We moved to the country, known as Edgewood, Texas, to find unimagined riches, when my daughter, Sarah, was six. As a kid, I had spent summers on my cousins’ Oklahoma, red-sand, cattle ranch, catching crawdads and swinging from grapevines—heaven on earth for the, ten to twelve-year-old boy, genre, we defined. But Sarah didn’t like it outside much, without our 4-ton, 92,000-BTU, Hurricane Thrust, central air-conditioner, to dampen her glow.
I had to do something big to prove I was a great father, as mine had been to me. My daddy had made me a ten-foot high kite with a fifty-foot tail, hoisted up and down from the stratosphere with twelve-corded string on a motorized wheel. He was the greatest daddy of all time. I had to make land somewhere close, to be a worthy steward to God’s little sweaty gift. Sitting on the back patio, looking downhill toward the Florida-fish-stocked pond I constructed, by paying a local cowboy who rode a dozer, I envisioned a pirate ship sailing across the duckweed salted swells. That would entice Sarah to enjoy the outdoors I had engulfed us in.
It would be vast, covering sixty feet of the side of the hill behind the house, a triple-decker, overlooking the raging sea. The side toward the patio would be cut-away, Barbie house style, so we could better watch our happy, little buccaneer steering the ship’s wheel, buckling the swash, and maybe tuna fishing, for lunch, off the back.
I bought pickup loads of lumber and plywood from Home Depot in the big town of Terrell. Everyone thought of the fox as crazy, building a barn on the side of a hill. Keeping my mouth from spilling the medallions was like damming Niagara, but I kept the dike plugged, knowing the surprise would unfurl the butterfly wings of my fatherly chops.
The disc between my fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae ruptured when I recklessly removed a spun shirt from the clothes-washing, torture machine. The nerve, going through my left hip and down its leg, experienced an electric jolt, which morphed into severe pain and numbness, but only when I stood. The doctor said it would either improve or get worse and require surgery; only time would tell. It improved or worsened until time told me I had to do something before Sarah was grown.
A discectomy gave me complete relief. Sarah was only nine; I could still build this scallywag’s monument to fatherhood. The pirate wood still looked usable, matey. I laid water hoses where the outside border of the lower deck would be, still not divulging what the loot I was doing.
As I savagely adjusted my butt, snuggly into the bucket seat, of our Alero, my lower back ripped a new one. The pain plundered my breath at first; then it settled into the familiar, pain off/pain on tides. I rationalized how my discal distress might disappear in some distant time, or, more likely, was avoiding fear of the doctor proclaiming, “Ooh, I’ve never seen one of these—multiple ruptured vertebrae and discs, hehe. It all must come out. A colleague and I developed this poly-fiber slinky-thingy we want to install in you, since you have nothing to lose, anyway.”
I drug my leg around for two more years until finally, I raised the flag of courage to visit Dr. Mengele, who did a back fusion, providing me complete relief. But now, due to the saber-grade titanium and junior mints he dropped in my back; all electronic, medical and security devices, that touch me, scream feedback at their foiled operators. And, I swear; my old tinnitus, now broadcasts a faint radio station, luckily, only I can hear.
Fire ants turned my – I mean Sarah’s – pirate ship lumber into compost and rotten pegs. I poured lighter fluid on the whole stinging mess then set it ablaze. With fists pumping high, I jumped up and down at the inferno, maniacally laughing and yelling, “Burn, you devils, burn.” Nobody was home to see my Cornel Wilde imitation.
A few more years went by and the force changed my interests from mega-structures to literary license, as I avoided any compromising positions, to my back, for fear of some titanium/bone infrastructure collapse. The guilt of not building or even telling my little – now big – girl about her pirate ship, rode my back like the headless horseman.
She’ll be moving away next year, going to college. I’ll help her find her way into adulthood, where she’ll let me, and pay for college. Sarah has always been mature for her age, a good decision-maker, and truthful.
For my old-man-years-old birthday, Sarah bought me some attractive polo shirts and a nice card she elaborated heavily on. “I’m thankful to have such an awesome Dad! Thank you for loving me enough to hold me close when I needed it most, and for loving me enough to let me go out on my own.”
I teared up when I read her loving, parent acknowledging nod, but didn’t let it show, unless she could detect my eyes swell and glass over.
I reckoned my time had come. I had to tell her; jettison this 400-pound gorilla from my worn back. “Sarah, I need to tell you something. I always meant to do something overboard and special for you and you deserved it, but I just never got around to it. I had plans to build you a giant pirate ship behind the house, looking out over the pond, for you to play on to your heart’s delight.”
“Oh, really, the time I remember most, was when you took me to town, to trick-or-treat, when I was in first grade. We went, what seemed like, miles downhill, knocking on doors. On the way back I got too cold and tired, so you gave me a piggy-back ride all the way to our truck. I felt completely warm and safe, with you carrying me up that long hill, protecting me from the cold, dark night, filled with scary things.”
Wow, what a treasure discovered; she didn’t feel deprived at all by me not building her the giant pirate ship, I promised … me. All she needed was the security; I would love and take care of her.
Now, as I reflect, the oversized kite didn’t nurture my happiness; it was the consistent love and caring he showed me. Daddy would always change places with me in the boat, if he was the only one catching fish, and he would have carried me up a hill, too.