The game was coming to a climactic end, with a few parents on the sidelines going a bit too wild as if winning meant their child’s college scholarship. Or demise in life.
George rejoined Bryan at the edge of the field for the last play of the game, still shooting his video. After the play, excited kids ran past them, ready to join their families and get on with the party. The two men exchanged high-fives, as their boys came running over.
“Great job, guys! Well played! Give me thirty!!!” Bryan lifted both his hands so the boys could all high-five him at once.
Then the boys ran ahead to where Caryssa and Charlotte were waiting, and Bryan and George followed more slowly, dissecting the highs and lows of the final game of the season.
While the two families walked to the park area for the festivities, Caryssa listened as Bryan joked about how at this age, coaching the kids means a lot of telling them to watch for the ball while out on the field rather than the airplanes or birds flying by.
“True, but some of those kids can hit,” Charlotte said.
“Oh yeah, they can! And catch! And I’m pleased with how well Tyler and the other kids learned the game of baseball in this league. It’s amazing how fast they learned the rules and positions!” Caryssa chimed in.
Bryan Garrity, tall, brown hair, sparkling blue eyes, with a slightly crooked Irish grin, pulled one of his twin boys, Kevin, onto his shoulders while the other boys ran ahead, down the hill to the park.
After hearing bits and pieces about Bryan’s ordeal with his family back East, Caryssa realized she and George should count their blessings. Things weren’t perfect, but she could not imagine having a parent disown a child. Both their extended families couldn’t seem to embrace viewpoints outside of harsh political cultural ‘norms’ they grew up with. Yet nobody has ever done anything so harsh, so cold…
True, the natural rhythms of their life were thrown off when they traveled east to visit family. There was a total lack of structure. Yet, they were always surprised at some family members’ subtle strange reactions to their harmonious lifestyle.
In a world where stress has become so endemic, worn like a badge of courage, should this be such a surprise? Busyness is put on a pedestal, and it was probably a shock for relatives to encounter a side of the family not valuing it. She loves her family and George’s…every single one of them. So it was something she had learned to live with.
As if reading her mind, Bryan said “George mentioned you guys go back East every year to visit family. You’re so lucky to have those relationships. I haven’t seen my family in years, and my parents have yet to meet my sons.”
Caryssa couldn’t speak for a few minutes, she was so taken aback. Then, cautiously commented “Wow, I could not imagine. It is so important to have Tyler see his grandparents and our family. Is there any way you could bridge the gap for your kids’ sakes?”
Bryan started tossing a baseball in the air and catching it. “It’s more complicated than you know. There’s too much repressed resentment going on in my family to bring my boys into. They fight about money like it’s the end of the world, even though they are extremely wealthy. What hurts is I really should get a piece of the pie to help put my boys through school, pay bills, and deal with life’s economic challenges.” He reached out and ruffled Charlotte’s hair as she walked beside him. “Perhaps even let this great mommy spend more time with the boys.”
Good Lord thought Caryssa. This nice man can’t even get a piece of the elitist 1% pie from his own Dad. “I’m for that!” she laughed. “But first, here’s our spot! Help me spread out this blanket and set out the lawn chairs again, so we can continue this conversation in comfort.”
After the group had set up their new space on the grass near the play structure, Charlotte turned to Caryssa. “Things have become so expensive, especially where we live, no matter how we crunch the numbers it ends up the same. We both have to work full time. How do you do it?” she asked.
“How? I don’t know, by not spending more than is sustainable to the planet or our wallet I guess. Keeping it simple.”
Charlotte high-fived a baseball-happy kid. “But I’ve seen your house Caryssa. When we stopped by to give you Oakland A’s tickets. Your house is amazing…and the view!”
“Geesh…we simplify too, but maybe we aren’t doing enough,” Bryan said. “Our boys have every damn toy on the market, including the Wii. But it’s so expensive here in the Bay Area. Even without spending a little more than perhaps we need to, I don’t know if I could keep up with the mortgage with my business slowing the way it has been.”
“Tell me about it!” Caryssa said. “We haven’t started any type of college fund for Tyler yet, and I worry. We need to figure out how to do it. But meanwhile, we’re taking this thing called life one day at a time.”
“Honey, Caryssa does have a point though,” Charlotte said, taking Bryan’s hand. “It would be a good idea to be sure your dad finally sees his youngest grandchildren sometime before they turn seven. Who knows, maybe you can tap into some of his greed pile so we can keep a roof over our heads while spending more time with our children!”
Bryan remained silent for some time after Charlotte’s comment. He was looking towards the children playing on the structure, in particular at his own twin boys.
“I don’t want them to end up like me,” he said finally, very softly, almost as if he intended nobody else to hear him.
Charlotte heard it, though, and she answered him passionately. It seemed clear to Caryssa this point came up between them regularly. “Wait a minute, mister! What do you mean, end up like you!? You ended up just fine, more than fine! You have your own business; you’re well educated; you’re a great dad; you have tons of friends who love you. And I love you and the boys love you. You seriously need to stop thinking this way!”
George, never the one to feel comfortable around other couples’ intense conversation about family matters, got up and walked over to the play structure, where he began encouraging Tyler to try his skills on the steepest climbing wall.
Bryan patted her hand. “I know, honey. I know. I just mean…how I was as a teenager and young adult. I don’t want my boys angry, lost, not wanting to be anything like their dad … blaming themselves their dad spends no time with them.”
“But Bryan…that’s just it! You are nothing like your dad! You are a caring, sweet, level headed man who adores his sons, is there for them every day. Your dad was never concerned about anything but what people thought of him, his social class, how much money he has. It’s not the same animal at all!”
Charlotte was nearly shouting. A few heads turned. But this didn’t stop her. She was on a roll. The subject had hit a hot button for her and it was time for her to say her piece, public place or not.
“Did he ever play ball with you? Could you even imagine a guy like him taking the time to coach his son’s team? And where was your mom while you were growing up? Too busy having her hair and Botox done! Ugh! It makes me crazy to hear you compare yourself to them as if you are like that at all!”
“I know it does, honey. And I’m sorry. I’m doing my best. I think we need to change the subject now,” Bryan said quietly. “But eventually my sons will need to know and understand my darker moments. Let’s drop it, and try to have some fun today, okay?”
Caryssa stood up. “I’m gonna let you guys have a little privacy.” Charlotte looked up at her, grateful for the empathy and understanding, and nodded her assent. Caryssa wandered down to join George, who was now helping Tyler cross the monkey bars. Watching George with Tyler, she realized for the millionth time what a great daddy George was, and how much Tyler adored him. There’s no possible price tag on that. At moments like this, she was willing to overlook that George could get more involved with the daily routines.
She stood there, people around her talking, and watched. Tyler had a good, loving relationship with all four of his Grandparents. So critical. So essential to a child’s window into his parents’ early lives. And for his own sense of family history and identity. Grandparents bring such an enriching dimension to a child’s world. Parents can’t provide what grandparents can. They are too busy with the nitty gritty of raising the child.
She had wanted to say this to Bryan, but knew it was not her place. She also realized it’s exactly what Bryan was trying to protect. He wanted to protect his boys from the ugliness they might see in their family background, despite it being worth multi-millions of dollars.
“Bryan’s dad disowned him by age eighteen, just because he chose not to follow in his footsteps. He kicked him out of his own house with barely a penny in his pocket, while he himself lived on as a rich bastard,” she remembered Charlotte saying. “Oh, he was paying for his college education when Bryan was studying law at Harvard, but when he quit, trying to figure out what he wanted in life, that was it.”
Her thoughts were abruptly returned to the baseball game when she saw one of the mothers approaching her. “Hey Caryssa, thanks so much for organizing this end of year party!”
“No problem, it was fun planning it. I love being involved wherever possible. Thank you for letting so many of the elementary school parents know about this awesome league! What a fun season!” Caryssa responded. Looking back at the picnic spot, she could see Charlotte and Bryan had come to peace and were now talking and laughing, so she went back to join them.
Eventually, the party ended. After all the trophies had been handed out to the children and everyone had chipped in to clean up, the two families walked to the parking area together and parted ways.
In the Garrity car, the twins were busy squealing with delight recounting a play during the game or something that happened in the park. Bryan and Charlotte remained silent for quite a while. , Bryan grabbed his cell phone from his pocket, plugged in his hands-free Bluetooth device, and pressed a speed dial number seldom if ever used.
After a minute, he spoke. “Uh…hi… Dad? It’s me…Bryan.”
Charlotte could hear Clarence J. Garrity’s voice through Bryan’s phone, but could not make out what was being said. Her heart was racing, and her palms had become sweaty.
In the back, the boys got more excited. Keenan leaned forward in his car seat and patted her on the shoulder. “Hey Mom, is Dad talking to Grandpa?”
Kevin said “Don’t be silly, Keenan! Grandpa? We don’t even know Grandpa. Dad never talks to his dad.”
Then Bryan said “Great, great Dad, we are all doing excellent. The boys just finished their baseball season and are doing well in school. Charlotte and I both love our work.”
It was strangely silent in the car while Bryan listened to his father. Charlotte noticed he did not have the speaker phone on as he usually did. He was afraid of what Clarence might say and what the boys might overhear.
“Well, yeah. She works, Dad. She sort of has to. I mean my business is great and all, I’ve done well, but with the economy…”
More listening. Charlotte noticed the boys were unusually quiet in the back seat. She turned to look at them. She found them both still leaning towards the front seat with their heads cocked in Bryan’s direction, trying to hear what their Grandpa was saying. It broke her heart. They hadn’t even met their grandparents on Bryan’s side, yet yearned to hear their Grandpa’s voice.
“Sure Dad, hold on a minute.” Bryan reached behind him and offered the cell to the boys. “Make sure you use my Bluetooth, boys. Don’t hold the phone to your ears. You can take turns saying hi to your grandfather.”
Kevin spoke first. “Hi Grampa,” he said shyly. After his responses to Clarence’s questions were curt: “Yup. Yup. Mmmhmmm. Good. Recess and math. Baseball and soccer. OK. Uh-huh. OK. Me too. Bye.” Then he handed the phone to Keenan, and much the same clipped conversation ensued.
After Keenan was finished, he handed the phone back to Bryan. By this time, they were parked in their driveway. Bryan said “Hi. Dad? I’m back.” But the line was dead. “Dad? I think maybe I lost you. I can’t hear you. Dad? You there?”
“No Dad, he’s not there anymore,” Keenan declared. “He hung up. He said goodbye and hung up.”
Charlotte felt her heart was pounding, she was so angry. She felt like taking the cell phone and whipping it out the window. Did he hang up on his grandsons? After we finally make effort to connect with him? Without even speaking further with his own son?
Bryan calmly asked the boys what their Grandpa had said to them.
“Oh, he asked me things like do I like school, am I learning a lot, said he wants to see me, how is my mom doing, what’s my favorite part about school, what sports do I like…that kind of stuff,” Kevin said.
“Yeah, he asked me all that kind of stuff too!” Keenan added. “He wants us to go visit him!”
“Yeah! That’s what he said to me too. He wants us to go to Connecticut, and he wants to come to California to see our house and watch us play ball and stuff!” Kevin said excitedly.
He wants to see my boys, Bryan thought. He wants a glimpse into our lives. He’s even willing to come here!
“Yeah Daddy, he said to tell you to make plans real soon to bring us to Connecticut to see him and Grandma. Then he said some mushy stuff, like, he said…well like he said he loves us.”
Bryan and Charlotte both felt like crying. My dad has never, not once, not that I can remember anyhow, told me he loves me, Bryan thought.
Bryan turned to Charlotte and was not surprised to see the tears rolling down her face. She kept her face turned towards the house, not facing the boys. But the tears kept rolling.
“Hey Mom and Dad, what are we waiting for, can’t we go inside the house now and play?” Keenan asked.
The question set the adults in motion. Charlotte sat for a moment longer. Bryan got out, opened the back door, unlatched each boy from his safety seat, and said “Okay, off you go! Who wants to see if he can make the house key work?” This was a favorite game for the twins, as the lock was sometimes sticky. Keenan grabbed the keys from Bryan’s outstretched hand and they both pelted the walk to the front door.
Bryan went around to Charlotte’s door and opened it for her. Her face was tearstained and she seemed to be lost in thought.
“You okay, honey?”
“Oh. Yeah. I’m okay. It’s just…a lot for one afternoon!”
Bryan smiled and offered her his hand. She took it, smiled up at him, and got out of the car. By the time they reached the front door it was open, with the keys still in the lock, and the boys were already in their playroom. Bryan went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of juice. He twisted the cap and began drinking. Then he offered it to Charlotte. She took it and helped herself. Then she spoke.
“Well honey, that’s good. Really good. Your Dad seems to want to mend fences. I’d say the ball’s in your court now.”
Charlotte continued. “I think maybe the ball has always been in your court, Bryan. Even though he is the one who broke the relationship, your Dad is too stubborn to make the first move. Who knows how long he’s been wanting to connect but couldn’t?”
But I was not the one to walk away from his own son, Bryan thought. His resentment still burned deep.
After years of marriage, Charlotte could usually read her husband’s mind. “But he thinks of it differently, Bryan. His mind is twisted from decades of alcoholism, workaholism, egoism, self-centeredness. He sees it as your fault. You walked away from his dynasty. He thinks you disrespect his work and his status in the world.”
“And so … your point being?”
“And so….he’s your father. He is wrong, yes. We both know that. But can’t you let it go? Hasn’t it been long enough? What if we could changes things going forward? Let’s think about the boys. They need their grandparents. Not just my folks. Your folks too. I’m talking about forgiveness. Before it’s too late. You said earlier in the park you don’t want your boys to grow up to be like you, and I argued you down because you are a wonderful person. And you were so courageous to reach out to your Dad.”
She put her arms around his waist and squeezed him tight. “It’s one of the many reasons I love you so much. But now your dad has responded. You set the wheels in motion. If you stop it now? If you take this opportunity away from the boys? They may never forgive you. Oh, sure, in time they’ll forget this moment. But somewhere down the line, it will come back to haunt you, believe me. And that’s not even starting to address how much you need this honey. You need it too. Give him a chance. Maybe it’s too soon to forgive. But just give him, yourself, and the boys a chance.”
“Shhh,” Bryan said, glancing toward the playroom, placing his fingers to his lips. “Well, I don’t know, Charlotte. I don’t know. If you’re right, I could have started the game a long time ago.” Then he turned and walked away.
As Charlotte began taking her potluck dishes out of the bag and setting them on the kitchen counter to be washed, she heard him ask the boys “Who wants to go to Connecticut and see where your Daddy grew up?”
“I do! I do!” they answered in unison.
Charlotte arrived at the doorway in time to see them both run to Bryan. He got on all fours and they jump onto his back, after which they rode their Daddy Horse around the room.
“Hey Daddy, how come we’ve never seen your mommy and daddy, like we always see Mom’s mommy and daddy?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah, how come that? How come we don’t see your parents?” repeated Keenan. “Your daddy said he loves us. Didn’t you know he loves us? But if he loves us, how come we’ve never seen him?”
What to say?
Bryan gently sat up and the boys slid off and stood in front of him, looking into his face and waiting for his answer. He placed a hand on each beloved face and said “It has nothing to do with either of you. Your grandparents love you and can’t wait to see you. It’s my fault. You know how … well…sometimes people get mad at each other and don’t want to talk to each other for a while? Well, I guess I let that go on for too long.”
The boys thought for a while. Then Keenan said “Well, that’s sort of like what happened yesterday at school. This kid Sammy took my backpack and wouldn’t give it back to me. And then when I told the teacher and she got it for me, he teased me. He said I was a scaredy-cat and teacher’s pet. I’m not! I just wanted my backpack and he was too big and too fast for me. Anyway, I didn’t want to talk to him for the whole rest of the day.”
Oh man, I would hate to see these boys lose their innocence, Bryan thought. Maybe it never has to happen, if I’m always there for them. Always there for them even though my dad was not there for me. I will always be there for my boys, in every way. No matter what.