I Eat the Ugly Food: A Father’s Resumé

I take the watch, morning and night. Check on your sleep. Kiss your foreheads. Wake you gently. Have made most of the meals you have eaten and give you the lion’s share, now you need it and I do not. Clean kitchen, clean plates, clean floors, clean toilets, clean tubs, make beds. Paint murals on your walls, clouds on your ceilings. Lifelong alliance with Santa. Help you reason, speak, grow a vocabulary. Meet your eyes. Know where else you are looking and what you wonder about. Pay attention. Do not laugh when you say serious things or when you stumble. Wait for you to say it, instead of finishing it for you. Go with your ideas, amplify, unless argument is what you are after, then play devil’s advocate. Discuss books and art and philosophy and science and nature and history and people and places and ways and the reasons for them. Tell you your past, and mine, and others, best I know. Save your drawings and put them on my wall, save your notebooks among my own. Use the old affectionate names, like you two Ponkles. Work. Pause my work to walk you to and from school, shuttle you to school, to games and Scouts and friends’, then go back to work after you are in bed. Take on a second job, a third, more. Surprise you. Carried you, sometimes both at the same time, as long as I could (often for the same reason you carry the cats, in the laundry basket, now). Carry you with me now. Believe you when you say you are sick or hurt, and take action, even when concern is all that is needed. Held you when you cried out after surgery, after accidents, after birth. Mastered the comforting palm on the face, the hand to the back of the head, the shoulder. Hug hugs that matter. Sat with you in the chair, making myself small, until the chair was not big enough for us both. Gave you the chair. Make no big deal over bodily processes, to show that the mechanical part of us is normal. Give you my last dollar, for a treat. Introduced you to swimming, soccer, weights, playing catch. Swim, play soccer, lift weights, play catch with you. Go to practices and games and matches—all of them, as I could. Take your input on what you are ready to do alone, even when that just kills me. Put your missteps in perspective so you know how they mean. Admitted (some) of my own. Remind you to clean up, do homework, help with chores. Push you. Advocate and intervene and defend and discipline. Encourage, praise. Believe. Lie awake.

If there is anything else I can provide you, please do not hesitate to ask. Sincerely, Dad.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.