
“Then why did you wear it to school?”
“Pops said I could.”
“Did you tell Pops that I had already told you 'no'?”
“So he blindly acquiesced to your request. Is that correct?”
“Go upstairs, take that shirt off, put another shirt on and bring this one back to me.”
As Giago grumbled his way back up the stairs to change, I called his school to speak to the Principal. At Giago’s elementary and junior high schools, I had developed quite a reputation amongst the administration, faculty and staff for my involvement (which they lovingly referred to as “harping”) in Giago’s schooling. This reputation was not lost on Giago. So as he entered high school last year, he all but demanded that I find a hobby other than his schooling and told me that he’d let me know if he needed me to come to the school for anything. I begrudgingly agreed as long as he stayed out of trouble. I held up my end of the bargain, but since Giago hadn’t as of today, he couldn’t argue my setting up a meeting at his school with all the parties involved – all the parties except for Bradley.
After much pleading, Bradley had assured Giago that he would handle all school matters until Giago went off college (I can’t say my feelings weren’t hurt by this). But if Bradley didn’t know about such matters (and Giago certainly wasn’t going to tell him about this particular matter given the circumstances), then I could handle the matter until I found a good time to tell Bradley about the matter--after it had already been handled.
I arrived to the school at 9am the next morning for a meeting with Giago’s guidance counselor, a Vice Principal that I assumed was in charge of discipline, the teacher who reported the t-shirt incident and Giago. We walked into the main office conference room where…Bradley was seated at the table. He gave me a wide, closed-mouth grin as he pulled the chair out next to him and invited me to sit down.
“What are you doing here?” I whispered.
“You had our phones synched up for all appointments related to Giago,” he whispered back.
“Why didn’t you ask me about this last night?”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this last night?”
He had me there.
“I hate technology,” I replied as I pulled my chair in toward the conference room table. Though Bradley’s face didn’t change, he gently grabbed my knee and lightly rubbed my thigh under the table as a means of saying “nice try” toward my attempt to force my way into this situation without his being the wiser.
Giago sat next to Bradley. The three of us sat on one side of the table, while Giago’s guidance counselor, the Vice Principal of Student Affairs (his official title) and the teacher who reported the incident sat on the other side. Part of me got a bit of a kick out of this unintentional “us versus the world” seating arrangement.
“Mr. Moss,” the Vice Principal began. “Since you called this meeting, would you like to start us off?”
“Thank you,” Bradley interjected before I could get a word in. “I am Bradley Hollinger, Giago’s father and this is Terrence Moss – also Giago’s father.”
The guidance counselor, the Vice Principal of Student Affairs and the teacher who reported the incident looked quizzically at each other before shrugging off their confusion.
“Both of us are here,” Bradley continued. “To address the matter of our son Giago being sent home from school yesterday on account of a t-shirt.”
“Which I have right here in this bag,” I added as I placed the bag on the table.
The Vice Principal of Student Affairs spoke up first. “Al Eckert here. I’m Vice President of Student Affairs. According to my report as told to me by Mr. Harrison, a social studies teacher, and reviewed with Giago, Mr. Harrison spotted Giago walking down the hall between second and third periods yesterday wearing the t-shirt in question. It was emblazoned with a hashtag that we considered inappropriate. Mr. Harrison pulled Giago aside, asked him about the t-shirt and suggested that Giago take it off.”
“Did Mr. Harrison explain to Giago why he should?” Bradley asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Harrison replied.
Bradley and I looked at Giago. “Is this correct?” Bradley asked.
Giago nodded his head.
“And then what happened?” Mr. Eckert asked Mr. Harrison.
“Giago refused – citing free speech,” Mr. Harrison added. “I told him that while I respect his right to free speech, I would still like him to change his shirt, cover it up or turn it inside out.”
Bradley and I looked at Giago. Giago nodded.
“After Giago refused, Mr. Harrison sent him to my office,” Mr. Eckert told us. “We discussed the situation and I asked him again to do as Mrs. Harrison asked. Giago once again refused.”
Bradley and I looked at Giago. Giago nodded again.
“What exactly was discussed?” Bradley asked.
“That such a statement, though timely and relevant, was also very controversial and could cause a disruption to the school day,” Mr. Eckert answered.
“How so?” Bradley pressed.
“Anything upwards to yelling, screaming, fighting and even rioting,” Mr. Eckert replied.
“Over a t-shirt?” Bradley pressed further.
“Over that t-shirt,” Mr. Eckert responded.
“Did you consider the possibility that it might only lead to questions, discussion and at worst, debate?” Bradley asked.
“We couldn’t take that chance,” Mr. Eckert stated.
“What kind of students do you think you have at this school?” Bradley asked.
Mr. Eckert thought about this and deferred to the guidance counselor. “Hello, Mr. Hollinger and Mr. Moss. I am Mrs. Kramer, Giago’s guidance counselor. I have been working with Giago since last year with selecting elective courses that will keep him on the college preparatory track that has been a focus of this school since its inception. And I will be working with Giago through senior year when he has to determine an educational track for college, apply to college, select a college and maintain his academic standing through graduation day.”
Bradley and I stared blankly at Mrs. Kramer. We knew what she was talking about, we just didn’t know why.
“Our students are passionate and impressionable,” she then added.
“So the best approach to channeling that into something productive is by sending them home when they exhibit said passion?” Bradley pressed further.
“That wasn’t why Giago was sent home; he was sent home for disobedience, insolence and insubordination,” Mr. Eckert clarified.
“Why didn’t you call myself or Mr. Hollinger about this yesterday?” I asked.
“School policy,” Mr. Eckert replied. “We send the student home and then follow it up with a note.”
“That’s a dumb policy,” Bradley responded.
“Did you have a change of shirt?” I asked Giago.
Giago nodded. “Yes. In my gym locker.”
“There you go. A dumb policy – especially when I was at home and could have handled this situation yesterday without Mr. Hollinger having to take time off from work to have to deal with this.”
Bradley shot me a “nice try” look.
“Mr. Moss and Mr. Hollinger, Giago refused to do what we asked so we had to send him home.”
“Why not send him to detention with a phone call into one or both of his parents?”
“The majority of our students have working parents, so in the interest of those parents, this was deemed the best standard operating procedure.”
“That’s right,” I whispered to Bradley. “I was at that PTA meeting when this was discussed, voted on and put into place despite the fact that I openly and abjectly hated the idea.”
“That makes no sense," Bradley challenged. "So in the case of OUR sons – Giago here and Jake Thomas, you need to call US. Bottom line.”
“And we would have had him change his shirt, cover it up or turn it inside out,” I told them.
Bradley looked at me in complete disagreement. “Or we would have backed him up because any students fighting or rioting over a damn t-shirt is your real problem.”
I leaned toward Bradley and turned my face into his shoulder. “Me thinks we should have discussed this first in order to get our stories straight,” I whispered.
“Which we could have done had you told me about this little meeting you were trying to orchestrate behind my back,” he whispered back.
“Which I wouldn’t have had to do if you hadn’t told Giago that you’d handle such matters as this without me once he entered high school.”
“Which we wouldn’t have had to do if you hadn’t been such a pain in the ass at his elementary school and middle school.”
“Which could have been addressed prior to his entering high school if you didn’t just let him have his way all the time – like wearing that t-shirt in the first place.”
“Because I thought you had already told him he could.”
“If you had asked me about it instead of blindly taking him at his word, I would have told you that I told him that he couldn’t.”
Bradley and I stopped and slowly turned our attention to Giago.
“You’re grounded until graduation,” I said.
Then we turned our attention to Mrs. Kramer, Mr. Eckert and Mr. Harrison.
“Going forward, I’m unleashing my husband upon your school,” Bradley stated as the two of us rose out of our chairs, grabbed Giago and headed toward the door. “So good luck with that.”
“Can I talk to you after dinner?” he whispered.
I was suddenly really glad that my powers of hearing had increased when we took in Jake.
“Sure thing,” Bradley whispered back.
I cleared my throat and looked back and forth between Bradley and Jake.
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him,” Bradley said.
I turned my attention back to Jake.
Jake looked back and forth between Bradley and me until he figured out what I wanted to know. “Oh. Because he’s not as scary as you are,” Jake said with surprising candor and ease.
I stared at Jake for a moment before accepting this small, but unfortunate truth. Sometimes I can be scary with them. But it’s because they’re teenage boys. And I never want to have to bail my teenage boys out of jail. Or raise their children. Or identify their bodies. Fortunately for them, they have Bradley to be the “safe” and “easy” one to deal with. Little do they know that Bradley can be even scarier than I am because his anger will simmer for a very long time, then percolates and on the extremely rare occasion, erupts. So they’re actually better off with me being the scary one as my anger geysers out on a more consistent basis.
“Fine, but go someplace where I can eavesdrop.”
“As if there’s a place in this house where you couldn’t or wouldn’t,” Bradley teased.
A short time later, Bradley and Jake went off to the back room to talk. I sacked a none-too-happy Giago with dish duty while I found a strategic location in the bathtub of the adjoining bathroom from which to eavesdrop on their conversation.
Bradley and Jake sat down on the couch. Bradley turned the TV on. “What did you want to talk about?” he asked Jake.
“Turn the TV off!” I yelled from the bathroom. “And enunciate!”
“He really is eavesdropping on this conversation,” Bradley observed. I don’t know why he was surprised.
“Fine, Mr. M. Come on in.” Jake reluctantly acquiesced.
I stepped out of the bathtub and out of the bathroom into the back room. I kissed Jake on the top of his head. “He would have told me anyway. So this just cuts out the middle man,” I explained to Jake.
“What did you want to talk about?” Bradley asked.
“Louder!” Giago shouted from outside the window.
“Aren’t you supposed to be doing the dishes?” I shouted back.
“Weren’t you until you made me do them?” Giago shouted back.
“Fine, Giago. Come on in,” Jake reluctantly acquiesced again.
Bradley shook his head. “Like father, like son.”
Giago ran around the house, bounded through the front door, slammed it shut and burst through the door of the back room.
“You were going to tell me anyway,” Giago explained to Jake.
“About this? I’m not so sure,” Jake replied nervously.
“Are you sure you want them in here instead of in the bathroom or standing outside the window?” Bradley asked Jake.
“No. It’s fine. I guess. I think.”
“Are you okay?” I asked, suddenly sorry that I forced my way into what now looked to be a difficult conversation.
“Yeah, I know I’m gay and I’m not sure what my mother is going to say about it.”
Bradley and I sat in stunned silence – well, we weren’t exactly stunned but we didn’t want to let Jake know that. Bradley, Jake’s mother and I had long since discussed this with each other. It’s partly why he moved in with us.
“And you weren’t worried about telling us?” Bradley asked.
“No, not really. I was more nervous about now having to tell all of you at the same time than about telling you all at all. Besides, you guys are gay so it’s not like either of you could be upset with me over this.”
“So you would have eventually told them as well,” Bradley surmised in mine and Giago’s directions.
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I’m sorry, Jake,” I said, walking over and pulling him up into a hug. “I was just being nosy. If I had known it was about this, I would have just done the dishes and waited for you to tell me in your own time.”
Bradley looked at me knowingly with a raised eyebrow. “Terrence.”
“Or I would have just sat more quietly in the bathtub.”
“It’s okay, Mr. M.”
Bradley stood up and placed his hand on Jake’s shoulder. I released Jake and he turned around to wrap his arms tightly around Bradley.
“Obviously you know this doesn’t matter to us,” Bradley said. “We love you as is. Just be sure you love yourself the same way.”
Giago slowly stood up and walked out of the room. I followed after him.
“Where do you think you’re going, young man?” I asked as we walked through the living room.
“Back to the dishes,” he replied as he led me into the kitchen.
“You wash and I’ll dry,” I said as we reached the sink.
“Why don’t we just leave them in the dish rack?”
“Because then I'll have no excuse to ask you why you walked out on Jake like that.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Too bad. Talk.”
“Can you please just leave me alone right now?”
“Eventually. As soon as you tell me what happened back there, I will.”
“No, but trust me. What’s going on?”
“Right. And so am I. And so is your other dad.”
“But I’m not.”
“Oh…I see. And what’s wrong with that?”
“I don’t know. I just now feel outnumbered.”
“Well, we’re all still men.”
“I know, but now we’re all gay men except for me.”
I tilted my head. “Are you sure?” I teased.
“Then think about it this way. Your future girlfriend is going to feel the exact same way you do now when you and Jake start double-dating.”
Giago managed a chuckle off of that one. I was relieved, because that was about all I had in my arsenal to make him feel better about this shift in our household dynamic.
I gave Giago a side hug. “As promised, I’ll leave you alone about this, but promise me you aren’t going to abandon Jake. You’re going to have your own process to work through, but backing away from him at this time is not the way to go about it. Talk it out with him. You’re best friends and brothers. You two can help each other work through whatever you two need to work through. And your father and I are always here to talk to as well. We’re pretty good resources on most things gay."
Without looking up from the dish he was scrubbing, Giago smiled. “You can go now.”
I kissed him on the left temple and returned to the back room.
“What happened?” Bradley asked.
“He’ll be fine. He was just caught off-guard and needed some air.”
“Maybe I should have told him first,” Jake said.
“Honey, you did nothing wrong here,” I replied. “How you come out is how you come out – even if in ways you hadn’t anticipated because of a nosy guardian and an equally nosy best friend.”
“Just keep in mind that he’s also going to have his own process of coming to terms with you being gay. It’s not a one-sided process,” Bradley admonished.
“What do you think my mom’s going to say?” Jake asked.
“Mothers tend to know these things,” Bradley answered. “She may be disappointed, but she may surprise you and be completely supportive.”
“And if she’s anything like my mother, she’ll just love her son more than the fact that he’s gay,” I added.
“When do you want to tell your mother?” Bradley asked.
“I don’t know. I guess…whenever. I don’t really want to plan it.”
“However you want to do it is up to you,” Bradley said. “Just let us know what you want us to do.”
“And to not do,” I added with a smile.
“I should go talk to Giago,” Jake said as he started toward the door.“Absolutely not,” I responded by wrapping my arm around his stomach and pulling him back. “He walked out on you so he can just walk back in on you.”
Bradley had gone to San Diego yesterday for a daylong finance conference but decided to stay overnight with some longtime friends of his who pre-date me that he hadn’t seen since he, Giago and I took a weekend trip down there a couple years ago.
Giago was sprawled out on the couch mindlessly flipping through channels on the television. We only have a basic package with local channels so I’m not sure what he’s expecting to find on his third cycle through that he didn’t find on the first or second.
“Ok, Dad,” Giago replied. Apparently that was all he could muster.
I reached into my wallet and took out some cash. “Here’s a twenty if you want to order in.”
Without turning away from the television, Giago reached out his arm. “Thanks.”
I placed the twenty in his hand and kissed him on the forehead as he put the money in his pocket. “I love you too, you little pissant.”
I walked out the door, but returned a few minutes later:
“Giago dear, come outside with me, please. I’d like to talk to you about something.”
“What about?” Giago asked without diverting his attention from the television set.
“What about?” I responded. “You don’t get to ask ‘what about’. When I ask you to come outside you just come outside and then you find out what about. Now get up and come outside without asking me any more questions until we’re actually outside.”
Giago grumbled, rolled off the couch and followed me outside.
“And you don’t get to grumble either,” I added as he begrudgingly walked by me. I led him to the car, opened up the driver’s side door and ushered him in.
“What about?” he asked like the smart ass he’s become. I glared at him for a moment, but decided to let it pass.
“Turn the car on and tell me what you notice about the dashboard panel.”
Giago turned the car on and stared at it for a moment trying to figure out what I was getting at. He then gave me a blank stare.
Giago looked back at the dashboard panel. A look of clarity and understanding came across his face that he suddenly tried to suppress.
“Did you drive the car earlier today?” I asked.
“Before you left, didn’t I ask you to get some gas on your way back home?”
“Do you not recall this conversation?”
“Don’t play with me right now.”
“Fine. Yes. And Yes.”
“Did your father and I provide you with a cash card so that you don’t have to pay for gas out of your own money?”
“Now there are two ways in here from Broadway and two ways out of here to Broadway. And either way you go, there is a nearby gas station. Is this correct?”
“Did you somehow find a third way back here through the back yard where you don’t pass a gas station?”
Giago leaned forward and rested his head on the steering wheel. “No.”
“Did the gas stations somehow disappear between the time I asked you to get some gas on your way back home and the time you returned home?”
“Did you think ‘E’ meant ‘enough’?”
Giago sighed. “No, but I’ve had enough of this.”
Giago leaned back in the driver’s seat. “Sometimes I think you just like yelling at me.”
“Excuse me?” I repeated. I glared silently at Giago for what eventually became an uncomfortably long time for him. This allowed me to temper the flash of anger that I was having and gather my thoughts before responding. My father used to do this to me as a teenager whenever I came close to crossing whatever line he drew in the sand. I remember one time I was on the phone -- which was often in those days, and usually with my best friend E.J. (who I lost touch with for several years but recently reconnected with to find out that he was also gay and now living in Brooklyn with his husband, three kids and two dogs). But my father wanted to use the phone – which was a rare occurrence for him. So I had to end the call with E.J. and did so with an attitude that my father did NOT appreciate. The resulting glare he gave me was interminable. When he finally spoke, it was tell me to follow him into his office – where he showed me the phone bill [in his name] and asked me if I wanted to pay it.
I pulled Giago out of the car and leaned him against it. “You think this is yelling? I can show you some yelling that will register on the Richter Scale. As for enjoying it, I enjoy it about as much as you enjoying saying and doing stupid shit. Do you enjoy saying and doing stupid shit? I certainly hope not, because I sure as hell don’t enjoy having to ‘yell’ at you for saying and doing said stupid shit. Now the next time you borrow the car -- and it’s not like we haven’t had this conversation several times before -- and I tell you to put gas in the car on your way back home, DO IT. Or don’t borrow the damn car. Is that understood?”
“Fine, yes. Whatever,” he replied as he started walking back toward the house in a huff.
I grabbed him by the arm, pulled him back and looked him in the eye. “Don’t ‘whatever’ me, young man. I don’t deserve that – especially when you brought this on yourself by not doing something I repeatedly have to ask you to do.”
I let him go and he continued his huff back into the house. “I deserve a better dad than you,” I heard him say under his breath.
“You have one. His name is Bradley,” I shot back without a moment’s hesitation. “So it’s a good thing you were blessed with two.”
Giago abruptly stopped walking. Apparently he didn’t know that I heard his flippant remark. He turned around slowly as I walked toward him. I could see in face that he wasn’t so much feeling bad for what he said, but feeling uncertain as to what I was going to do or say about what he said. I wasn't hurt by the comment because I knew he didn't really mean it, but regardless as to whether or not someone means to say something like that, the words still hang in the air like the sting of a backhand.
"So if you want me to bow out gracefully as your dad, just say the word. Kids divorcing their parents isn’t all that unprecedented. We can just split it down the middle. You get your better father and I get Jake. Of course, I’m not saying that Jake is a better son than you are because I would never say anything so hurtful to you even if I felt it or thought it – which I don’t. This is why we have to be careful about what we say to other people – especially in the heat of the moment, which is what I’ll just chalk up your little remark to. Because words are very powerful. They can hurt people. At the same time, they can also lift people up. So yes, you deserve a better a dad. I’m just sorry I couldn’t be that for you. I tried. I really tried. But I’ve long since figured out that there are just some things I’m not going to be good at. I just didn’t realize that being a dad was one of those things. So thank you for pointing it out to me. Maybe I can do better for Jake.”
I turned around and walked back to the car.
“I’m sorry,” Giago said.
I turned around, put on a closed-mouth smile (which meant that I was apparently still seething somewhere on the inside over the gas) and motioned him over to me. I held him by the shoulders for a few moments.
“Are you?” I asked. “Are you really sorry?”
“Yes, I am. I really am.”
“Because ‘I deserve a better dad’ isn’t just something you say. It’s something you feel – which leads me to believe that you’ve been holding on to that for quite some time -- maybe since you were 8 or 9 or 12 or 15. I must have done something or said something that led you to start thinking such a thing – at least enough to say it out loud.”
“I didn’t mean it.”
“Yes, you did. In that moment…you did. And perhaps many other moments. It’s fine though. You’re entitled to feel how you feel about me.”
“That’s not how I feel though.”
“Then why say it?” I asked him.
“Because I was frustrated.”
“As was I. But I didn’t say that I deserve a better son.”
“It was just gas. And you made such a big deal about it.”
“No, dear. It wasn’t just gas. It was you being inconsiderate. And disrespectful. And irresponsible.”
Giago thought about this for a moment. “Okay…I get it.”
“Thank you. Now…what are you going to do next time so that we don’t have to have this conversation ever again?”
“I’m going to take an Uber.”
I chuckled, kissed him on the forehead, turned him around and nudged him back in the direction of the house.
“Must be? More like hope they are. I can’t believe we did this,” I could hear Jake respond. “But I’m totally going to blame you for it.”
Giago unlocked the door, opened it and slowly walked in with Jake following closely behind. Bradley, sitting on the arm of the couch and facing the door, turned the light on.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” Bradley said with faux cheeriness.
Giago and Jake froze momentarily. “Hi, Pops,” Giago replied sheepishly.
“Can he see us?” Jake whispered to Giago.
I slowly pushed the door closed. Startled, the boys jumped and turned around to face me. “Can you see me?”
“Hi, Mr. Mollinger,” Giago said to me, using his nickname for me as if nothing was wrong.
I walked toward the two usual suspects and mentally took notice of their ever-increasing height. “Where have you two knuckleheads been?” I asked.
“Sleepwalking?” Jake responded.
“Being a smart ass isn’t in your best interest right now,” Bradley said to Jake.
“I thought it was funny,” Jake mumbled under his breath.
“It was not,” I responded. “What time is it?”
“We don’t have our watches,” Giago replied.
I crossed my arms and raised an eyebrow. “Check your cell phone.”
Giago pulled out his cell phone. “It’s four-fifteen.”
“So you did have your cell phones on you,” Bradley observed.
Giago and Jake both smacked themselves on the forehead.
“What time did we tell you to be home?” I asked.
Giago and Jake looked at each other as if they didn’t know the answer outright.
“Eleven?” Giago replied.
“Don’t act like you don’t know the answer.” I said.
“And don’t ‘fine’ me. We told you two to be home at ELEVEN. It’s FOUR-FIFTEEN IN THE MORNING! That is beyond unacceptable. You didn’t call. You didn’t text. Eleven turned to twelve. Twelve turned to one. One turned to two. Two turned to three. Three turned to APOPLECTIC RAGE.”
“What the hell were you two thinking?” Bradley asked.
Giago and Jake turned to face Bradley. “We just lost track of time,” Giago answered.
“Lost track of time?” I said as Giago and Jake turned to face me again. “You more than lost track of time. You lost track of your goddamn minds!”
“What’s the big deal? We’re home and we’re safe,” Giago reasoned – or so he thought.
“Have either of you been a parent before?” Bradley asked. Giago and Jake turned back to face him again and then looked at each other in confusion.
“No?” Jake responded.
“Clearly not,” Bradley replied as he walked over to stand next to me. “Because if you had been parents, you would know what crosses the mind of a parent who hasn’t heard from his late-arriving children for FIVE hours – anything from getting lost to getting hit by a car to getting kidnapped to getting mugged to getting attacked to being hospitalized to getting killed by some nightcrawler with an ax to grind. So because you haven’t been parents, you don’t know what it’s like to feel that way for FIVE hours.”
“And then when you arrive home FIVE hours late, to feel bad because instead of being happy to see the children who have arrived home safely, you just want to kill them for arriving home safely FIVE hours late.” I added.
“So now my question is why. WHY would you do that to your parents?” Bradley asked.
Giago and Jake looked at each other for an answer, but looked back at Bradley and I when they came up short of one.
“Do you love your parents?” I asked Giago.
Giago and Jake once again looked at each other.
“This doesn’t require a consultation,” Bradley said.
“Yes, of course,” Giago answered.
“Then why would you do something like this to the parents you love?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Giago replied.
“You should probably find out. And you’ll have about a month to do so.” Bradley stated.
“What do you mean mean?” Giago asked.
“It means for the next month, you go to school and you come home. And when you get home, you do your homework, you eat dinner and you go to bed because you’ll probably still be tired from having been out all night long,” Bradley explained.
“Plus you’ll want to rest up for each weekend during that month when your yardworking services will be rendered unto all the neighbors and classmates’ parents we spent an hour calling trying to figure out where you two were,” I added.
“Is it a big deal yet?” Bradley chided Giago.
I turned my attention to Jake. “Do you love your guardians?” I asked.
“Yes, I do. And I’m very grateful to be here.” Jake responded.
“Then you’d better act like it by showing us the respect of coming home when we tell you to,” Bradley told him.
“Yes, sir. I’m really sorry.” Jake said ruefully.
“Are you really sorry?” I asked.
Jake put his head down. “Yes.”
“So this isn’t going to happen again, correct?” Bradley asked.
“And we’re not going to have to go through this again, correct?” I asked.
“And the same goes for you, Giago,” I said.
A resigned Giago nodded his head. “I know.”
“Now both of you go to bed. And you both had better be up in the morning for school,” I told them. “And I don’t want to hear about how tired you are. I don’t want to hear about how you slept through the alarm. If you’re not up and ready to leave in time to catch the bus, we’re adding another month to your punishment. You’re dismissed.”
As Giago and Jake made their way up the stairs, Jake turned back to ask us a question. “Just so I’m clear, is Giago’s punishment also MY punishment?”
“Do you want a harsher one?” I asked.
“No, I’m good. I was just checking.” Jake replied. He flashed a wide, goofy smile and walked past Giago to the top of the stairs.
Giago lagged behind for a moment. “I’m really sorry, too. I just figured you’d be asleep. I didn’t realize you’d stay up this late worrying.”
I walked over to the base of the stairs. “Of course we’re going to worry. You’re our son. And Jake is like a son to us. We love you both,” I said.
“Maybe not at this moment, but in general,” Bradley teased.
Bradley and I watched as Giago and Jake made their way to their respective bedrooms. “So what do you think?” I asked.
“I don’t know. They’re sixteen. We could wind up having this exact same conversation in three months.”
“Nice guilt trip on the five-hour thing seeing how we were asleep for the latter half of it. I’m just glad we heard them pulling into the driveway.”
Bradley and I stifled giggles. “I’m glad I installed a GPS locator on their phones. They were just sitting at Swingers in Santa Monica.”
“I wonder what the hell were they doing up there.”
“I don’t know, but there was either a girl involved for Giago or a boy involved for Jake.”
“Hi, honey. Welcome home,” I said to Bradley as he walked through the door. I greeted him with a kiss and handed him a progress report that had been mailed home from Giago’s school.
Bradley tentatively took the envelope from my hand. “Should I be nervous?” he asked.
I handed Bradley a bottle of hard cider from a 12-pack I purchased on my way home from picking Giago up from school because a) it was on sale and b) I had just checked the mail prior to heading over to the school. We have a system when it comes to delivering Giago news. If I hand him a bottle of beer (which I don’t drink) or hard cider (which I now do), the situation is either already handled or I intend to handle it but just want to make him aware of it. If I hand him a glass of wine, the situation needs our immediate attention. And on the rare occasion when I hand him a cocktail that a) he didn’t ask for, b) isn’t accompanying a meal or c) doesn’t involve a gathering of friends at the house, then the situation is more serious and needs our undivided attention.
Bradley took a swig of hard cider before reading the report. “Does Giago know about this?” he asked after a few minutes.
“No. I want to talk to his teacher tomorrow before I talk to him.”
Bradley took another swig. “Ok. Let me know what happens.”
The next morning, I dropped Giago off at school and stopped by the front office to put in word that I wanted to speak to a Mr. Johnson. They told me he was in class for the first two periods of the school day so I left him my name, cell phone number and Giago’s name so that he’d know which student to be prepared to discuss.
I returned home a couple hours later after running errands. Shortly thereafter, as I was cleaning up from breakfast, I received a call from Giago’s school.
“Hello, is this Mr. Moss?"
“Yes it is.”
“Giago Hollinger’s father?”
“Yes – well, one of them,” I replied as I sat down at the kitchen table.
“One of them?”
“He has two.”
There was a moment of silence on the other end that I assumed was mild surprise. “I’m Mr. Johnson, Giago’s physical education teacher. The front office gave me a message you left asking me to give you a call.”
“Yes. Thank you for returning it. I wanted to talk to you about the progress report for Giago that I received in the mail.”
“Give me one moment while I check my records…,” he said. I could hear him flipping through a set of pages – or pretending to do so. “I have him in the afternoon…I think during eighth period…ok, yes. Here he is. What seems to be the trouble?”
“According to his progress report, he’s failing your class.”
I paused for a moment to give him a chance to recognize – if not at least acknowledge -- the absurdity of this. “So you meant to do that?”
“He has a bit of an attitude problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“He has an attitude problem.”
“You grade students on that?”
“Because I take physical education very seriously and I want the students to do the same.”
“I’m sure there are better ways of getting a student to take your class more seriously than failing him.”
“I’m sure there are too, but this is what gets the student’s and the parent’s attention.”
“Well now that you have my attention, what kind of attitude is Giago exhibiting in class?”
“We’re in our football unit and he’s less than enthusiastic about having to play it.”
“And that’s a problem?”
“It can affect the other students.”
“If Giago has an attitude problem, then they can have one as well.”
“Has he somehow become the Pied Piper of Attitudes for the freshman class?”
“Any student’s attitude can affect another student’s attitude.”
“Then how do you know another student’s attitude isn’t affecting Giago’s? Have there been complaints from other students about Giago’s attitude affecting their physical education?”
“Are the other students that you say he’s affecting with his attitude also failing your class because of their resulting attitudes?”
Mr. Johnson was momentarily silent. “In scrolling my gradebook for that class…no.”
“Why not? If you’re going to fail one student for having an attitude, why wouldn’t you fail them all for having one?”
“His is more noticeable.”
“Noticeable? I’m not an attorney, but is it possible you’re just paying more attention to his supposed attitude than that of the other students and that’s why Giago’s is seemingly more noticeable?”
“It is not, Mr. Moss.”
“I’ll ask it a different way then, Mr. Johnson. How would you know the other students’ attitudes aren’t worse than my son’s if you’re only noticing his attitude but not theirs?”
“Mr. Moss, I can only notice what I see.”
“No Mr. Johnson, you’re only seeing what you want to notice,” I concluded in self-celebratory victory that he was most likely not going to be concede. “Is he changing for class?”
“Is he participating?”
“Then wouldn’t his attitude about playing football be irrelevant as long as he’s actually playing football?”
Mr. Johnson was silent for another moment. “Does he give you an attitude at home, Mr. Moss?”
“Yes, sometimes. He’s FOURTEEN.”
“And what do you do about it?”
“I see where you’re going with this and I understand your point, but having an attitude with you about playing football and having an attitude about the playing of the football are two different things.”
“I’ll repeat my question, Mr. Moss. What do you do when he gives you an attitude at home?”
“I’ll tell you what I don’t do – and that’s give him a failing grade for it. But I do tell him to either fix his attitude or I’ll fix it for him. Have you tried that?”
“We’re not allowed to threaten the students, Mr. Moss.”
“That’s not a threat. But if you’re not comfortable with that approach, have you tried talking to Giago about this attitude you think he has?”
“I have not.”
“Then I suppose you also haven’t tried asking him why he’s so unenthused about your class.”
“I have not.”
“There’s your first two problems right there. But since I’m now involved, I’ll talk to him about his attitude. And if you have any further issues with Giago, please let me know before you submit your next set of grades.”
I could hear him roll his eyes. “I would appreciate that very much, Mr. Moss.”
“And I would appreciate my son not failing gym class, Mr. Johnson. So if you have any further issues with Giago, please let me know before you submit your next set of grades,” I said a bit more emphatically.
“Physical education, Mr. Moss.”
I rolled my eyes so that he could hear it through the phone. “My apologies, Mr. Johnson. Physical education. I would appreciate my son not failing your physical education class. Now, if you have any further issues with Giago, please let me know before you submit your next set of grades,” I repeated even more emphatically than before.
“I will do that, Mr. Moss. And if we can keep Giago’s attitude in check, he won’t fail.”
“If that will keep him from failing, we can and it will be. Thank you for your time, Mr. Johnson.”
“And thank you for your involvement, Mr. Moss. Enjoy the rest of your day.”
“You do the same,” I replied. I disconnected the call with Mr. Johnson and called Bradley at work.
“Bradley Hollinger,” Bradley said after picking up the phone.
“Hey sweets. I just got off the phone with Giago’s gym teacher.”
“Did you find out why Giago’s failing gym?”
“Yes. Apparently he doesn’t like Giago’s attitude about playing football.”
“And that’s it. Giago changes and participates, but he doesn’t take it as seriously as his gym teacher would like.”
“For real. And despite my best efforts, he failed to see the absurdity of failing a participatory student on account of their perceived attitude.”
“How did it end?”
“I told him that I’d talk to Giago and if he gets any further attitude from him to let us know – before the next set of grades are submitted. I’m not sure he’ll do it since he’d rather just dole out the grade before finding out why he is. He never even spoke to Giago about any of this before failing him – which he really did as a means of getting our attention. I don’t like this clod.”
“I can tell. Just take it easy on him – or at least easier on him than you did his middle school science teacher.”
“We’ll see. That’s up to him, though. I don’t start the shit, I just end it.”
“Better him than me,” Bradley teased. “Thanks for letting me know. I have a client meeting in about fifteen. I’ll see you at home later.”
“Alright. I’ll talk to Giago when I pick him up from school.”
“Sounds good. I love you.”
“I love you.”
I picked up Giago from school later that afternoon. “I had a conversation with your gym teacher today,” I said to him after he had settled in and I started driving away.
A concerned look crept across Pierpont’s face. “Why?”
“We got your progress report yesterday and you’re failing gym class.”
Giago looked at me in utter confusion. “I’m failing gym class?”
“He said that you have an attitude problem.”
“He says you don’t participate with as much enthusiasm as he’d like you to.”
“That’s so dumb," he stated before going quiet for a minute. "You know he’s also the football coach, right?”
“I know now," I said, putting two-and-two together. "And now it makes more sense as to why he’s failing you on account of a purported attitude problem.”
“I just don’t like playing football. But I play it. And I’m not very good at it, which is frustrating,” Giago explained. “And he basically just uses the class as additional practice for the team anyway. So it’s not even fun because they’re all taking it way too seriously.”
“I understand. But be all that as it may, no matter how ridiculous it is that someone would fail a student for a gym class, it’s even more ridiculous to be that student failing gym class. So just cut the attitude in gym class or any other class – even if you have to fake it -- and save it for your lunch period. I don’t want to have to have another conversation with another teacher trying to fail you for not being enthusiastic about their class. Deal?”
Giago sighed. “Deal.”
“And just so you know, now that he knows who we are and I know who he is, he’s going to be watching you a lot more closely so he can keep us posted on any further attitudinal moments that may or may not arise.”
Giago slowly shook his head in disbelief. “All this over a gym class.”
“Well, it’s clearly more than that to him. So keep that in mind.”
“Fine…but it’s still a gym class, dad.”
“I know. I hated it too back in my day.”
“Well, that wasn’t as kid-friendly as I was hoping it would be,” I said to Bradley as he, Pierpont and I got out of the car and walked toward the house. A friend of mine had his new short film screened at a small, but growing, local arts festival. I had asked him in advance if it was appropriate for an eight-year-old. And I don’t know if he was just angling for our attendance or if he didn’t know exactly what “appropriate for an eight-year-old” meant, but it looks like I need to sit him down and provide some much-needed clarity.
“I didn’t think it was all that bad,” Bradley responded as he looked down at Pierpont. “And Pierpont doesn’t seem to be all that traumatized from the experience.”
“Dad! Daddy! Look!” Pierpont exclaimed as we approached the front door.
“Besides,” Bradley continued. “I’m more concerned about what he’s seeing and hearing at school when we’re not with him than what he’s seeing and hearing at a movie when we are.”
I rolled my eyes at Bradley. “What is it?” I asked Pierpont.
Pierpont pointed upward. “It’s a bird’s nest!”
“Where?” I asked.
“On the porch light.”
Since an ornithologist came to his school, Pierpont has expressed quite an interest in birds. Of particular interest to him are their nests – occupied or otherwise. While we wouldn’t allow him to start up a collection of them as he asked to do early on, we did buy him a rather inexpensive beginner’s camera with a zoom so that he could take pictures of them if he couldn’t climb high enough to take a close-up shot or if we deemed it too dangerous to do so.
“We’ll be sure not to turn it on at night so that it doesn’t get too hot for the bird or its eggs,” Bradley said. I couldn’t help but snicker at the private thought in my head of a free breakfast courtesy of our front porch light.
“Can you lift me up so I can see, daddy?” Pierpont asked.
“Okay,” Bradley said as he hoisted Pierpont up to eye-level of the nest. “But be sure not to touch the nest or the eggs.”
“I know, daddy. The bird man that came to our school told us about that.”
I took my phone out so I could take a picture of Pierpont looking at the nest and then took a wider shot of Bradley holding him up while he did so.
“Why don’t you take a picture of the eggs in the nest?” I asked Pierpont as I handed him my phone.
“Thanks, dad,” Pierpont said as he took my phone and snapped a couple of photos.
I looked at the pictures he took. “The eggs are blue. So this nest must belong to a robin red-breast,” I said, looking up at the nest.
“Alright, let’s go inside now,” Bradley said as he lowered Pierpont back to the ground.
“How do you know that, dad?” Pierpont asked.
“We had bird men come to my school too when I was your age,” I replied as I opened the door to let him and Bradley in.
“I don’t know if it’s me or Pierpont, but lifting him up isn’t as easy as it used to be,” Bradley said to me with a bit of a smirk as he followed Pierpont into the house.
Because of its proximity and accessibility, Pierpont became all but obsessed with watching the nest. We weren’t sure how long it had been up there, but we did some research in the nesting period and concluded that the eggs will probably hatch within the next week or so. And Pierpont was ready to stand watch.
We usually kept the front door open when we were home, so Pierpont would sit at the screen door watching the nest. But every time he approached it, the mother bird would fly away. At first, he’d open the screen door and speak up into the trees at the mother bird to tell her that he’s not trying to hurt them – as if he could reason with her. Then Pierpont tried to sneak up on the door very carefully and very slowly so as to not startle the mother bird nesting just outside it. Occasionally, he’d make it to the door without her noticing and flying away. But then he’d shuffle, move or make some kind of noise and off she went.
Eventually he stopped concerning himself with the flyaway mother bird and concentrated on the eggs in the nest. In the mornings, he’d open the door to say good morning to them. And in the evenings, he’d open the door to say good night. We then started using the side entrance so as to not further disturb nature unfolding on our front porch light.
At dinner, Pierpont would tell us how excited he was that pretty soon he’d hear the sound of baby birds chirping just below his window. Bradley and I hadn’t thought about that. Knowing how noisy that could be, we were less than excited -- but we kept those reservations to ourselves so as to not put a damper Pierpont’s excitement.
Pierpont’s excitement reached a fever pitch the following week when his curiosity got the better of him and he started opening the door more frequently to talk to the still-in-gestation baby birds.
Then one morning we heard a blood-curdling scream.
“Pierpont, what’s wrong?” I said to Pierpont as Bradley rushed downstairs and I rushed from the kitchen where I was fixing his lunch.
“I KILLED THEM!” he said, sobbing into his hands.
I looked outside through the screen door and saw that the nest had fallen and the eggs, which were in some transition into hatchlings, had broken open.
Bradley picked Pierpont up, took him over to the couch in the living room and held him while he cried. I opened the door and looked outside to see what may have happened.
“It’s okay, baby boy,” Bradley said to Pierpont as he held the back of his head and rested it on top of his shoulder. Bradley called Pierpont “baby boy” in these matters to let him know that sometimes it was okay to cry like one.
“I’m not entirely sure, but I think the vibration from opening and closing the door may have jostled the nest and caused it to fall,” I theorized.
“So it’s my fault?” Pierpont asked.
“No, honey,” I said. “You did nothing wrong. At worst you were just overly curious, but that’s not your fault. If anything, the mother bird and/or the father bird picked a bad location to build a nest and lay their eggs.”
“I’m a murderer,” Pierpont said sadly.
I sat down on the couch next to Bradley to help comfort our justifiably irrational young son. “You’re not a murderer, honey. You’re not even an accomplice.”
“But we won’t get to hear the chirping birds,” Pierpont said.
I looked sympathetically at Bradley as I rubbed Pierpont’s back. “No we won’t, honey. But there are a lot of birds around here that will be chirping instead.”
“I don’t like birds anymore,” Pierpont stated.
“Baby boy, don’t let this stop you from being interested in birds,” Bradley advised.
“But they’re dead,” Pierpont replied into Bradley’s shoulder.
“I know, but think of it this way,” I offered. “Maybe you saved them from something worse.”
Pierpont turned his head toward me. “Like what?” he asked.
“Maybe there’s a bad bird around that steals eggs and hatches them and raises them but treats them really mean,” I suggested. Bradley looked at me with a mix of confusion and amusement. All I could do was shrug.
“Which would make you a bit of a hero,” Bradley added dubiously. “You saved them from a harsh world.”
“But regardless, you can’t beat yourself up over this. You can be sad that they won’t hatch and chirp, but at least you got to see nature up close and in action,” I continued.
“Okay, your story is falling apart here,” Bradley said to me.
“I know,” I replied in defeat.
Bradley sat Pierpoint on his lap and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Hey, champ. Let’s get you cleaned up and we’ll pick up donuts to eat on the way to school. How does that sound?”
When Bradley calls him “champ”, Pierpont knows that while he can still be sad or upset, it’s also time to press on. Pierpont slid off of Bradley’s lap and slowly made his way upstairs.
“Nice little metaphor for life there,” Bradley teased. “I can’t wait to see what yarn you’ll spin when he’s fifteen, gets dumped for the first time and we have to nurse his broken heart.”
I smiled. “Don’t worry. At that point, I’ll just introduce him to hard apple cider as a cure-all.”