June 7, 2001
Dad Speaks Out
My Dad is hard to shop for. Whatever gift we come up with is usually met with the phrase "You kids shouldn't have spent the money," followed by "Is this returnable?" In honor of Father's Day next week, I thought I'd give him about 800 words to say whatever he wants. What follows is what he wrote.
I used to denigrate those men who began new families in their 50's. Lo and behold, at 57, I became a father again. Did I have the stamina to be dad a third time? After all, Teresa and Morgan, the first two, had set impossibly high standards. But Teddy was irresistible.
True, he wasn't perfect: his ear and cheek were wounded, and he had one bad eye. We had to return Teddy, who, by the way, is an opossum -- one that had apparently just met up with a dog.
That night we put Teddy outside the front door. In the morning, he was still there, making weird sounds, pathetic and helpless. We brought him in and got on the Internet to discover possum facts:
We learned that Teddy must get formula through a dropper, every four hours, or he would not survive.
Teddy did survive.
He lay in his box for a few days, weak and near death. Then, one night, he escaped from his cardboard box and began to circumnavigate my bedroom. Using the fingers on his little paws, he grabbed the spokes on my bicycle, hoisted himself up the chain, and then tightroped to the end of the chain, before he fell to the ground. The little daredevil had a touch of the klutz.
He finally made it to the top of the wastebasket, leaned his front paws against my bed, and climbed up. He slept with me the next several days, waking up to make his rounds about my room. He ended his foray by climbing over my head and then snuggling under the comforter for the evening.
One evening, I woke up with a shock. Teddy was nibbling on my ear. Startled, I moved him to the other side of the bed and wondered: Should I have named him Tyson?
I so loved fawning over this little guy. I loved nurturing him. But these good times were always shadowed by a vague, unsettling feeling, and that feeling came into focus with the words of my stepson, Aaron: "Dad, let Teddy be a possum."
So we found a possum-rescue person only a mile away from our house. We brought Teddy to Sharon. Sharon would prepare Teddy for his ultimate release in the wild.
I knew I had done what was best for Teddy, but it was still heartbreaking to leave Teddy in the hands of a stranger, knowing that I would never see him again.
The experience with Teddy evoked those sweet memories of early fatherhood. One of those memories was the Father's Day poem Teresa wrote for me when she was just 5. And the day Morgan, age 11, playing in Little League majors, "touched them all."
So why would a man so blessed bemoan the loss of the love of a rat?
I could pick him up and kiss him on the nose and just generally kvell over him shamelessly. That is how it was with the kids when they were young.
Things are different now. The nurturing has been done. The kids are now friends. Sometimes they ask for advice. Sometimes I even ask them for advice.
The great times continue when we get together, sharing a bottle of Hennessy, some good cigars, and conversation that lasts long into the night. Movies, sports, philosophy, career, gossip -- all the fun topics. And we almost always find bagels and a gym on mornings when we get together, wherever we are.
Still, I miss Teddy.