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In the metropolis, many people want to play father to my children: Soccer coaches and guidance counselors, ministers, rabbis, record company executives, gang leaders, and smiling teachers running after-school programs - not to mention those who have dedicated their lives to turning comic books into movies.
Each wants to spend hours with my kids, charming them with deep myth, offering wide-ranging advice and moments of inspiration. "Don't worry," they say to me. "Go to work, pay the bills, we're good at this 'father thing.' We're professionals."
And of course, they are. Better at soccer and music and adventure and maybe even advice. All told these people number in the thousands. But this Urban Man, father of four, plots his survival with great guile.
Tonight, for example, I want to read my kids Treasure Island, but I wait until it gets late, and a high wind rattles the palm tree in the neighbor-s yard. On the tiny square of grass behind our house, where buildings and streetlights glitter and hum above the hedge, I unzip sleeping bags and light two candles on either side of the book: Skeleton Island they calls it. It were a main place for pirates once...That hill to the nor'ard they calls the fore-mast hill. Done correctly, this trap proves irresistible to small and even medium-sized children. I find it crucial to read unassigned classics in the eccentric original, without help from Disney cartoonists, clever study guides, or warm-hearted librarians. Then, if I read with an honest voice, its truths become my truths, its words my words. "He came plodding to the inn door, his sea-chest following behind him in a hand-barrow; a tall, strong, heavy, nut-brown man; his tarry pigtail falling over the shoulders of his soiled blue coat; his hands ragged and scarred, with black, broken nails; and the saber cut across one cheek, a dirty, livid white." I remember him-breaking out in that old sea-song that he sang so often afterwards, "Fifteen men on the dead man's chest." I know that, for miles in every direction, a thousand projection screens flicker with magic and talent and pirate songs. I know that holed away in tiny apartments stretched across the basin, writers and programmers sweat to construct greater myths than I could ever construct. I know that teachers and coaches are making their lesson plans.
But tonight I count on that high wind to flicker the candles and bring strange rustlings into the bougainvillea at the end of the yard. I count on the restless city to roar like the sea.
My kids may soon grow too old for my traps. But meanwhile, if only for tonight, the Urban Man owns the saber cuts, the ragged scarred hands, and the battered chest. My children hear only my voice, and I know I am still their father.
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