a lyric essay on family and fatherhood; names have been changed out of respect for those involved.
In mid-June of 2017, my brother becomes a father, and not in the usual biological fashion most men do, but rather in a philosophical way. The air is light, the Sun is high, it is 11am. My brother, Anthony, along with his girlfriend’s two children find a table amongst the empty seats of The Georgian Bay Family Restaurant in Collingwood, Ontario. Two old couples peer at them, possibly noticing the trio and their opposite colours: two white babies, one black man. Anthony is accustomed to this look, the whose-kids-are-those? look. I remember grocery shopping in Shelburne one Friday when Anthony had the kids. He was carrying baby Noah, three, down the aisle of NoFrills, when I stopped a staff member to ask the aisle number for peanut butter. The attendant answered quickly, avoiding eye contact as he continued to stock the shelves with canned corn. It wasn’t until we walked passed him that I noticed his eyes fixed on us. Two black people, one white baby.
Always opting for comfort over couture, Anthony wears his typical uniform, sweatpants and a t-shirt. The children are dressed for eating, clean clothes awaiting disaster. If Astrid were there I imagine she’d wear her dreadlocks half up and half down, the perfect indecisive hairstyle for an Aquarius. I meet her for the first time over the phone. Anthony was venting one night and she took the phone from him and roared a ballad into my ear. She worried Anthony would give me a false first impression, so instead, she painted her own portrait and yelled at me, uninterrupted, for forty-five minutes. After fifteen minutes, I set the phone down and scrolled through Pinterest. That night, I created three new boards. I met her in person one year later. She was an interesting girl, a passionate one, with long brown hair and green eyes. The black sheep of a family of nine children and the only child who wasn’t homeschooled, Astrid was the type to throw her entire heart into an endeavour without considering the consequences. To say my brother fell for her was an understatement.
The dining room is lined with large rectangular windows, allowing the early afternoon sun to spill onto empty tables. Everything is a shade of rich brown, wooden tables, gold glittering light, the scent of eggs, bacon and bread fill the room. My brother, Anthony orders steak and eggs. He remembers his order vividly, yet cannot recall what he orders for the boys. Though, the taste and smell of the meat locks the memory in his muscles. If this were a story of biological fatherhood perhaps this magical moment would be similar to the second a crying child quiets in their father’s arms, simultaneously calm and chaotic.
The waitress is wearing black: black apron, black buttoned shirt, black pants, white notepad. She happens to be the cousin of River’s father, though Anthony doesn’t know that yet, and he forgets her name, because this story is less about the importance of her name, but rather centres her role as a facilitator. She jots down their orders as River, Astrid’s six-year-old takes note of the oddities in the restaurant. Once she finishes her writing she smiles and makes her way to the kitchen. It isn’t until her return, with three cups of iced-water, that she recognizes River. When her surprise settles and pleasantries are exchanged, then finally, she turns to River before asking, “How’s your father?” It is then that River turns to Anthony and says, “He’s right here, ask him.”
Anthony’s heart stops, and the room falls silent. No plates clattering, no chatty patrons. I suppose this was a verbal slap in the face for the cousin of River’s father, who was left speechless. She smiles, though beams of shock broke through the cracks in her face. Suddenly sentimental, Anthony melts into his wooden chair, peering at the boys with new eyes. The cousin turns to place the orders; the long second ends and a new one begins marking a conferring of knighthood: OBE, GBE, DAD.
When a child is born there are 1, 3 and 5 birthdays. A mother is born, a father, a grandmother and so on. New titles are given, new bonds are formed. Blood becomes a defining factor of family. Though, what is blood, but a mineral-rich liquid which forces socialization between two people? Yes, it is thicker than water, yes it is passed down, but bonds are formed in and outside the body; sometimes a moment christens two people as kin. Sometimes your mother, father, grandmother and so on are found later in life. When the food is finished the plates are cleared, and Anthony pays. River says goodbye to his second cousin and Noah clings to Anthony’s chest. The sun finds its peak in the sky at 12-noon as they exit the restaurant. Proud and protective, he places Noah in his car seat and double-checks River’s seat belt. Blood is thicker than water, but love is the ultimate defining factor of family. In the warmth of mid-June, Anthony drives the boys to the restaurant, knighted and new, their father drives them home.
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