When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.Walter M. Schirra, Sr.
Fork & Waffle
Joshua’s feet dangle from the breakfast table. His Chuck Taylor shoes are still untied. With both elbows on the table and a pencil in his hand, he stares down to a lined piece of paper. Joshua’s lips are curled in a position of thought as he taps the eraser end of his No. 2 pencil onto his temple.
Joshua sits on a giant chair. Behind him stands a giant man, Joshua’s father. The soles of his police boots are worn and scuffed. But rested upon them are the rest of the boots, with a spit-shine so impressive that you can see the kitchen details on it’s surface. His uniform pants, heather grey, are perfectly pressed with a military crease so sharp it can cut the waffles he was making for breakfast.
Dan Shaw. Known to the community as Officer Shaw. Known to his son as simply, Daddy.
His white crew neck shirt is tucked neatly into his uniform pants and his inner belt cinched just right. “How many waffles do you want, son?”
Joshua never answers the waffle question. “Daddy. I’m supposed to have 10 things you are responsible for. I only have 7.”
Dad: “Well, let’s see what you got.” Officer Shaw slides two waffles onto Joshua’s plate then slides the maple syrup bottle close. His head stays focused on the lined paper on the table as he places the pan and serving spoon into the sink. “Easy there, tiger.” Officer Shaw takes the syrup bottle from Joshua, cutting his attempt to drown his waffles.
Joshua suckles on residual syrup from the webbing between his thumb and index finger. “You put bad guys in jail, right?”
His dad answers, “Yes, son. I do.” Joshua lifts his fork into his mouth. On it is a triangle shaped piece of waffle. As he tilts his head towards the in coming fork and waffle, he opens his mouth as wide as possible to make sure he doesn’t miss since his eyes looked away, down and to the right.
“And when people are crying. You help them not be sad anymore, right?” Joshua asks.
“Well, kind of. When people are crying, I try to see what is causing the crying. Then I try to take away whatever it is that is causing that pain. So, yeah. I help them not be sad anymore. Good observation, Joshua”
“Obser…Obserrrr…?” Joshua struggles.
“Observation” replies his dad. “In police work its when, when you see things, before they happen, and you stop those things from happening, then, by doing so, help innocent people from getting hurt.” Officer Shaw struggles himself to explain.
Joshua stops immediately. He looks up at his dad with a face as serious as a 6-year old can muster, “Like Superman?”
Officer Shaw chuckles. He hesitates slightly to compare himself to Superman. But for simplicity he gives in, “Yes. Kinda like Superman, I guess.”
Joshua’s eyes grow big with excitement and he finishes scribble #10 on his lined paper.
Two honks toot from the driveway. Joshua’s best friend Mikey’s parents are there to take him to school, as they do every Tuesday.
“See you at 10 AM sharp, son!”
“Ok, daddy-I mean-Superman!” Joshua smiles proudly at his dad then struts for the front door.
Officer Shaw sips on his usual morning cup-of-Joe. He looks outside the window and looks at his son get into the car and drive off to school for the day. “There’s no better feeling than that” he thinks to himself.
Officer Shaw works hard and takes pride in his work. His son was starting to take notice. He was so used to being the one proud of his son, that Officer Shaw felt a tug of emotion in his heart when a small realization dawned on him.
This time, his son was proud of him.
Jake: “My dad is a lawyer. He makes tons and tons of money. He bought us a boat and jet skis that we use when we go to our other house at the lake.”
Edwin: “Oh yeah well my daddy builds large buildings. He owns giant cranes and drives bulldozers!”
Jake: “You still call your dad ‘daddy’? What a baby!”
Edwin begins to question his manhood at the tender age of 6. A group of girls giggle.
Sarah: “Well my da…dad…my dad owns a gym and he’s a black belt and he can kick all your dad’s butts.”
Jake: “Well if he does kick Edwin’s dad’s butt then my dad can sue him and take all your money!”
Sarah: “Nu-uh! No he can’t!”
A sudden eruption of clamoring kids fills the hallway as they fuss and fight about who’s dad has the best job. A passing teacher gives a predictable “Sssssshhhh” without even looking in their direction.
Jake: “What about your dad, Joshua? What does he do?”
The small mob of 1st graders hushes down and looks over at him.
Joshua feels the pressure and thinks to himself, “Don’t say ‘daddy’. Don’t say ‘daddy’. Don’t say ‘daddy’”
Joshua: “My dad is a police officer.
Joshua is sure he has impressed his peers.
Joshua: “He carries a gun. Just like a cowboy. He chases bad guys. He puts them in jail for a long long time so that they can’t hurt anyone.
Joshua: “And, he can see things before they happen like Superm-“
Jake: “Killer Cop! Your dad is a killer!
Joshua: “No he’s not!”
Jake: “Yes he is too! My dad is a lawyer and he says that cops abuse their powers and they hurt people and they shoot innocent people!”
Edwin: “Yeah, Joshua. Haven’t you seen the news? Your dad hurts people. He puts innocent people in jail for nothing.
Sarah: “One time a police stopped my daddy, I mean, my dad. My dad said he stopped him because of the color of our skin. Then he gave my dad a ticket for nothing. Jeez, I can’t believe your dad is one of those, Joshua.”
Jake: “I would be embarrassed if my dad was a cop.”
Sarah: “Me too”
Edwin shakes his head in disappointment. The mob’s clamor slowly starts to build as they each tell their own bad-cop story. The bell rings for class to start again and the mob of 6-year olds shuffle loudly into their respective classrooms.
Joshua is left alone in the hallway. He is silent.
Was it true? Was his dad a killer? After all, he did wear a gun. Joshua looked over at the front door to the school. He saw fathers in suits, hard hats and martial arts gi’s checking in with the receptionist.
Suddenly a fear overcame him.
He looked over to his right and saw through the window that his dad’s police car was driving parallel to the yard. Immediately Joshua began running across the field to intercept his dad.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daaaadyyyy!”
Officer Shaw saw his son running towards him. He smiled, waived and slowed his police car. “He’s so excited to have me here.” he thought. He pulled over to where Joshua was holding on to the fence and catching his breath.
“Hey daddy. I mean, dad. Career day was cancelled today.”
A confused look shone upon Officer Shaw’s face. “It was?”
“Yes dad. No need to come in. It will be rescheduled. I gotta go! Bye dad!”
Officer Shaw looked at his son run back into the main building. His brow wrinkled as he thought out loud and mouthed the word, “Dad?”
Officer Shaw pulled around the corner. He saw a group of men lined up at the school entrance. They were in suits, white lab coats and scrubs. One was wearing a heavy firefighter jacket and orange helmet. Another wore a tuxedo with a top hat. “What does he do for a living?” Officer Shaw asked himself.
Career day didn’t seem cancelled. He thought maybe it was cancelled just for Joshua’s class. He got out of his police car to make sure and walked up to the school entrance.
“Hello, sir. Who’s your child?” asked the receptionist.
“Got it. Not that you need it since you’re an officer of the law.” she joked. “But please stick this hall pass on your chest. He’s in classroom 8A. Come right in. It’s down the hall to your right.”
“So, Career Day is…not cancelled?” he asked.
The receptionist looked around and smiled reassuringly. “You’ve got your date correct, Mr. Shaw. And no we have not cancelled it.”
Officer Shaw looked into other classrooms as he walked towards classroom #8A. He saw daughters on father’s laps. He saw hugs and applauses. He saw one kid using a yard stick as he pointed out various items on his father. He was uneasy about why Joshua had ran so desperately to tell him Career Day was cancelled. After weeks of excitement, build up and questions why would he suddenly not want him there?
He approached classroom #8A. He was careful as to not be seen.
“Next up is Joshua Shaw” announced the teacher. A customary applause followed. Joshua walked up to the front of the class. He walked alone. He held a piece of lined paper in both hands.
He looked nervous.
Joshua looked over at Jake. Jake already took his turn introducing his father the lawyer. He stood in the back of the class next to his dad. His father bent over as Jake whispered into his ear. The lawyer’s eyebrows raised at the news.
Joshua looked at the lined paper in his hands. He held it straight out in front of him with his elbows locked. Sweat began to bead at the top of his forehead, just below his hairline. In one motion he hid the paper behind his back with both hands.
“My dad could not be here today. He is too busy doing his job as a…as a…plumber. Yes. My dad the plumber helps people by making sure the water runs in your homes…” Luckily for Joshua, Edwin and Sarah were in a different class. But how was he going to explain this to Mikey?
Jake and the attorney exchange glances.
Joshua continues. But his words are muffled as Officer Shaw slowly steps away.
He’s not sure what just happened. Or how he will deal with it when his son gets home from school. But he decides not to interrupt.
Instead, Officer Shaw takes the longest and loneliness walk of his life through an empty elementary school hallway. With his head drooped and his shoulders pressed slightly forward, Officer Shaw walks slow and without purpose.
He passes water fountains that are at knee level. He passes boards with works of achievement. He passes a banner filled with school pride one-liners. He passes class upon class of proud children and equally proud fathers.
Officer Shaw isn’t quite sure what he did wrong. But the feeling of emptiness in his heart was palpable. His insides stung sharply. Like shards of glass being digested through his esophagus. His hands and fingers dangled purposeless. His boots no longer shined.
Officers Shaw was heart broken.
He looked back into the empty hallway then made his final approach towards the exit. Before he pushed in the horizontal lever to unlatch the door he saw his reflection in the window.
He saw a man in a uniform.
But after witnessing Joshua deny him. After feeling the loss of trust from his own child, the only thing left in that reflection was a shell.