when we work together
He places the card in my hand, lightly fingering the rough fold, the paper blue like a storm in the middle of the afternoon or the ocean in places very deep. I look at the flat, incongruent edges and see fibers; wet, bruised pulp; dye on someone’s fingers. It’s remarkable to see the beginnings of something within the finished specimen. But then, I look at the sharp angles of Adam’s face and still see his baby-round cheeks, that cardinal-sharp tuft of downy hair rising over the fontanelle I gently traced with the edge of my thumb. My son has so much more growing to do, but I never stop seeing all the living that brought us right here, to now, to the moment he puts this Father’s Day card in my hand.
“Is it ready?” I ask him.
All week we’ve been hiding these cards in places Kevin will find them just as he opens a door or breathes out a sigh. This one Adam has written in pencil, carefully, which for Adam is something. Typically he has very little patience for such effort. The lines of his handwriting shine like dull silver threads, plump in places, tangled with the empyreal pulp. I read the words and can almost hear Adam’s deep, halting speech, the rich tone of the syllables formed in his mouth.
Dad, I love it when we work together.
I look up at my son and smile, and then the smile breaks free of me and turns to laughter.
Adam grins widely, trilling victory with his throat, murmuring, “Good job, Adam,” just softly.
This is our joke and it will be Kevin’s too when he finds the careful letters; the flat, dry square of ocean, waiting in his sock drawer before work.
If Adam loves working, it’s a surprise to everyone who loves him. I listen to him chuckling now and can’t be sure if he wrote those words sincerely or if he understood the joke himself. One of Kevin’s greatest gifts to all of our children is his humor, something he offers generously even on the most difficult days. He has never once allowed our challenges to keep him from sharing laughter with our kids, and they are each one better for it. But it’s also possible that Adam believes this is just the sort of thing you say on a Father’s Day card, some pithy thing you probably should feel but really…don’t. There have been a few times when Adam willingly worked on a project with his father, but those times have been rare and unpredictable. Usually, during such events, Adam spends the bulk of his creativity on convincing Kevin that the project is unnecessary and can be finished in one minute. We don’t have to, Adam says, and then when that doesn’t persuade, he starts talking about what he will do afterward. First this, then the thing I would rather be doing. There are many things Adam loves to do with his dad, but working isn’t one of them.
I look up at my son and it’s clear: He’s proud of this card. I can see it in his eyes, shining there like a light. I think in his own way, he means what he says. I love it when we work together. And actually, when I think about it, the irony of his sentiment is not all that different from my own in prayer. I often say that same thing to my dad, too. I tell Him how glad I am to be able to participate in what He’s doing, and I really am, but then my spiritual immaturity shows up in the way I behave while we’re working. I tell God we don’t have to do the things I find most uncomfortable, or at least, not that way. Sometimes, I spend the bulk of my creativity trying to convince my heavenly father that the mission itself is unnecessary or should be completed in an instant in order to minimize my own self-sacrifice. And when that doesn’t work, I shift my attention to what will be next. First this, then the thing I’d rather be doing. But God, I love it when we work together. Even so, Abba receives my lopsided affection in much the way Kevin will this Father’s Day card—with delight, with love, with grace enough to overlook my adolescent perspective.
I reach up to ruffle Adam’s hair with my fingers. “Come on, let’s hide this.” And we do, sliding open the drawer, settling the card carefully on the top of a dozen knots of cotton. “Your dad is really going to love it.”
Beside me, that bent knee, that happy chortle; those long fingers carefully place the gift. Simply, Adam says, “Yes.”