Young Henry

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“My dad says that nine out of ten religions fail in their first year.”

“Yeah, well he would, wouldn’t he?”

“My dad knows stuff.”

“I know he does. You won’t get an argument out of me.”

Roman was right, and I liked his dad. His dad never made me feel like I was just a kid. When he shook your hand, which he did every time I saw him, he looked me straight in the eye.

“So how have you been, young Henry?” (That name stuck — I’ve been ‘Young Henry’ for thirty-five years). “How’s your dad?”

Roman’s dad and my dad grew up in the same neighbourhood. Roman’s dad grew up to be a provider, a husband and a father.

My dad got lost somewhere along the way.

“He’s good. Works hard. Hardly ever see him but.”

I think he worked hard. 

That’s what mum said it was — the long absences and the tired smile when he was around.

I could tell he was trying. 

I knew he wanted to be like the other dads. 

He just couldn’t find his way out of the fog.

I remember one sunny afternoon sitting in the driveway of our home. My friends were off somewhere, and I remember not minding their absence.

I’d found a struggling bee.

I sat on the warm concrete and tried to get the little creature to trust me and drink some of the sugary water I’d made. The spoon nearly knocked the bee over a couple of times. Eventually, it drank some of the sticky liquid, and I was waiting to see if it would recover.

I was oblivious — in my own little world. I missed hearing his footsteps as he walked up the driveway and sat next to me.

I expected him to ask me what I was doing — he didn’t.

We sat and watched the bee recover its strength, test its wings and fly unsteadily away.

“Do you think he will find his way home?”

“I don’t know dad. I don’t know where he lives. It might be far away.”

“Wherever it is, you gave him a chance to get back home, and that makes this a special day.”

Looking back, it seemed like this encounter took up most of the afternoon. In reality, it probably took up twenty minutes or so.

I hadn’t heard my father say more than a dozen words in weeks.

Maybe something extraordinary happened to him that day.

He was home before dark, and that rarely happened.

Some nights he didn’t come home at all.

I’d like to say that things changed for us after that day.

I’d like to say that my dad found his feet and strode forward for the rest of his life and for a while it was just like that, but whatever it was that had wounded him so profoundly would not allow him to be happy.

He held himself together as best he could until I was grown, but it was never again the way it was that sunny afternoon sitting on the driveway with my dad, watching a bee regain its willingness to live.

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