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.