“Think he’ll be a quarterback?”
I don’t know.
I was a quarterback and his mother was a pole-vaulter, a state record holder for years until a set of twins, Lexi and Tori Weeks, came along from Cabot, Arkansas. Lexi went on to be an Olympian, and my wife, well, she’s a few days away from being a mother of two.
The other question people like to ask is if I’m excited that our second child will be a boy. This question is similar to the first because I know what they’re thinking—touchdowns, two-minute drives, and Hail Mary passes on fourth and long. His sister, on the other hand, doesn’t get the same sort of questions. No one seems concerned with the possibility of her one day becoming a pole-vaulter, or a mother of two, or a nurse practitioner, like her tough-as-nails mom. No one is asking her about football, either, and she isn’t thinking about any of this at all. She simply cannot get over the fact that her brother will have a penis.
Along with a penis, Finley Lawrence Cranor is going to have a lot of pressure. The same people who have been asking me that same tired question for the last nine months are never going to stop asking him. They’ll recall stories from when I was in high school, tall tales from my college days, or the one season I spent overseas. And I can’t help but wonder what effect such inquiries are going to have on my son.
Maybe he will come out of the womb barking a snap count with some sort of immaculately conceived football gripped tightly in his right hand. Or maybe he’ll come out with hair on his back, just like his daddy, and I’ll freak out thinking my son’s whole life will consist of one long shaving session, trashcans full of dull razors and hair—until I remember that it’s lanugo, the fuzz all babies grow in the womb. After facing down my fear of a furry baby, maybe all those quarterback-themed questions won’t seem so bad. Maybe I’ll even buy him a little plastic Razorback helmet and get him used to the weight of it.
Let’s say he comes out crying, like most babies do, a sign of health and vigor. Will that be enough? What if he weighs only seven pounds nine ounces, two ounces less than I did when the nurses weighed me on January 15, 1988 at the Forrest City Medical Center. Is that when the comparisons will start, all those curious people with their questions, already pitting father against son?
I was taller than my daddy the summer before eighth grade. I liked to tap the bald spot on the back of his head and call his extra wide feet “monkey paws.” My hair started falling out two years ago. I bought my first pair of “wide” shoes last fall. What will baby Fin—this unborn child with the same name as my father—be like, look like, smell like?
His big sister smelled like innocence for the first few months, soapy and clean. Her poop didn’t even stink. And then she got bad gas. The doctor called it “colic.” After that, if she wasn’t eating or sleeping, she was crying, screaming like her daddy does when he tries to sing. These days, she’s more of a performer than an athlete, snatching up toothbrushes, combs, anything that feels like a microphone in her tiny hands, and belting out her best rendition of “Old Town Road.”
A good friend and former coach of mine once told me that having a girl was easier because there weren’t any expectations. Like, his daughter could be whatever and whoever she wanted, but his son had to be a man. For my son, however, it seems that being a man also means being a quarterback.
Blindside sacks and concussions aside, being a quarterback is a pretty good gig. Think about it. You probably wouldn’t be reading this essay if I had never played football. I’d just be another balding white dude in his thirties wearing extra-wide shoes.
There’s a good chance my son won’t give two flying flips about football or the fact that I played quarterback back in the day. Maybe he’ll be more interested in pole-vaulting, or medicine. Maybe he’ll get his mother’s thick, blonde hair and blue-green eyes. Maybe he’ll be just like her.
It would make a lot of sense, actually, because that is where his story begins.
My son’s story—like your story and my story—begins with a woman, a mother, my wife, nine weeks pregnant on a beach trip in June. Running across the sand and up the stairs to our three-bedroom condo on the seventh floor where she would lose a part of herself she never got to know, a child that would never be born, maybe the one that would’ve been a girl, and then she flushed the toilet.
The second one would come and go three months later. This time at home and further along than the first. Bigger. More painful. A whole day’s worth of labor with nothing good waiting for my beautiful wife at the end, except another flush.
If all of this sounds clinical, please remember that my wife is a straight-shooting nurse practitioner, and this is her story, not yours. Just like my son’s story is not for any belaboring friend or family member to determine, my wife gets her say in this, too. If she were sitting on the other side of your computer screen trying to put the pain she endured into words, she would not leave out the toilets, the one in Florida or the one back home, two soul suckers that she still hears in her dreams.
After the toilets came a long spell of uncertainty. Trips to the doctor where we sought counsel and tried to decide whether or not it was wise for us to try again. Throughout these dark days my wife made all sorts of sacrifices to bring our son into this world. She was forever tired. She worked out, she ran, she walked, and then she stopped, thinking maybe her body needed a little extra weight for the fight that lay ahead. She battled strange thoughts that came in the night. She couldn’t sleep despite being constantly exhausted. She worried, I worried (but not like her) and then the doctor finally told us it was time to try again.
Memories of the two that had come and gone before were never far away. Maybe that second lost child was a boy. Maybe he would’ve been a quarterback. Maybe he is a quarterback playing games we’ll never see in some other dimension where all the angel babies go.
In our bed each night, my wife and I never spoke these thoughts aloud to each other, but they were there. They hung thick through our house as we tried to create the spark that leads to new life.
Hope came in the form of two red lines.
And this time, my wife didn’t try and surprise me with the news. She didn’t dress our daughter up in a big sister shirt and send her parading around the house until I noticed. She didn’t have a tiny pair of tennis shoes waiting on the kitchen counter when I got home from work. She’d tried all of that before. This time she just presented the tiny strip to me after I came in from mowing the yard. She just held it out, with tears in her eyes, and said, “I’m pregnant.”
We didn’t make plans for this child, like we did with the others. We didn’t lie in bed at night and try to imagine the color of his eyes or his future dispositions. We just waited. Day after day. Night after night. Knowing all too well that nothing in this life is guaranteed.
Which leads me finally back to you, my son, and all the expectations this wild world has already placed on your shoulders. Now that we’re only a few days away from your arrival, I’ve finally granted myself time to wonder. What will you be? What sort of man does a child bearing so much weight become? I don’t know, and you listen close, Fin, when I tell you that you won’t either. Not for a long, long time. So don’t rush it or let anyone else tell you any different. To all the people who ask, “Think you’re gonna be a quarterback like your daddy was?” tell them to go sit on a football, or maybe that you’re considering playing with poles, just like your momma did.
I can see you grinning, years from now, after reading that last line. Maybe I’ll edit it out later. Or maybe, one day, after you’ve come out of your mother’s womb with or without a metaphorical football in your hand, you’ll read these words and know you can be a ballet dancer or a dump truck driver. You can be whatever you want and regardless of what you become, you will be loved.
“Hash Marks” is part of our weekly story series, The By and By.
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