I first caught Danny coming out of his mother’s womb after a forty hour labor, his tiny head coned from pressure by the birth canal. Danny’s mother had not wanted to let go of him – the beginning of a pattern. Danny was awake, alert, and quiet. We looked into each other’s eyes for a long time.
Danny was our first-born, and our only child for four years. As a son who had a bad relationship with his own father, I was determined to give Danny whatever I figured I didn’t get from my dad. In the early years we had a physical relationship: rough housing with each other, tickling, pillow fights. One game Danny liked to play was to have me throw him up in the air and catch him. He was small and I was young and strong, so I threw him high. I can still see him moving away from me, his smiling face framed by the leaves and limbs of our neighbor’s elm tree.
Then he came back down and I caught him, gently, making my hands and arms give slightly to cushion his impact with my body. “I’ll always catch you,” I told him. I meant it.
Danny became a pitcher on his baseball team. We would practice at the field, or on the long lawn on the side of our house. I caught Danny for a few years. These were good times. Danny’s team won the championship two years in a row, Danny was the relief pitcher who closed things out for both championships. At age fourteen his baseball career waned. He complained of feeling depressed. We listened and talked to him about it, and talked to his doctor. Then we found a note from Danny threatening violence against an old girlfriend, and violence against himself. I caught him, took him to the hospital, and got him admitted. He was put on Prozac, and released a week later.
But things were never the same. Some of the conflicts were inevitable teenage growing pains: problems in school, smoking, experimenting with drugs, violent music. Other events were not so understandable. Thoughts of cutting himself when he saw a sharp kitchen knife. A rope slung over the rafter in the garage. Impulses to jump out of moving cars. Paranoia he was being followed. Uncontrollable shaking. Danny went back to the hospital for a med change.
It didn’t help. He started cutting himself. One day he came to me and asked for a band-aid. His knee was bleeding, but not from a scrape. I cleaned the wound and bandaged it. He had rages where he attacked our pine tree with a sledge-hammer, and put holes in walls. He stole from us, and lied to us. Everyone lies, but Danny’s lies were so habitual a police officer told Danny’s mother, “Your son likes to lie.”
He ended up in the hospital again, and was transferred to a locked residential facility for troubled teenagers. He was there about a year. When he got out trouble started again. Telling us he was at school doing homework, we later found out Danny had been sexual with a girl in the bushes at the park we used to play catch at. She said Danny forced himself on her, and he was charged with criminal sexual misconduct. The girl declined to testify and things were dropped. Danny lied to us about going to class, and we got another letter from the county attorney’s office telling us Danny was a legal truant and that we might be fined for it. He stole over one hundred videos from the public library which I quietly returned after hours. Many of the videos had violent or sexual themes.
He ran away a couple of times, overdosed on his prescription medications, and overdosed again on his mother’s benzos. This second overdose was humiliating for Danny, as he ended up acting drunk and out of it during a date with his new girl friend. Her mother brought Danny back to us. I monitored his vital signs and kept him awake. He hadn’t taken enough benzos to require hospitalization, and by late afternoon he was coming back to his senses. He was, for once, mortified by what he had done – the girl meant a lot to him. He started crying, and I caught him and held him in my arms. He leaned against me and sobbed: “I just wanted to feel normal.” He was 16, and about my size – large.
Many more terrible things happened to Danny over the next few years. I couldn’t catch him anymore because he didn’t want to be caught. He moved out but was so poor at self-care that he nearly died; he contracted pleurisy and was on life support for days. His mother and I were divided about how best to raise Danny. This caused a rift between she and I that never healed. She thought his diagnosis excused everything he did. I agreed that his illness changed things. However, I believed that intentional, planned bad behavior had to be corrected: not just for Danny’s sake – teaching him right and wrong and the consequences of bad behavior – but for the sake of his siblings as well. If they saw Danny getting away with things they wouldn’t stand correction either.
Needless to say, Danny preferred his mother’s standards to mine, and gravitated towards her. We were now a triangle, and I was, to mangle a metaphor, the third wheel.
Danny’s pregnancy brought his mother and I together, and his life drove us apart. He is not in touch with me now, and it is probably for the best. There is a timing to relationships, and I suspect at some point he and I will have contact. I told him so the last time I talked to him face to face, and he reacted with contempt. He said he didn’t like the way I was responding to him or his mother, and left to live with his girlfriend. Now he’s living with his mom, and engaged to his girlfriend, or so I’m told. That is a triangle I am content to be excluded from.
To give Danny his due, I didn’t always treat him with respect towards the end. I was fed up with his intentional wrongdoing, fed up with being the bad cop, fed up with feeling ignored by him unless he wanted money, fed up with feeling like I was being treated badly and unfairly by Danny and his mother. So I developed a chip on my shoulder towards them. Danny told a school counselor, “My dad isn’t proud of me.” He was right, especially after I found out he stole from the school counselor too. I wasn’t proud of who he had become, and didn’t see anything in his life I could affirm. He felt abandoned and rejected by his father. I felt the same way. As the adult, there was probably something I should have done to bridge the gap. But I couldn’t think of anything I hadn’t already tried.
I have cried for Danny, and for the relationship we once had. All I’d really like to do with him now is play catch like we used to, and which each throw shed the bad times until they are gone and forgotten, and all that is remembered is that a son has his father again, and a father has his son.