PERSPECTIVES: Richard Stephen White, age 42
Ten, nine, eight…
I looked at the alarm clock on the bedside table. It read 6:29 AM.
Seven, six, five, four…
I took a deep breath.
Three, two, one.
The alarm beeped—6:30 AM. At that moment, seven pairs of hands, of different sizes and complexion, immediately found their way on me. Seven pairs of feet were jumping on the bed I shared with my wife Lily, who by this time is already in the kitchen, preparing breakfast. Seven different voices—mostly high-pitched—are all talking and calling out to me.
I laugh. This is my wake-up call every day. All seven of my kids, ranging from ages 2 to 12, are hitting me with pillows and screaming in my ears, telling me to get out of bed. My boys Kino, who just turned six, and Leon, who's nine, are pulling my legs and making me stand up. Our twin girls Izzie and Eden, aged four, are pounding my head with pillows. The three other kids—our eldest, Anna; our seven-year-old Chanthy; and our youngest, Roan—are jumping on the bed nonstop. I swear, I'd get a headache before I even get to the office.
"Roar!" I bellowed, getting up from the bed. "Who dared wake up the sleeping dragon?"
I puffed out my chest and acted like a fierce monster, making the younger kids scream and run out of the room. Only Anna and Leon stayed behind, rolling on the floor and laughing. I chased the kids out to the hallway and into the living room.
"Mommy!" Eden cried.
"We destroy the dragon!" Kino exclaimed, grabbing a pillow from the couch and throwing it at me.
"ROAR!" I screamed again.
The kids began scrambling out of the house and into the front lawn. I ran to them. As I stepped out of the house, I took a minute to look at the sky. It was a bright, sunny day, with cotton candy clouds moving slowly in the heavens.
"Take that, dragon!" Izzie, the spunkier of the twins, hit me with Leon's football.
"Argh! I eat you first, little girl!" I said, running to her.
My daughter's shrieks turned into giggles as I caught her and rolled on the grass with her. Soon, the other six kids also jumped on top of me.
"Richard, kids!" Lily calls out. I can hear her coming out of the house. "Breakfast is—"
I watched as her eyes widened in surprise. "What in the world—?"
"C'mon, Mommy!" Chanthy calls her. "We're gonna destroy the dragon!"
For a moment, I thought my wife would have an outburst. Her husband and seven kids were all rolling on the lawn, the grass and the mud sticking to all their pajamas.
Then she laughed.
Soon, Lily was joining us, taking Kino and Roan by the arms and shouting, "I'm the other dragon! You have to fight both of us!"
The sounds of our laughter rang across the neighborhood. Sooner or later, we'd probably get reported for causing raucous this early in the morning. Oh, who cares? My kids and my wife were with me, and we were having fun in the simplest things.
The children eventually got tired, and by 7 AM, we were all just lying on our backs in the lawn, looking at the clouds. It's something Anna and I used to do as a pastime when it was just the two of us. And now, it's an activity my wife and I have with the kids when we have some free time on our hands.
"That one looks like an ice cream sundae," Leon said, pointing to a thick, fluffy group of clouds.
"Nah, it looks more like a ferry boat," Anna countered him.
Roan pointed to a group of round clouds that I thought looked like Santa Claus. "That's Daddy," he said.
Lily laughed as her eyes followed where our son was pointing. "Yes, Roan—that looks just like Daddy."
"A fat Daddy," Izzie piped in. I heard her emphasis on the word "fat."
The kids all burst out in fits of laughter. Very funny. Lily and the kids knew I was a big health buff, and I always tried to keep in shape.
"Alright, alright," I said, "let's just go and grab some grub. Ready for Mommy's world famous bacon and pancakes?"
A chorus of "Yes!" echoed in the air, and seven pairs of muddy feet all made their marks as they went inside the house.
I wrapped my arms around my wife, and gave her a light kiss on the lips. "Good morning," I said.
"Good morning to you, too," she greeted with a smile.
"Are you gonna join us or should I get you two a room?" Anna's voice cut through the silence. Leave it to my daughter to ruin the mood.
I grin. "We'll get a room," I said.
Anna scrunched up her nose. "Eew. Really gross, Dad."
Lily laughed. She took my hand and led me back into the house. When we got to the door, I took Anna's hand in mine—the once-tiny hand that I used to close in mine now had pink nail polish and a silver butterfly ring on one finger.
"Let's eat, I'm starving," I told my daughter.
All three of us went into the dining room, which by now, was a mess—peanut butter smears on the place mats, maple syrup dripping down the floor, and bacon bits and bread crumbs scattered all around the table. My wife and I don't mind the jumble. It's all part of having a family.
"Okay," I said with a sigh as I plopped down on my seat. "Can someone pass me the bread?"
"You forgot the magic word, Daddy," one of the kids—I don't know if it was Chanthy or Eden or Kino—stated.
I nodded. "Can someone pass me the bread, please?"
As the breadbasket was passed from the other side of the table, I saw hands grabbing hold of one or two slices of bread. The tall stack I had seen being passed on now only had two thin slices left. "Wow, thanks for leaving me some," I mumbled.
The hint of sarcasm was not left unnoticed by the kids. Leon and Anna tried to stifle their sniggers. I just laughed along. I took the pieces of bread and shoved the breadbasket on the counter behind me.
I watched as my seven kids all dug in to their food. Some of them had weird food creations—Kino had what I could see as bacon and peanut butter and scrambled egg sandwiched on his bread; Izzie was scooping up and gulping maple syrup as if it were soup; Roan was dipping a slice of pancake on his milk. I made a mental note to remind my wife to give the kids more fruits and veggies to eat next time. For now, I let my children be.
I caught Lily's eyes as I surveyed the scene in front of me. She smiled at me. I recalled the events of last night…
"You were quiet at the dinner table today," Lily said, turning to face me.
We were already in bed, refreshed after taking a shower together.
I wrapped my arms around her, bringing her closer to me. "I was just thinking," I told her.
I took a deep breath. "Eight years ago, there was only me and Anna sitting on a small dinner table at my apartment. Now I've got this big house, and seven kids having dinner with me every night."
"And a wife who cooks dinner for you," she added.
"A very lovely wife who cooks dinner for me and my kids," I corrected her.
She smiled—the most beautiful smile I have ever seen on any woman. I cupped her face and leaned in to her, giving her a kiss. I could feel the softness of her lips, and for a moment, I was transported back to seven years ago, when we had our first kiss, right smack in the middle of the whole Daily Planet newsroom.
"I love you, you know that?" she said.
"And I love you, too," I replied. "I love you for giving me the family I always dreamt of having. I love you for giving me all these kids who make my world go crazy."
I thought back to the sacrifices we had made together, the challenges we had to overcome. Raising seven kids wasn't a walk in the park. We had to deal with a lot of scrutiny from people around us. Most thought we were crazy, adopting kids rather than having our own. We didn't care. We made a decision together to have a big family, and to give these children the life they deserved—so far, I think we've done a good job.
Hours later, when my wife was asleep, I crawled out of bed and treaded softly to the hallway. I went up the staircase to the second floor. One by one, I opened my kids' rooms, watching them sleep.
The first room I went to was the twins'. For a second, I noticed that something didn't seem quite right. Then I realized what it was—the bedside table that separated their beds was in a corner of the room. The girls had pushed their beds together, side by side.
I went to the room across—it was Chanthy's. There were drawings of ponies and butterflies posted on the wall. A dozen or so stuffed animals were littered on the floor. I crept up to my daughter's bed and pulled the blanket up to her chin. Then I went out and closed the door gently.
The third room across the hallway belonged to Leon. I surveyed the room. My son inherited my love for flying—he had model airplanes hanging from the ceiling, and a huge poster of a fighter jet was pasted on one side of the room. I squinted my eyes, trying to see in the darkness. Leon wasn't in bed. My heart skipped a beat. Where did my son go? I then realized that his pillows and blanket weren't there, either.
Tiptoeing to the room across—Kino and Roan's room—I found where my nine-year-old was. He was sleeping beside Roan, his arm protectively wrapped around my youngest boy. My heart warmed at the sight. All three of them were on Kino's bed, pressed tightly against each other like sardines in a can. The cool wind was blowing outside. I lowered the window, leaving it only slightly open, just enough to let some of the cool air inside.
"Dad?" Leon's voice rang loud in the silent room.
"Hey, bud," I whispered. "You guys look packed tight in one bed."
"Kino called me in here. He said Roan had a bad dream, so I came over and told Roan I'll take care of him. I didn't want to wake you and Mom," my son answered sleepily.
I smiled. People tell my kids how lucky they are to have parents like us, but most of the time, I feel like I'm the lucky one having kids like them. I kissed Leon on the forehead. "Go back to sleep, Leon," I said quietly.
"Night, Dad," he said with a yawn.
By the time I was in the door, he was fast asleep.
One more room to go. Anna's room was at the end of the hall. I quietly turned the knob and opened the door. My daughter was curled up like a ball, her light blue comforter wrapped tightly around her. She had her back to me, and I couldn't see her face. But I watched her anyway, watched her quilt go up and down rhythmically to her even breathing.
Eight years ago, this little girl was all I had. She was this tiny thing, scared and quiet and shy. Now, she was no longer a four-year-old, but a beautiful twelve-year-old who loved to dance ballet and create scrapbooks. She was confident, very sure of herself—and most of the time I wonder where she gets that poise from. I'd like to think it's how we raised her to be—Lily and I always reminded her not to be ashamed of who she was.
As I stood near her bed, the light from the hallway showering into her room, another image came to me—it was of a little boy, small and dark-haired, and a man wearing a cape and blue tights. The boy was asleep, and the man looked at the boy from the outside of the window. Who knew that finding out about Jason and Superman would lead me to all these?
"Daddy?" Anna whispered, turning to face me. "What are you doing up? It's like, three in the morning."
I stepped towards my daughter's bed. I sat beside her.
"Did you know that Clark used to watch Jason from the window?" I asked her.
She shook her head. Then she grinned at me and sat up. "Is that what you were trying to do just now? Because my window is on that side," she said, pointing to the clear glass on the other side of the room.
I softly chuckled. "No, not really. Besides, I can't fly like Clark can." In our family, only Anna and I knew about Clark's secret identity. It's the only secret we've kept to ourselves.
Anna nodded and yawned. "Well, did you need something from me—this early in the morning?"
I tucked a wisp of her blond hair behind her ear. "No, sweetheart, I'm fine. I just wanted to check up on you."
I shrugged. "I just like doing a head count, see if you're all here."
My daughter smiles at me. Even until now, I can feel the connection I had with her all those years ago, when I first saw her through the burning orphanage. She jumps at me and embraces me tight. I thought I could melt in her arms, the warmth of her hug giving me a sense of peace.
Her voice echoed through the stillness of the night. "Don't worry, Daddy. We're not going anywhere."
The noise in the breakfast table shook me from my thoughts. Before I knew it, I felt something slick and sticky running down my knee.
"Oops," Izzie said, looking at me worriedly. She was holding the now-empty bottle of pancake syrup. "Sorry, Daddy."
Everyone on the table turned to me and fell silent. My wife was looking at me, as if she were saying, "Don't let this get to you. It's just syrup—on your pajama bottoms."
I breathed in deeply. From the middle of the table, I saw a small piece of pancake and took it. I wiped it on the syrup flowing down my pajama bottoms. Then I presented it to the kids. "Anybody want some more pancakes?" I asked them jokingly.
"Eew, Daddy!" Eden exclaimed.
The boys were laughing. Anna shook her head. Izzie's cheeks went red. My wife simply looked at me and smiled.
"Okay, kids, let's get all this mess cleaned up," I said, standing up.
In less than a minute, seven small pairs of hands were helping me and Lily clear the table.
- THE END -
A/N: Well, who said you had to be Superman to save the world? Adopt a child, save the future. ;)
Anyhoo, in celebration of the completion of "A Father, First," I made two wallpapers featuring Jason & Superman, and Anna & Richard (I used the adorable Elle Fanning as an 8-year-old Anna). Find 'em at: photobucketdotcomslashLadyFii or in my profile here at .
Also, I would like to take this moment to acknowledge, once again, all those who have reviewed "A Father, First," as well as those who put it on their favorites and story alerts. Here's a roll-call: mistressbabette51, Leena7, Wahoogal06, Pony R., superlc529, Elliania, ReadingRed, Shannon K, Actinolite28, Cornorama, JamesTKent, lilbit4, repmetsyrrah, SassyAni, Lara-Van, JJ the elusive, ClarkR, d, remey74, xxClois-LuverXX, Corn, RonWeasleyismiking, StarzAngelus, Jump Highly, loverofteddy, discordchick, winddancer55945, Mari2Anne, LJP, natalie, FreeBorn, countryLexluv, butterbeer pixies, InkyJasper, IKeepGoldFishInMyBra, katydidtoo, SongoftheDarquePhoenix, CheYenNe32, bellarata, River Eagle, SkyBlueSw, mamaXunicorn, red lighting, Red One, Cirian, Bradley McCloud, MoonlitJC, icecream23, Smilyface2020, Shado Librarian, Jennifer, framework4, Wing-edZenith, RngrThorne, Bluie Twilight Star, Kitana4, D. Taina, CindyB, fightindog, KlynneL, Anne7, DragonFlame27, H.R, Lord Trixs, NICODEMUS-2789, QueenNeen, SamOfGallifrey, beachbum454, greensong, lurkerlaine, mightymo42, princess tashana, redeeminglove, soccergirl12, supesfan18, sylvane, teazer, ASP AUS, Android Jennifer, Aria Saralyn, BloodChilde, Cathy Ellaine Sotobod, Classic Cowboy, Crius, Eiram12, FaithInLove, FunkyFish1991, GATX-105B, Ginny Clone, GreatBritishBabe, Lost-Girl89, Lucillia, NiteAngel, Redlioness62, Saavik13, ScrewyLouie12, Stacee Phelps, Tawn327, Titpom1, Zoeteproet, aaz001nyc, alaricnomad, ame85, angel332, belgarath975, brokenheart10, devstar, grandhotel10, imfaszewski, napd567, raejan, tweets.
Whew. Did I forget anybody?
To everyone else who has read "A Father, First" and has stuck by this fiction throughout its long journey—THANK YOU.