Another Hero's Journey: Fatherhood
“Can I remove my blindfold now?” Andrea asked. The short green Kacheek and the burly brown Lupe on either side of her traded a look with the white Kyrii in the middle of the room. The white Kyrii nodded and gave them a thumbs-up with one hand; in the other, he clutched a broom.
“Go ahead,” Devin, the Kacheek, urged her as he grinned from ear to ear. The red Kyrii reached up to pull the large kerchief away from her eyes, and gasped.
She had never seen this room so beautifully furnished and organized. The closet and cupboards, as well as the table and toy chest under the window, were polished and clean. Though the cradle was devoid of bedding, blankets and pillows, it had been repainted in sky blue and cream. The rocking chair near the cradle was new, as was the model Whinny next to the toy chest. The walls were wallpapered in a serene periwinkle, and here and there were other items that completed the room – a lamp, a chest of drawers painted in Meridell colours, a small scarlet cushion in the rocking chair. The floor, of course, was free of dust and grime.
For several moments she just took it all in, not even missing the white Kyrii ducking out of the room swiftly to put the broom away. She sniffed, and beamed, holding back tears.
“Oh…everything’s so beautiful. Did you all fix this up? I’m…it all looks so good…”
“Yeah, we all pitched in,” said Devin. “Omar and I painted the cradle and checked if there were any splinters.” He gestured to the brown Lupe.
“Miss Melissa sure knows how to store things. That cradle is still in pretty good condition, aside from needing a new paint job.”
The white Kyrii strode back into the room. “We also folded up the old sheets, blankets and pillows for the cradle! They’re in the closet!” He opened the closet door wide to reveal the items in question, along with some old baby-sized clothes that remained in good condition.
“I wish you would organize your room that way, too, Ben,” Andrea commented. She, Devin and Omar chuckled.
“I-I’ll work on it! Look, at least I can still find whatever I need in there!”
“For now,” said Omar, grinning.
“Wait.” The red Kyrii’s smile faded. “What about Reuben? Wasn’t he with you?”
Devin nodded. “Mmm, yeah, he helped move all the stuff up here. But then he had to go back downstairs, he said he’ll see if he has any old toys he can place in that chest. He hasn’t seen this room finished yet though.”
“Well, he has to see it too,” said Andrea, her smile returning. “After all, he’s going to be a father soon.”
* * *
Reuben held an old wooden sword in one hand, and an equally ancient toy shield in the other. He stared at them for a long time before slowly returning them to the open chest in front of him, which contained not only toys from his youth but also other things like ratty notepads and unstrung bows that had seen better days. But he had managed to collect a few toys that were now on his desk – plushies that only needed some stitching, wooden Meridellian soldiers that could still be spruced up, and a rattle that miraculously remained in one piece.
The white Blumaroo returned the sword and the shield to the chest and shut the lid decisively with a sigh. At that moment, Andrea walked into his bedroom.
“Reuben, they’re done with the baby’s room. Do you want to see it?”
He turned around to look at her – her warm smile, her neatly combed mane, her single turquoise drop earring. But he didn’t smile back, and just shrugged.
“Oh…um, in a while.”
“Are those the toys you’ll be giving him?” She tilted her head at the toys on the desk.
“They’re a start,” said Reuben. “I should buy new toys, too…or try to make some. Carve out a few figures and things from some wood in the smithy. I haven’t really tried…”
She approached him and reached out to place a hand on his shoulder. His eyes were drawn briefly to the gold band on one of her fingers reflecting the late afternoon light from a window.
“I think you’ll do a great job.”
There was a faint hint of a smile on his lips, but it was gone just as quickly. “Thanks, Andrea.”
“Reuben…is there anything wrong?” The red Kyrii’s brow furrowed slightly. “Are you all right?”
“I’m all right. I’m just…thinking about how we’ll be parents. How we’ll have a son. Time really flies, doesn’t it?”
“Mmm, it’s a lot to take in. Even I can’t believe it sometimes,” said Andrea, patting his shoulder gently.
He rubbed the back of his head. “Hey…Andrea, I’ll look at the baby’s room later. I’m…looking for something.”
“Do you need any help looking for it?”
“No, it’s all right,” the Blumaroo replied. He managed a short laugh. “Some parts of my room are much messier than they look.”
Andrea shook her head in mock exasperation before taking her leave. “You’re just like Ben. Devin, Omar and Ben took me away from organizing my books to show me the baby’s room, so I’m going back to that for a while. If you need help looking for whatever it is you lost, you know you can always ask me.”
Reuben just nodded and raised his hand in a brief wave as Andrea left his room and left him alone with his thoughts again. He looked at the toys on his desk, especially the plushies with their faded eyes and dusty, worn, patchwork fur. Picking up a woebegone Babaa plushie, he absently cradled it in his arms, and stared into its lifeless beady eyes before glancing at the chest where he had stored his toy sword and shield, which felt like relics from a distant past.
The past when he had a father and wasn’t thinking of becoming one.
* * *
The female white Blumaroo had grey curls and faint lines tracing her serene face, but she was still alert enough to look up from where she was perusing a journal with yellowing, brittle pages while seated on her bed. She smiled at the sight of her son. “What is it, dear?” Automatically she moved aside and patted the spot next to her with a free hand.
Reuben dithered in the doorway before approaching and sitting beside her. He peered at the journal she was reading, and his voice caught in his throat when he saw the two different styles of handwriting – one neater than the other – that covered one page, and an old child’s drawing of four Blumaroos in front of a house, two tall and two short, with a couple of trees and a sun in the sky pasted onto the other page.
“That’s the journal you and Father kept years ago,” he noted.
Melissa’s smile became more wistful. “Yes, it is. It has been years, but sometimes, I like to look back, on those times…” Her voice trailed off. She didn’t have to specify what “times” those were. Reuben placed an arm around her shoulders as she closed the journal carefully, with an almost reverent air, and set it on her other side, on top of her pillow. “Now, did you have something to tell me?”
The ghost of a grin crossed Reuben’s face before he clasped his hands together and placed them on his knee, staring at them silently, especially at the gold ring on one of his fingers.
“Mother…this is going to sound weird, but…” He paused, frowning in thought. “Becoming a father…I was excited, Andrea was excited too, but now that we’re preparing for it, I feel scared, too. When I get excited, it’s like there’s this…fear, or dread, beneath it all. I’m afraid I won’t be a good dad. I’m afraid I won’t be able to teach my son right, or that we won’t get along, or that he’ll be difficult and I won’t know how to deal with him…and I’m only realizing these things now.” The younger white Blumaroo winced as though the words left a bad taste in his mouth and massaged his temples.
“Did you talk to Andrea about it?” Melissa asked gently.
He shook his head. “She’s excited, and she doesn’t seem afraid, at all. I don’t know how to tell her…or if I even should. I can’t bear to ruin her mood.”
“Why don’t you think you’ll be a good father?” Her tone was soft, neither demanding nor urgent; it was infused with just enough concern. The concern too, was etched on her face.
“I feel like…do I have to read up on this? Take a class or something? But being a father isn’t like being a weaponsmith or being a warrior, which you can just…learn.” Reuben gestured aimlessly, his hand in the air. “I know that I will be teaching my son, taking care of him, raising him so he grows up right, and when I think about all that, it feels like it’s not enough. And, since Father died years ago, trying to save Meridell from Ramtor, I can’t exactly ask him for help.”
Reuben buried his face in his hands. “I’m so afraid, Mother. I never realized how afraid I was until today, while I was looking for toys I had in storage. I don’t even know what my son would be like. It might be easy if he were more like me or Andrea, but there’s no way of knowing, is there?”
“No,” was Melissa’s simple answer to a rhetorical question. “Reynold and I actually didn’t know if you and your brother would be interested in learning about what it took to become knights. He was just pleasantly surprised to find out that the two of you shared that dream…”
“But he never found out that our dreams…” Reuben shrugged. “I don’t think he could’ve ever imagined how our dreams turned out. I got into making swords and bows, and after completing Father’s unfinished business, Rohane went on these crazy adventures that made him even more famous than Father ever was. Although, to be fair, he wound up being knighted for all his heroics.” He sighed. “I really wish I had Father here to ask about being a father. And even if I remember everything he did for us, what about the future? Father never saw me and Rohane grow up, so how am I supposed to deal with my son as he grows up and starts thinking of his dreams and the decisions he’ll make?” Reuben shook his head ruefully.
Melissa reached out and placed a gentle hand on Reuben’s knee. It was both a gesture of reassurance and a gesture for him to allow her to speak.
“Reuben, it’s normal to be afraid. To have all these uncertainties, simply because they really are uncertain. Reynold and I were also afraid we wouldn’t be good parents, but the only way to truly find out is to go ahead and, well, be parents, as best we could, and give you and your brother whatever we could.” She chuckled softly, and reached out for the journal, thumbing through the pages until she reached two that were covered in her writing and Reynold’s, near the beginning. “Here, why don’t you read this part?”
Reuben did as he was told, gingerly taking the journal into his hands and scanning the neat and gentle script of his mother alternating with the bolder strokes of his father’s handwriting – even though it felt more like he was peering into hidden secrets that were never meant for prying eyes than reading what his parents had written many years ago.
Melissa, Reuben is so small and so beautiful. I’m so proud of him, so proud of us, but I’m afraid of holding him.
You won’t drop him, if that’s what you’re thinking. I have complete faith in you. Besides, haven’t you carried babies and children before? When you were evacuating villages during the Meridell vs. Darigan war, and then during the Battle for Meridell.
Reuben is different. He’s ours, and I’ll be carrying him every day. One day I’ll be teaching him how to walk, how to play games, how to take care of himself. And I’m afraid I might forget to teach him something really important.
That’s why we’re doing this together, right? Whatever you forget, I am sure to remember to teach him. But really, you don’t have to worry about that. I don’t think you’ll forget anything.
Aren’t you afraid, Melissa?
I’m scared, deep inside. But I’m also very, very happy for the three of us. And I’ll do everything I can to be the best mother I can be for Reuben.
Maybe, if I focus on being the best father I can be, I’ll forget about being scared. There’s one thing I’m sure of, though. When the day comes that Reuben becomes a father himself, I want to be there for him because I know he’ll be just as scared as I was. I don’t know yet what to say to him then, but I have a long, long time to learn.
The best time to learn is now, Reynold. So when he wakes up, you’ll be in charge of rocking him to sleep.
The male white Blumaroo stifled a laugh as he slowly shut the journal. “You and Father wrote all that?”
“Sometimes, we like writing instead of just talking to each other. That’s why we started this journal. And honestly, your father found it comforting to write down his fears, and everything else he felt. Isn’t that what Andrea tells you to do, sometimes?”
“That’s why she made me start keeping a journal.” Reuben nodded. Then he sighed again – a sigh of longing. “Now I really wish Father were still with us. I’d feel a lot better if he were with me to tell me all about what being a father is like.” He offered the journal to Melissa, but she raised a hand to stop him.
“Read it. Reynold may not be here anymore, but his words still are. And remember…he and I were just as scared as you were, but you and Rohane grew up just fine.” There was a twinkle in her eyes as Melissa added that part, and she patted Reuben’s head, like she used to when he was much younger. “Honestly, becoming a parent…you’re right that you simply can’t learn it apart from actually experiencing it for yourself. But the fact that you’re scared is already a good sign that you’ll be a very good father.”
“Yes.” Melissa embraced her son loosely. “You’ll make your father proud.”
* * *
Reuben was exiting Melissa’s room when he saw Andrea setting the table for an early dinner. Devin, Omar and Ben were in the kitchen, and he could hear them arguing over who had misplaced the mixing bowl amidst the opening and closing of cupboards and drawers.
The red Kyrii looked up after the plates had been set in their places.
“Oh, Reuben, what’s that in your hands?”
At first, he hesitated, clutching the journal to his chest, but he eventually asked, “Andrea? Are you busy? There’s something…I need to talk to you about.”
She inclined her head toward the direction of the kitchen, where they could clearly hear Omar yell, “We’re not having mashed potatoes again!” Her lips curled into an amused smile.
“I think we can leave them for a few minutes. What did you want to talk to me about?”
* * *
Outside, the sky was a splash of blue and red, with patches of clouds here and there. Very few villagers were outside; an Elephante walking a Puppyblew on the opposite side of the path, a couple of Pterii picking apples from a nearby tree, and a Flotsam closing his fruit shop for the day. A cool wind blew in from the north and spun stray dry leaves into the air until they fluttered almost tiredly back onto the ground.
Reuben glanced down at his parents’ journal, etched with both their names, before turning his attention toward Andrea, whose hands were tucked into her skirt pockets. She looked at him expectantly, with eyes the same shade of light blue as the drop dangling from one of her ears.
He took a deep breath. “Andrea…I’m afraid.”
“Afraid of what?” the red Kyrii asked, her forehead creasing in worry.
“Of being a father,” said Reuben. “I’m afraid of messing it up. Father died when Rohane and I were only kids, so I don’t have him to ask for advice, especially when our son grows up. I know what a good father should do and all, but…I’m afraid of forgetting something that might be important…”
The words kept coming and would have kept on coming if Andrea hadn’t held up a hand for the white Blumaroo to stop.
“Oh, Reuben…” She sighed, placing both hands on his shoulders.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted out. “I’m excited, but I’m also afraid…”
Andrea smiled and chuckled. “Me too,” she whispered. “I’m excited and afraid. I feel like I know what to do and at the same time, I don’t know anything at all about becoming a mom.”
“That’s…yeah, that’s exactly how I feel, too,” said Reuben, his shoulders relaxing under Andrea’s grasp. “I talked to Mother about it. And I feel less afraid. A little less afraid. Especially…now that I know I’m not the only one. But why didn’t you tell me?”
“I guess I was embarrassed to say I was scared after getting so excited.”
It was Reuben’s turn to laugh. “You don’t have to be embarrassed. We’re in the same boat now.”
“What did your mother tell you?”
The Blumaroo opened the journal to the pages Melissa had indicated for him previously. “She and my father were scared too. But it all worked out in the end. They kept this journal and wrote all their thoughts about being parents in it. She gave it to me to read. Father may be gone, but I can still find his advice from their journal.”
“Wow,” whispered Andrea. “That’s…you know, I think this will be a big help. But more than that, I think you’ll be a big help too, Reuben. I’m glad we’re in this together.”
“Me too,” said Reuben, nodding. “Hey, after dinner, I want to see the baby’s room, okay? Hopefully, the guys didn’t mess it up, but you didn’t have any complaints, so…”
“No, I promise they didn’t. More importantly…you said this was your parents’ journal, right?” There was a fleeting twinkle of curiosity in her eyes. “Does this mean there are embarrassing stories about you in it?”
Reuben’s eyes widened. Then he hurriedly snapped the journal shut before panicking briefly and wondering if he might have accidentally ruined the binding, or the pages, or the cover.
“…Let’s just go back inside before Devin, Omar and Ben ruin the kitchen.”