Jeffry P. Lindsay
"Perfect Happiness Is A Beach, A Plane Ride And An Autoclave"
Fatherhood has two duties that are more important than all others. They are vital, sacred, the very essence of what being a dad is all about, and they are these: first, to protect your kids from things that are dangerous, extremely unpleasant, or smell really bad. And second, to provide perfect happiness whenever possible. This second one can be a little tricky, of course. In fact, since even kids don't know what would make them happy most of the time it's a lot like playing football when the rules keep changing until it's actually tennis. But you have to try.
And so last weekend was a very important time for me, because I did try, and I actually succeeded. I got both duties out of the way on the same day. This is the Fatherhood equivalent of hitting a Grand Slam in the seventh game of the World Series, and it really ought to mean that sometime this week I get to watch a playoff hockey game with a clean conscience and nobody yelling at me that "Xena Warrior Princess" is on and I really need to let go of the remote control and take out the garbage.
It started with a simple business trip to Bimini in the Bahamas. Yes, I mean it. Seriously. I know this sounds a lot like taking an exercise trip to the ice cream parlor, but it's true. We really did have to go there again, and the fact that we like to go there had nothing to do with it. And because all parents everywhere throughout all time run entirely on guilt, we arranged to take Pookie and T.L. Bear with us. Also, taking the kids along usually ends up being cheaper than buying the standard four tons of souvenirs because you feel so bad about leaving your children at home.
Pookie's first moment of perfect happiness came when we arrived at the seaplane terminal in Miami and she got to watch two helicopters land and take off. She was still glowing when we climbed into the small seaplane for the ride to Bimini. She watched wide-eyed out her window as the plane trundled down the ramp and into the ocean. "Dad," she said. "The airplane is going into the water."
"It's okay," I told her. "It's supposed to do that."
"Oh," she said, and then a moment later when the pilot shoved the throttle wide open and the plane began to roar down Government Cut and up into the air Pookie's face lit up into the most complete and amazing smile I have ever seen on her face.
Score that one for Dad.
T.L. Bear's happiness is a little more complicated, of course. She is so very close to being a teenager that the difference is largely a matter of legal fiction, and because of that she is not allowed to show any emotion at all except boredom and long-suffering patience with her Dad. On family outings her face usually takes on the look of a very bright sheepdog who is stuck herding a really dumb sheep. And so even if she is happy you can miss it if you don't know to look right at the corner of her mouth and notice a small twitch of smile she hasn't learned to hide completely yet.
And one glorious moment of our first day, I looked and there it was. A distinct twitch at the corner of Bear's mouth. In fact, a really large twitch. For Bear, it was the equivalent of yodeling "Ode To Joy" while sliding down the banister.
And in truth, as I watched her, it occurred to me that there could be no more perfect happiness in the world than to be ten years old and missing a day of school to sit up to your neck in the flourescent blue ocean of Bimini and eat a Moon Pie. Bear pushed the last crumb of chocolate-marshmallow into her mouth without getting salt water on it, looked up at me, and smiled.
For those of you keeping score, that's two for Dad.
It felt great. For a few wonderful moments, I actually forgot the fundamental principal of fatherhood, which is that whenever things look really good you are not seeing the whole picture.
Luckily, I came to my senses back in our hotel room when I woke up from my after-the-beach nap. While I slept the kids had found a pile of conch shells. There are many of these piles in Bimini. The natives eat conch and seem a little startled that anyone would want the shells. They seem to feel kind of the way you would if somebody picked through your garbage and wrapped up your chicken bones in their shirt to take home with them.
Of course, to be perfectly accurate, they wrapped the conch shells up in Dad's shirt. Three of Dad's shirts, in fact, because that was all I brought with me. And I discovered this when I tried to put on a shirt, because dead conch has a rather distinctive odor. As far as I know there is really no other smell like it. In fact, I am praying that there is no other smell like it in the world because one is way too many. Imagine low tide in a very old outhouse at a sulfur mine where they have thrown a half-ton of Georgia road kill and you get a pretty good picture of the smell I discovered when I got up from my nap and put on a shirt.
And then imagine my surprise as I re-discovered that same distinct smell on each of my other shirts.
Bimini is not a place where they look kindly on people going without a shirt. In fact, they will not let you in to any restaurant or shop on the island unless you are wearing a shirt, even if it is wet from trying to wash out the smell of dead conch which, by the way, does not wash out without a vat of industrial cleaner and an autoclave.
But of course, it's all part of the job. My shirts had been sacrificed to protect my kids from smelling like a skunk colony had died in their armpits.
So I wore the shirt. And even though I got some rather significant glances at dinner, at least I got a seat by myself on the plane ride home.