His father’s son
© Folakemi Emem-Akpan
It is not his intention to hurt his son; all he wants to do is teach him a lesson. So he raps his knuckles gently but firmly across the length of the little boy’s head. When the boy sniffles, he raps again. Harder. This brings about another round of sniffling, and another round of rapping. Harder yet again.
And so it goes. Sniffle; rap. Sniffle; rap. Sniffle; rap. Until there are no more sniffles. Until the three year old’s face is dry and set in something akin to stone.
When this is achieved, when the lesson has been learnt, Jimmy smiles at his son and bends to his ears. “That’s better, buddy. Crying is for sissies and boys don’t cry.”
Jimmy watches Peter’s face closely for a while and when he is satisfied that the little boy is not going to cry again, he squeezes his shoulder and turns on his heel.
After Jimmy has left the room, Peter tiptoes to his mother, buries his face into her skirt and heaves sob after dry sob. Once again, Janet feels her heart breaking into a million unredeemable pieces. She cuddles her son, strokes his head and without a word comforts him. Even as she does this, she is apprehensive, scared that Jimmy will return quietly, petrified that he would catch them in this stolen embrace.
The same quality that had once attracted her to Jimmy is now what causes her untellable grief. He’d been tough, strongly given to the belief that men don’t cry no matter the circumstances. And after having lived twenty-two years in a household where her father wore his emotions on his sleeve, emotions that ranged wildly from joy to deep sadness to rage and then to joy again sometimes in the space of only five minutes, she was ready for solidness. Which she found in Jimmy.
Jimmy smiled often but was careful not to allow his smile turn into a proper grin. When his mother died of cancer at barely fifty, he did not shed a tear. He stood there, his arms across his chest, and watched the pallbearers lower the woman he’d first loved into the earth.
Janet was proud, then appalled, then proud again. The following month, she married Jimmy.
When their daughter was born, he didn’t seem to care much, didn’t involve himself at all in parenting her. From the word go, he was a firm believer in stay at home moms, so he took on extra jobs so that she could stay home. For that, she is eternally grateful.
Two years later, Peter arrived and Jimmy suddenly became a hands-on dad, at least to their son.
Peter was a colicky baby so he cried a lot. Jimmy would put his nose to the boy’s nose and inform him that he had to be tough. Men were supposed to be born tough; he had to suck it up and quit crying. When Peter was a year old, Jimmy took a switch to him because he’d cried over losing a toy to his sister. By the time Peter was two, he’d learnt the lesson his father sought to teach him; boys that cried were sissies.
Janet strokes Peter’s head, comforting him as much as she comforts herself. In time, Peter’s dry sobs fade and his thumb finds his way into his mouth. He sucks a while, his eyes glued to his mother’s face. She smiles down at him, loving him so much her heart cannot stand it.
The door creaks open and Jimmy’s head pokes through. Quickly, Peter removes his thumb from his mouth, swings himself off his mother’s thighs and stares straight ahead like a man should. Once again, he has become his father’s son.