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Story Time With Dad

It’s 7:30 in the evening and we’re doing this. I sit down on my bed and watch my 4-year-old daughter walk out of her bedroom and into mine with like five or six books in her arms. What a thing to be looking at, you know? When I was younger, say 25 or 30, I didn’t see this happening.

How could I? I wasn’t successful stuff back then; nobody was looking at me and saying to themselves, "Oh yeah, that Serge fella is gonna make a heckuva daddy one of these days!”

Mostly, if they had even bothered to look at and ponder me at all, they probably would have thought to themselves, “This guy is a fruitcake; smoking, drinking, playing his guitar; he’ll be lucky to be busting his ass as a Cheesecake Factory line cook and living in a house with four single waiters by the time he’s 50.”

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But sometimes the curveballs that life tosses at us hang so high and float so gently—dancing into our questionable futures, like a fat moth waltzing into the streetlight glow—that we simply cannot help but to whack the hell out of it right when we were the least likely hitter in the history of the game.

So, one thing led to another and I became a daddy twice by the time I was 40.

And so here I am, sitting here on this faded Ikea afghan that has seen better days, watching with my own two eyes as Violet walks in from her room, stage right, with her stack of books, just as Henry, age 2, wanders in from his room, stage left, his little arms doing their best to hold up the books he is dragging in here.

We all meet on the mattress, same as last night, and with any luck, same as tomorrow night.

“Listen,” I tell them as they shift their tiny asses into their regular spots, my daughter on the dark side of the bed, Henry on my lap, closer to the lamp side, “You can each choose one book, OK? We’ll read two stories and then it will be time for bed, all right?”

It’s the same thing I said last night, and … well, you know, with any luck …

Violet leans into my arm as she digs through her small portable library and comes up with her choice. It’s The Little Polar Bear, a damn good one. I sigh to myself, thankful that she hasn’t picked out one of the holdover favorites from last year or the year before. I mean, I can read the hell out of Biscuit Goes to School, don’t get me wrong, but just in case you aren’t familiar with that type of book, let me just tell you that it ain’t exactly Moby Dick.

I do my thing and gently coax him toward something with a bit more narrative gristle for me to gnaw on.

But whatever, I have read that thing a zillion times and I am proud to tell you that I have never denied the kid her Biscuit, if that’s what she was feeling. Still, seeing her hand me The Little Polar Bear is basically like hitting a medium-size lottery on this random spring weeknight.

Henry chooses from his pile, picking out a workbook that his mom bought his big sister at the grocery store. It’s got some adding and subtracting stuff in there and some alphabet matching games and there isn’t even a hint of story and, to be honest, I can’t even make loose tales up about the pictures in there because my mind just shuts down when I start seeing any kind of math at all.

The poor bugger, he picked it last night, too. He picks it almost every night. And so I do my thing and gently coax him toward something with a bit more narrative gristle for me to gnaw on.

“Buddy, how about this one?” I ask him excitedly, holding up his copy of Are You Awake?

Some nights he tries to bump heads with me and hollers and tells me he NEEDS me to read him the damn workbook, but mostly he knows the drill and plays ball and says, “OK, dadeeee!”

The actual story time rises and falls like the rolling Appalachians parked out beyond our back fence in the slow dusk. At times, the kids talk so much—pointing at the pictures and arguing with the inky facts in favor of their own imaginations—that we resemble one of those chaotic half-drunk foreign Parliaments you see on the news where all hell is breaking loose and people are being tossed around; even out-and-out light violence seems pretty likely.

And I’m not gonna lie, I’ve come to love it.

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Now their minds are popping off as I lumber along with my best voices, trying to make this particular character—a hippo—sound elegant and British, and maybe this other one—a bear—sound Southern, like Jimmy Carter. Things go bananas for a moment, but somehow we always find our way back into the tale in the nick of time and BOOM: Absolute silence rains down over us, just me reading the words on the page, four young eyes transfixed.

Their bodies breathe, and I can feel the slight inhaling and exhaling of these kids I helped create as they stare at the book I am reading them, because I am their dad and it all just takes my breath away if I want to let it.

And I do, trust me.

I really, really do.

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