Robert Matthew Keegan
Some random musings. I want to first say; I am fine. You’re fine. We’re all fine. The oceans are rising and the earth’s on fire, but no biggie. I’m so fine, in fact, that I wanted to share some of my random fineness with you, dear reader.
Snap, Crackle, N Pop!
8 July 2019
I am a father. My son was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, lived six weeks, and died roughly fourteen years ago. He died, but I did not stop being his father with his death. I did not stop being a father.
This past Father’s Day, I was coming back from a road trip to St. Louis, and stopped to grab some to-go food on the way back home. I stopped at McAlister’s Deli, a chain I’d never been to, and went to order inside so I could also use their bathroom.
McAlister’s was giving away free dessert to father to commemorate Father’s Day. The cashiers offered dessert to every man with a child in tow. They offered dessert to every old, Midwestern man, under the assumption that old, Midwestern fuckers don’t get old without siring a child somewhere along the way.
As I stood in line for the register, I was excited about getting free dessert. I was lustily eyeing one of the ginormous Rice Krispy treats sitting in a wicker basket by the register. You don’t get a lot of Father’s Day cards nor gifts when your child is dead. Which seems fair. You don’t get a lot of happy Father’s Day wishes. Today, I was going to celebrate being a father. I was going to celebrate with a mouthful of crispy marshmallow goodness. I might not get any gifts, but I would, courtesy of McAlister’s thoughtfulness, get a brick of sugar to celebrate Father’s Day.
Of course, the cashier didn’t offer me any free Father’s Day dessert. He rung up my order, read it back to me, and asked for payment. I hesitated as I opened my wallet. I could have asked for the dessert I was owed, but I felt the familiar slight of lack of recognition. I paid for my sandwich and slunk off in defeat. As I waited for my order, I watched every other male customer over the age of twenty-four get offered a free dessert. Desserts were offered to old Midwestern men in their high shorts and t-shirts stretched taut over swollen bellies. Desserts were offered to harried young fathers with children hanging from their arms. Free dessert was even offered to a sketchy customer who was clearly single with no offspring. If he did have children, crystal meth had long wiped from him any memory of their existence. The man gleefully accepted the offer of free dessert.
I was going to let the dessert thing go. I would add the dessert to the long list of times my status of being a father was blanked by the rest of the world. My fatherhood erased by a culture that makes death, and the loved ones left in death’s wake, invisible. I know when someone asks me if I have children, they don’t want to hear about my dead son. I’ve censored myself when someone’s spoken condescendingly to me about parenting as if I had zero experience in the subject. I have bitten my tongue when asked when I plan to start having children. Dead children don’t count, apparently.
I waited for my order. The hurt and sadness became angular, pointed, and shifted into resentment. When my order was called, a rage monster had started a small pit fire inside me. I got my food, paused and looked at the to-go bag, and then asked the same cashier who’d rung me up if McAlister’s were offering anything for customers that were fathers on this day known as Father’s Day. The employee mumbled an apology for not asking before, and rattled off the list of free desserts, seemingly annoyed. I asked for the Rice Krispy treat. I hoped he’d doubt me. I anticipated him asking for some proof of my being a father. Am I father? Why yes, I am a father. My son isn’t with me, right now. He was with my ex-wife, in a small box containing his ashes.
I wasn’t asked to prove myself, saving me from some petty outburst. I felt a small measure of victory as I strode out of McAlister’s. I greedily consumed that victory later that evening. Despite the dessert brick’s heft and girth, I ate it in one sitting. I ate it all, even though I felt a bit nauseous from all that sweetness halfway through. I ate ever crispy, gooey, rice kernel of that Father’s Day gift I had to ask for myself.
Is there a point to this story besides recounting my rage-eating habits and tendency to be judge Midwesterners harshly? I don’t know. Maybe, death shouldn’t render the decedent’s’ loved ones invisible. Maybe death, while tragic and heartbreaking, is a part of life and shouldn’t be ignored because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Maybe the real point is, deny me my hard-earned Father’s Day desserts at your own risk. Pop! Pop!