Far be it for me to judge anyone, I was once a rough dude. Carried a gun for ten years and was out of the house at 15 you see. Had no one to really guide me in the ways of the world nor how to survive a broken heart, or whatever it was. The rejection from my family of eight siblings after my dad’s breakdown, and my banishment, left me ill-prepared for the outside and its vices.
Sure, I sold drugs and did many of them, shot a few people and ran a crew. Many of the things a bright mind might get into living outside the boundaries of family structure or strict scholastic influence. The streets are not friendly to a kid.
It has been 30 or more years of growth for me since my epiphany.
Lying on a couch mid-day, when I should probably have been gainfully employed, my broken arm in a cast from where I had blocked the second blow to my head from a baseball hat, after one from behind knocked me down and nearly out.
Nurturing still the collapsed lung and hole through my chest where I had been subsequently shot by a cross bow and pinned to the cupboard door in a drug dealer’s kitchen—while crack cooked on the stove. The chest hole, plugged with a finger after pulling out the arrow, hissing with the sound of my escaping life, was healing well.
The shoulder to hand cast made shooting dope a real chore. The drainage bag taped to my side made me feel vulnerable and weak, as if my condition were chronic instead of temporary. Laying there, contemplating my life, I spotted my son crawl into the room.
This beautiful little boy, all blue eyes and blond-haired perfection, spied me in my abandoned position. He trundled over on all fours with an enthusiasm I couldn’t help noticing, more so against the backdrop of my black mood and darkened life.
He sought to take up his usual spot by clumsily standing on two unsteady feet, gripping my shirt to gain traction, and pulling himself up onto my belly. There, he turned himself around and sat there perched on his daddy. He watched TV with me, sucking his thumb. I let my gaze wander back and forth from the TV to him, finally settling on him.
I realized looking at his profile, the wisps of blond curls framing his white skin and chubby cheeks: he had no enemies. He had done no harm to anyone. He owed no debt to the world. He wanted nothing but to be loved by his parents. He may have been the only person I knew in that enviable position. His slate was clean.
Slowly, like a morning fog lifting from a lake as the sun rises in the sky, it dawned on me. I would have to be a more callous and unfeeling individual to leave this little dependent creature to the unknown. What would greet his future, how would it be defined?
This came to me, verily, the influences I could see: the mercies of single motherhood; of a fatherless existence of possible despair and longing; of sequential suitors using his mom while subjecting him to risk in the pursuit of her body.
Before me, the path being contemplated: most assuredly one that I would follow blindly and with determined hate fueling its fire; one which would risk that I’d eventually languish in jail, largely forgotten by his childhood existence.
Who did I think I was? To do this, to this little boy, this innocent, the one who depended on me for protection. He depended on me, HIS protector. It was I, ME, in charge of protecting one little boy. It was my watch. It was my responsibility and mine alone. That word, protection, applied not as some quid pro quo deal made on the street, not as a bargain with chaos, but rather, in service of an innocent.
It was a different game. It wasn’t something I could duck or pass off on anyone else. No. When he looked at me, we were inextricably linked: I was his father.
That singular thought suddenly dawned on me with all the force and depth of the ages. How ever we got to where we were, I had to know that no one else on the planet could replace me in his life. I was it. I’d never felt so needed. Not like this.
Everyone knew I would retaliate. It would be done with a finality borne of my position as a thug, as a fearless antisocial living the code. For I was a fool honouring a system of retribution understood by the street.
The whole of the dirty city knew I was coming: the cops, my adversaries and all those hangers on who speculated on the when and how. Word was sure to travel on the rounder’s underground: Wallace would have to act. No choice here.
There was also little likelihood of pulling it off surreptitiously, it was that expected. I was most likely then under surveillance round-the-clock. All phones around me would have been tapped. There may have been microphones in the very room in which I found myself. Cameras would have been aimed at my front door from out there somewhere.
I may have to sacrifice it all as if it were a preordained act, a foregone conclusion awaited gleefully by the man who would relish putting me away… forever.
But that day, looking at that little boy, my little boy, his innocence and beauty so plain to see, his need to be loved by only me so great and so obvious, I blinked.
Yes, I hesitated. For once, I checked myself.
For him, I questioned my reactionary lifestyle and made my first good decision as a father. I decided then and there that if all my life amounted to, in its totality, was to be a successful dad to this little man, then that is the way it had to be.
The asshole that shot me would have to wait until another day to die.
I never looked back. And my boy is now a grown man and turned out fine. In fact, after working in newspapers with me here in Canada, he went on a great European adventure in the name of love. He has seen more places than I already.
At the end of his visa period last year, he married his love, just in time to stay in Ireland. Practical fella my boy is. Considering I married his mother in a plea to impress a judge and stay out of prison, I consider his situation an improvement.
Lenny “Le Lion” was gunned down in a pool hall on Gladstone Avenue, some two years later, after threatening to kill a man’s kids if he didn’t shoot one of his rivals. It was the same M.O. he’d used on me. That person got life. I was free.
I went on to school, graduated first in my class and moved my family several times across the country and back. And here I am, intact, happy, thriving. Alas, my marriage did not last; nevertheless, fatherhood defined me.
And, on or around his 18th birthday, I was busting my son’s balls, a lifelong habit and what must be by now an ingrained personality trait of mine. He’s used to me.
I told him that I was going to forego the estimated hundred and fifty grand it cost me to raise him. I’d read that somewhere. My duty to him as a parent was over and whatever help he received from me going forward would be based on our relationship and not from a sense of duty to care for him materialistically any longer.
I wanted him to know I had done my job.
He listened earnestly then smiled, thought for a moment, and responded: “Dad, mom gave me clothes to wear, made me great food and drove me to school and stuff and I appreciate her. But everything I know, I mean, everything I have learned about life and happiness and people and myself, I have learned from you. So, thanks Pops. I love you”.
And with that he hugged me then kissed me on both cheeks.
Christopher K Wallace
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