Regrets I’ve Had As a Fatherhttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/IMG_0387.jpeg?fit=1920%2C1241&ssl=119201241Eliot LiEliot Lihttps://secure.gravatar.com/avatar/cce54adfe32326cb9d97f40e809e0dc0?s=96&d=mm&r=g
The first time I meet my son’s ghost, he’s wearing his full high school football uniform, pads and all. I can barely understand his words through the grill of his helmet, but he’s explaining how you enter the next realm in the same clothes you wore when you left the last one.
“Good thing you didn’t die from autoerotic asphyxiation,” I say.
“Typical Dad humor,” he says. “I miss you.”
I expected him to be wearing the beige twill suit we bought for the casket viewing. Then I remember, on the field, the paramedic’s hands sinking into the front of his jersey.
I slide his helmet off, kiss him on the cheek.
The next time I see my son’s ghost, he’s wearing an octopus on his head, a lively one with suction cups mussing up his hair, sticking the ends of its tentacles in his ear.
“Rufus, stop!” he says, giggling like a 5-year-old.
He’d traded his helmet to a guy in a scuba suit. This octopus had had a homicidal streak; nevertheless, the scuba guy had put up a pretty good fight on his way out.
“Your mom must totally dig the mollusk,” I say.
“I haven’t visited her yet.”
In my apartment, we sit by the fake living room fire. My son holds Rufus in his palms, its tentacles dangling between his fingers. His eyes go wide every time Rufus does some kind of trick, like growing fleshy horns, or changing colors to match the brown leather couch.
The couch was the only thing I’d taken from the house, his mom’s house now.
After he’s gone, I try to stick my hand into the faux fireplace, but it’s just an LED screen.
We used to snorkel together, when he was just a toddler in an oversized life jacket, twirling around the water’s surface. My wife lived for those moments, the three of us floating in the ocean, holding hands, listening to the sound of our breathing. She’d press breadcrumbs into my son’s fist, and all the fish came to him.
My wife couldn’t forgive me for opposing her when she tried to convince him to join the swim team instead of football. She couldn’t look me in the eye, even when I kept saying how much we needed each other now more than ever.
All because of this stupid parenting principle I had. You want your kids to find their passion, and you try not to fuck them up too bad by getting in their way.
My son and I are on the front porch of our old house. I’ve already knocked, and we’re just standing. Waiting.
“She’s going to freak,” he says. He’s hugging a fishbowl containing Rufus, who’s turned a dark shade of green to match the front of my son’s sweater.
I’m holding a bouquet of roses. My hand is shaking. “I should’ve called first,” I say, her footsteps in the foyer now.