I've been sitting in the car for nearly an hour now. I can't bring myself to go inside the house. I don't deserve a family like the one I have as I am a bastard's son and always will be. It is just a matter of time before I start acting like him.
I watch from the car and I see Fiona and my five year old son running around the living room. They seem to have set up a tent. I see my little three year old princess looking out the living room window at me, with sad puppy dog eyes. Fiona sees me in the car, gives me a sad smile and scoops up my little girl in her arms. They disappear into another room.
A few minutes later my phone rings. I open it up, but don't say anything.
"Come inside Michael, its dinner time. The children need their father at the table. You don't have to talk, but just come in and be with us."
I hang up the phone without saying a word, get out of the car and walk into the house. The children are all sitting at the table, eating their dinner. They see me standing in the kitchen doorway and run to hug me. Two perfect children gathered around me. Fiona is sitting at the table smiling at me, but her smile isn't so sad this time. The children are chattering at the same time and I don't know who to listen to first. The monster in me wants to yell at them to be quiet, but on the other hand I am loving the noise. I don't know what to do. Should I yell for quiet or should I join in their excitement?
Fiona, sensing my stress level increasing, claps her hands and everyone sits down, including me.
"Give your DAD time to unwind. He's had a very stressful day. I know you missed him today but all of us talking at once won't help him relax. We can all talk amongst ourselves and when your FATHER is ready to join in our FAMILY conversation he will do so."
Fiona emphasized her words, jolting me back to reality. I have a family. Sometimes the fact that all these children in my house want my attention, approval and love overwhelms me. I don't think my father ever felt the same way I do about my children. That makes me sad.
I guess my facial expression changed because my little Madeline says to me "Don't be sad about eating dinner Daddy! Mommy is a good cook!"
"Way better than Grandma!" exclaims Sam.
There is laughter at the table. Laughter at the table or even in the house was unheard of when Nate and I were growing up. I treasure the laughter.
At the end of the night, after the children are tucked into bed and are fast asleep, I climb into bed next to Fiona. She turns over and faces me.
"I hate when you go to your father's grave. Once a year you go with your mother to his grave and you come home in such a fog. I see why Nate doesn't go with you two anymore."
"Mom wanted to go, and I couldn't let her go by herself."
Fiona kisses my forehead tenderly.
"You are a good man Michael and an incredible father. Do not let your father make you feel inferior."
"I know, but it's hard not to let him do that. It was easier to ignore him before the kids, but now I can hear him more and more." I change my voice, imitating my father. "Boy, it's just a matter of time before you start beating those kids like I beat you and your ma."
Fiona sighs. "Fight him. Fight him with every ounce of strength you have. You aren't him and we are not doomed to repeat the sins of our parents. Everyday we have new chances to right the wrongs that have been done to us. Tomorrow you begin again, a fresh start."
I cling to her words. I cling to my fun, loud, funny children. I cling to Fiona. I bury my head into her chest and inhale her soft powdery scent and drift off to sleep while Fiona plays with my hair. I smile, thanking God for everything that I have and cursing my father for making me doubt myself.