STEVE T. WRITES:
You’ve been posting on father-hunger among children. I’d like to share my story. I live in a fairly well-to-do suburb in the Northeast, in a town characterized by intact families with working fathers, stay-at-home mothers, multiple children, church attendance, and conservatism. (Moving to here from the heart of the city of Boston, where we were regarded as freaks, was a revelation.)
Our town has a public swim club, where for a fairly modest seasonal fee, families can spend the summer swimming every day, with the men usually joining the fun after work. One summer, I happened to be unemployed, so I sent my wife out on a temp job while I took our children to the pool. For a week during that period, the swim club was troubled by the presence of what my Irish-immigrant wife derided as “council-house Irish”—the Irish equivalent of housing-project welfare moms.
They represented four generations: a single mother with I’d say a six-month old baby and a three-year-old girl, accompanied by her mother and grandmother. Hard-looking women. They were apparently visiting family in the area, and were fobbed off to the swim club. Repulsive people, endlessly chain-smoking outside the gate after they’d been threatened with expulsion for smoking on the premises, mixing cheap vodka in Diet Pepsi cans blatantly in the parking lot to sneak in. The six-month-old suffered a nasty sunburn one day because he’d been left unattended in a float in the kiddie pool, and was only looked after when a suburban mom let her maternal instinct overcome her reserve toward others’ children and took him out and put him in the shade.
Over the course of the week, I had all four of my children at the pool. Naturally, I played with them in the kiddie pool, splashing with them, letting them ride on my back, the usual Daddy antics. The Irish three-year-old girl keep hanging around us, a hungry outsider looking in. Finally, I was sitting cross-legged in the pool, talking to a mom, when the little girl climbed into my lap. The looks of horror on the faces of the suburban moms around us were shocking. I was frozen, not knowing what to do with this strange child on my lap. Thankfully, her mother hurried over and seized her off roughly, while telling me that the girl had done so because I “looked so much like her father.”
I’m of Sicilian extract. Think of James Gandolfini. The girl was a curly-haired, freckled redhead, an Irish tourism poster child. I’m as Irish as lasagne. There’s no way I resembled her father. But it was obvious that she hungered for a father, one that paid attention to her, held her, made her laugh—just as I had been doing with my own daughters.
Her memory haunts me. I pray occasionally for that little girl. But I doubt she’ll break the welfare cycle. I expect she’ll hit puberty, and repeat her mother’s tangles with lager louts—always searching for that missing Daddy.