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G’Day, Mate

The kids overhear that Papa has booked flights to Kansas City for Christmas.

C: Daddy, can I sit by the window on the plane to Kansas?
F: No, I want to sit by the window!
C: But, Daddy, Fisher got to sit by the window last time, and I want…
F: But that isn’t fair, Daddy, so…
C: Fisher, you got to sit by the window on the other time to Kansas, and…
F: No, I didn’t, and you got to sit by the window on the plane to Boston, so…
C: Fisher! That’s not…

Daddy’s first flight was at age 20, of all places for a first flight, to Melbourne, Australia. Well, technically, the first flight was from St. Louis to Chicago. The second was immediately after the first, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Then, it was Los Angeles to Fiji, Fiji to Sydney, and finally Sydney to Melbourne. At age 20. The best part of that flight was arriving in Melbourne, to meet Lori at the airport after over a day of ups and downs, only to be driven, half asleep to a golf course by her house in Geelong so that she could wow me with kangaroos, lots of kangaroos, milling around in the early morning frost, chewing on grass, looking up languidly at a recent arrival from the States. G’day, mate.

It was beautiful…and surreal…unlike listening to two lucky five-year-olds argue about who gets the window seat on a flight months from now, a flight that will be their sixth or seventh time on an airplane at age five. That’s surreal, but only surreal. Daddy contemplates regaling them with some strained version of “walking uphill both ways in snow three feet deep.”

D: Listen, you little punks, shut your traps about who gets the window seat. It’s too early to worry about that and not worth worrying about even if it weren’t too early.

They just stare.

Actually, Daddy didn’t say that stuff, about the punks and the shutting traps. And they didn’t just stare. Daddy also exercises self-restraint, resisting the urge to throw their privileged upbringing into relief with tales of his own privileged upbringing. Instead, Daddy goes to the kitchen, and without an audience, the argument fizzles out.

Not Easy Being Green

After Daddy introduces a new lullaby…

F: Daddy, what does it mean to change for good?
D: Well, it can mean a couple of things. It can mean that you have been changed and you can’t go back. Like getting taller. Every day you change by getting taller, and you can’t go back.
F: You can’t get shorter?
D: No. And, it can also mean that you have changed and the change made you better. Like you went to school, and you learned how to read. Now, you can read. And that’s good! You have been changed for good.
F: Oh.
C: Can you change for bad?
D: Yes, that means that you changed, and the change wasn’t a good one. (Sneaking one in.) Like one day, you ate a prune, and it still had the seed in it. That made you decide not to like prunes anymore. That’s not good, right?
F: Right.
C: No.
D: Because prunes are so good for your body. That would be a change for bad.
C: I never liked prunes.
F: Daddy, what does Elphaba mean when eh, er, uh, what does Elphaba mean when she sings that she changed for good?
D: She means both. She changed permanently. She can’t go back to who she was before she met Glinda. And she changed in a good way, meaning that she became a better person. Both.
F: People think Elphaba is not good, but they are not right, right, Daddy?
D: That’s right. They just heard all those stories that the Wizard…
C: …and Professor Morrible…
D: …put out about her. So, they think that she’s not nice. But, “Wicked” tells the true story.
F: That Elphaba is really nice, right, Daddy?
D: Right.
F: Why do those people just believe those stories they tell?
D: Because Elphaba is green. She’s different, and people are willing to believe mean things about people who are different. That’s not nice.
F: You are right, Daddy. That’s not nice. It’s not nice to believe bad things just because Elphaba is green.
D: Do you think if a new student came to your class tomorrow, and she was green, that you would believe mean things about her just because she is green?
C: What the what?!
F (deciding): Um…no…especially if she could just teach me…
C: Can real people be green?
D: Real people can be different. Does that make them mean or bad?
F: …how to fly. (Singing.) I think I’ll try to fly on gravity…it’s time to fly on gravity…
C: No. Daddy, how did Elphaba change?
F: She learned how to fly, Cory!
D: That, and…do you remember what she wanted at the beginning? What she wanted the Wizard to do for her?
C: She wanted him to make her not green anymore. She wanted him to…what’s that word, Daddy?
D: Degreenify.
C: She wanted him to degreenify her.
D: Well, by the end, did she want anyone to degreenify her?
F/C: No.
D: She was okay being different. She was fine being green. And she was fine being the only one who could fly, right?
F/C: Uh huh.
D: So, she changed.

Pause.

F: Was that change for good?
D: Definitely. In both ways. She changed forever. And she changed for the better.

Pause.

C: Daddy, can you sing that song again?
F: …I think I’ll try to fly on gravity…
D: Okay. But just once more. “I’m limited…”

The next day, Fisher works in secret to make a picture for Daddy.

F (presenting it): It’s Elphaba! She’s green forever, Daddy. She’s different than her monkeys. They aren’t even green, so…that’s my picture for you!
D: Thanks, Fisher! I love this picture.
C: Are those her glasses from when she had glasses?
F: Uh huh. It’s okay to have glasses, Cory. Daddy has glasses. He looks funny in those glasses, but that’s okay, right, Daddy?
C: I know that, Fisher.
D: Um, right, Fisher. How about we say that Daddy looks different in my glasses, not funny…
F: Okay. But, you do look funny in your glasses, Daddy.

They laugh. Lesson almost learned.

Angelic Poop Machines

Daddy and Papa keep the kids distracted throughout the morning after Kohl’s death. There is no reason to invite problems during the school day. Besides, Daddy and Papa are exhausted. With two other dogs of their own and another visiting, they never realize that Kohl is no longer there.

When they come home from school, everyone gathers. Daddy places Indy’s and Kohl’s collars, now clasped together, on the table. They look like two intertwined halos.

D: Do you know whose collars these are?

Blank faces. Nothing.

D: Pointing to one of them, whose collar is this one?
F/C: Indy Bear’s!
D: And whose collar is this one?

Confusion.

D: Whose collar do you think this one is?

They look around.

C: Kohl’s?
F: Where is Kohl?
D: Guys, in the middle of the night last night, while you were sleeping, Kohl passed away.
C: He died?
D: Yes.

They didn’t exactly say, “Oh, okay. Can we have dinner now?” But, it was pretty close to that. Daddy’s not surprised. Kids have a different view of death than adults do. It makes sense that they process it differently. Papa sends a note to the teachers at school just in case, and Daddy answers their seemingly random questions (“who is going to keep us safe now?”) and responds to their often matter-of-fact statements (“Kohl just got cancer and died, so…”) about Kohl’s death over the next couple days. They feel what they feel, and they don’t feel what they don’t feel. Any response is okay.

On the Saturday morning walk, the first with the whole gang but no Kohl…

F (calling to Rocco): Here, Kohl! Come, Kohl!
D: Fisher, Rocco’s not Kohl, silly.
F: I know, Daddy, but I’m just pretending because I miss Kohl.
D (picking up Quincy’s mess): Okay, Fisher, but Rocco’s not going to answer to Kohl’s name.
F: That’s okay.
C: Daddy, you don’t have to pick up as much poo anymore now that Kohl died. Kohl made a lot of poo.
D (smiling): That’s looking on the bright side, Cory.

Neither notices Daddy get a little teary-eyed as the walk continues. It’s amazing, given how much poop Kohl and Indy produced for pickup over the last fifteen years, and Daddy picked almost all of that poop up, that anyone could still think of them as angels, but angelic little poop machines are still angels of a sort…

Bye, Kohl

Just after I started working at a law firm, the car headlights lit up the face of my sharpei, Indy Bear, framed by a ragged hole in the wood fence, as I pulled into the driveway early in the morning on a New Year’s Day.

Fireworks, on top of her general upset at ever being left alone, were too much. She had spent the evening scratching her nails bloody to open up that hole through the wood. But, she didn’t leave. She just sat there, apparently content enough just to be able to see what was going on in the wider world. The relief on her face when she saw me come home was obvious.

That night crystallized the decision to get another dog. My roommates had moved out, taking Indy’s first best friend Timber with them, and she was alone far too much. I would be working more and more. Enter Kohl. At four months, when I got him, he was almost as big as Indy was already. He quickly grew into a 100-pound powerhouse, strong and beautiful, sweet to his pack and scary to everyone else. Everything you’d want and expect in a giant schnauzer.

His original purpose was to keep Indy company. And he did just that. She never spent another day alone in her life, much less one wracked by nerves or panic. It settled her to have a pack mate who never left her side. But, in thinking about it today, the day after his own death, I can’t remember a single day of his life that he himself ever spent alone. He had Indy. They were like salt and pepper. And, before she died, Boston and Quincy had come along, so afterward he had them. They didn’t trust the big guy at first, because, you know, in the dog world, someone has to be the alpha, but eventually, they worked all that out. During this last two years or so, the sweetest thing was to see him and Boston occasionally sleep next to each other, paws or backs touching, without flinching or moving, years of familiarity having cured an initial mistrust.

Although I couldn’t have predicted these particulars, I have known that his end was coming for some months. He had been slowing way down, and he was a big dog who’d already made it to twelve. So, this summer, almost every day, when I got up, I snuggled up next to him in the early morning dark, petting his tummy, pulling on his ears, whispering into them, “You’re my best boy, Kohl.” One thing Kohl was not was a licky dog. Quincy will give you more licks at hello than you would ever want from a dog, just because you are there and can be licked. But, Boston and Kohl? To get a lick from either of them is a rarity. Delivered only two or three at a time, I got more licks (usually on my arm) from Kohl during the early mornings of this summer than I had gotten in the prior eleven and a half years.

Dogs are pack animals, not meant to be alone. Kohl settled Indy, befriended Boston and Quincy, protected this family, and died peacefully. If, at the end of twelve years, I can’t recall a single day that he ever spent by himself, how could that have been anything but a good life? Bye, Kohl.

Thank You Really Much

Out of the blue…

F: I’m glad you chose to be my Daddy.
D (pausing, watching him): That’s good, Fisher. I’m glad, too.
F: Because you are a really nice daddy. And some people have a mean daddy. So, thank you really much.
D: You’re welcome really much, Fisher.

Daddy, obviously too cynical, keeps watching for a punchline, but none comes. Daddy contemplates asking whether someone, at school maybe, has made him think about mean daddies, but decides against. Keep it simple.