Chapter 2 - Father and Son
At the family dinner table, away from the dining hall, after Aang gave the blessing, it was unusually silent, since there were only three now sitting at the table.
Katara asked her 32 year old youngest child, "Are you OK, Tenzin?"
Tenzin looked down into his plate of stewed sea prunes, "I'm OK Mother. I just don't feel like talking right now."
"You miss your brother and sister, don't you?" it was a pure guess, but Katara had to keep the conversation going to find out what was wrong.
In truth, they all missed Kya and Bumi. None of them were used to the older children living in their own homes and raising families. Even in their early 60's, Aang and Katara always thought of themselves as 'just kids', and the fact that they were parents of grown children was a reality they hadn't accepted, much less being grandparents several times over. Tenzin was still with them because Air Temple Island was home to him. The Island was the capital of the new Air Nation that was established with the United Republic of Nations and its ruling Council. Since the Air Nation was only one family, it made decision-making pretty easy for now.
But that was the problem.
"Yes I do miss them, Mother, but this is not about them," Tenzin sounded annoyed at being probed.
Katara stopped asking questions as she sensed his temper begin to flare. Katara had that mother's sixth sense, especially well-honed at age 66. But that didn't slow Aang down, missing the signs.
"What is it then, Tenzin?" Aang inquired.
He started to get red in the face, and insisted loudly, "I said, I don't want to talk about it."
He banged the table and stomped off. Aang and Katara just looked at each other. Aang left unsaid that once again Tenzin's anger reminded him of Katara's, knowing that saying anything about that would light her off too. This was not the time to joke around.
"Go talk to him," said Katara softly with a thin smile, and touched the back of Aang's hand lightly.
Aang knew where to find Tenzin - at the highest lookout on the Temple's tower. Aang had found him many times before when he was upset. He still remembered the first time, when Tenzin disappeared after some school children had teased him about being a freak of nature as the only other Air Bender. It was a place only the two of them could go. There were no internal stairs to that lookout that faced the gleaming city.
Aang silently landed in his glider behind his son. Tenzin sat in a meditative position, but still looked tense.
"Hello Father. I knew you'd come."
"Do you want to be alone, son?"
"No. It's OK."
"You were pretty rough on your mother just now, y'know."
"I know. I didn't mean to. I will apologize. I just had to get away."
"Tenzin, seriously, what's the matter?"
Aang rolled his eyes. Freedom of the press was the one thing he wished had not come with the United Republic. They could be so unkind.
"What is it this time?" Aang dared to ask.
"The same thing, Father," Tenzin replied sullenly.
"Oh. Tell me more," inquired Aang.
"Well the questions were going fine with all the Council Members on the new Airship Aerodrome. So, I expressed my views, representing the 'Air Nation.' I should have never said that."
"I know what's coming, Tenzin."
"Yes Father. Quan asked: 'Well Tenzin, is there ever going to be an Air Nation, and when are you going to marry Chief Bei Fong?'"
Aang disliked Quan, the blunt old reporter who had been about the first of his trade at the beginning of the Republic, and always the one who asked all the embarrassingly hard questions.
"Well I gave him my standard flip answer, 'Well it just isn't the right time yet'. Everyone chuckled, but Quan wouldn't let it go. He always knows more than I can imagine. He asked me point blank about Lin, Father. I lost it when he accused, 'Why can't you make your parents proud, get married, and produce more air benders with Lin? You owe it to them to repopulate the world with air benders. They did their part, but they didn't do enough! What's the matter, Councilman Tenzin? Don't you like girls?'"
Both bristled with this unsettling story blaming both of them. Aang, about to get angry himself, asked carefully, "What did you say then?"
Tenzin sighed, "I said this, Father: 'You people may want more air benders, but don't you get it? I am not an air bending sire for anyone. It doesn't work that way. Don't you understand that it is a spiritual matter between partners and the child itself for any air benders to exist? And you Quan, without my Father and Mother, wouldn't even be living in a nation of freedom, where you can ask embarrassing questions like this. Leave my parents out of this! The spirits blessed them to survive the War to be together and marry to have children. Be happy you have meat all.'"
He could see his youngest son's shoulders sagging under the great weight he carried unsaid on a daily basis. Aang shuddered, imagining the headlines in the newspaper tomorrow, with undoubtedly another strongly worded editorial about populating the Air Nation. And probably another fight with Lin. Aang felt a pang of shame that he hadn't fathered more air benders, but quickly dismissed it. It was the spirits' will that it was this way. The world could be so cruel - especially to this family - at times.
With a rare tear in his eye, he turned and looked Aang in the eye, "Father. I know in my heart that Xiu, Qiangchao, and Norika weren't the right girls years ago. They were all after the power and their assured place in history. They didn't want me. They just wanted air bending children."
He sighed deeply, running the long years behind back in his mind, "I am trying so hard to make it work with Lin, Father. We've been friends since we were kids. She loves you, Father. I want so much for it to work out. I've invested a decade trying to make work. I so want both of you to be proud of me."
Aang immediately replied, "We are immensely proud of you son. We always will be. No matter what the spirits have in store for all of us. Look what you have done with the Air Temple and to grow the society of Air Acolytes."
Tenzin poured out his frustration, "I know, Father, the spirits have blessed our work together. But I haven't given you an air bending grandson yet. To the World, it's like nothing else I've done matters. I don't know how you carried the responsibilities of our people and the pressure from the world to continue our race, Father. I am trying to be strong for all of us, but don't think I can handle it. Kya and Bumi have it easy."
Tenzin could not stop fretting, "The spirits have to know we are all running out of time father. I'm 32. I'm twice the age that most men marry. Even in these modern times. Lin has only so much time left herself."
"Father, Lin and I love each other but I can't seem to ask her 'the question'. There seems to be such a set of differences. And I can't ask until all that is settled."
Aang's heart was heavy. Lin was like a daughter to him, but was having a hard time seeing her as a daughter in law with his youngest son, "Tenzin I can see that every day. And with every argument. She doesn't believe as we do. And perhaps she never will. Perhaps son, it is more important to let a relationship develop, and not force it to develop, even if it feels like the right thing to do - no matter whether you've known someone since childhood or not."
Aang sighed, and spoke softly, "I can't help but think son, that your heart is meant for another."
Aang placed his arm on his despondent son's shoulder and explained, "Tenzin, I want you to understand that your mother and I have no intention of pressuring you for a wife and children – whether it is Lin or someone else. We never have, especially with the ones before her. And here is why. There was terrible pressure on your Mother and me all the time, especially after your brother Bumi. With him not being a bender at all meant somehow Katara was 'defective', and the pressure on me to leave her or mate with others was extreme. The spirits will guide you son. In the meantime, you mother and I will love you and your siblings and mother just as much as we have every day since you were blessed to us."
Aang looked with love and conviction into Tenzin's moist eyes, and held him by both shoulders, "And when the right young woman comes along in your life to be your lifetime spiritual partner, we will love her too."
High atop the tower, father and son hugged, and Tenzin wept for a long time. Aang knew that Tenzin had to let it out. Aang didn't say that nearly 35 years before, a much younger air bender and water bender couple clutched in the same desperate tear-filled hug, fighting defiantly the cruel pressures of the sages and leaders of that time. It wasn't long after that that couple were blessed with Tenzin. Aang prayed while holding his son that something like that could happen again.
Tenzin finally was cried out, he air bent his remaining tears away, and offered, "I'll be OK now, Father. Thank you for being here for me, like you always are. I pray to the spirits for the right time to tell Lin, and that the 'right girl' is out there for me somewhere. "
Aang offered some advice, "I have long believed that the spirits provide someone for everyone. It's just a matter of time. Hey, look at your old man – I waited over a hundred years to get married."
They laughed together with the truthful irony of that.
Aang got a gleam in his eye and recollected, "You know Tenzin, when you were little, and hurting over something, we'd always fly together afterwards. It's a beautiful night for a flight. Yue is giving it her all out there tonight for us."
Tenzin looked up at the moon, amazed still that his father and uncle knew the Moon Spirit as a beautiful mortal, and that his Uncle Sokka had even dared to love her and agreed, "Yes father, of course."
The old and young air benders popped their gliders open, and took flight over Air Temple Island, zooming, circling, climbing, and diving, laughing and yelling, all the time annoying the late night watch Order of the White Lotus sentries by buzzing their guard towers like a couple of ten year olds.
Far below, an anxiety-filled Katara watched as they flew off together into the night sky and started their mischief with the night guards. A small stream of tears trickled down her cheek, and she finally could exhale and relax.