Sooner or later, it occurs to every dad that this whole having a baby thing might not have been the greatest idea. That thought occurred to me pretty much every day because my son Matt was the worst baby who ever lived.
His specialty was waiting for my more vulnerable moments and then striking suddenly like a submerged crocodile ambushing a wading wildebeest. For instance, in restaurants he’d always wait until the food was actually served before making his move. Until then, other customers would gurgle over my cute, smiling, seemingly innocent baby. But I knew the truth: he was waiting for the trap to be baited.
As soon as the waiter would set the plate in front of me, Matt’s eyes would lock on mine. I’d pick up the fork, and he’d just stare. It wasn’t until the first forkful was an inch from my mouth that he’d let fly with one of his screaming, Tasmanian devil tantrums, and I’d have to rush him outside.
One night, we went out to eat at a nice restaurant with some visiting friends. I was starving, so, rather than take howling Matt outside right away, I quickly choked down several mouthfuls of food. It couldn’t have taken two minutes, but already the other customers were glowering at me. And as I reached across the table to pick up Matt, I knocked over a glass of red wine onto the white table cloth, which prompted the smirking guy at the next table to applaud. My friend sprang up and rushed toward him shouting, ”Yeah, you like that? You want me to knock over your wine glass?”
Just another fun-filled, relaxing night out with the family.
On airplanes, he was Mr. Charm until we were wheels up. As for what happened in the air, suffice it to say that when we finally de-planed every passenger took extra time to give us an angry glare, I had a Mount Vesuvius headache, and my wife was usually crying.
But it was on our road trips to visit my parents in Houston that Matt would paint his masterpieces. It was three hours trapped in our tiny car with a blaring air-raid siren in the backseat.
One late night, there was only one empty intersection with one last red light between us and my parents’ house, and I couldn’t take it anymore; I took a gamble and ran that light as big as Dallas.
As I watched the police officer walk slowly toward our car, I was sure Matt would stop crying in order to avoid giving me any advantage in the coming negotiations. But, because we had stopped and we weren’t immediately letting him out, he started crying even louder.
I rolled the window all the way down – to give the officer the full air-raid siren effect – and handed him my license. He grimaced, and then looked up at the sky, swinging his head around as if on the lookout for dive bombing Stukas. Then he shined his flashlight through Matt’s window and stared for several seconds as Matt struggled to rip apart his car seat straps like a hysterical Superman trying to free himself from kryptonite restraints.
“How long has he been like that?” he asked.
“All the way since Corpus,” I told him.
Still staring at Matt, he handed me back my license, told me to drive carefully, turned, and hurried back to his cruiser. Score one for dad.
All grown up now, Matt left home for good a couple of weekends ago. Ever since, the silence has been driving me mad. More than anything, I hate it when the world is round.