You Have to Deserve Your Father's Love
Author's Note: If you like this story, you might enjoy my original novel Roots That Clutch, which was inspired by a similar idea. The novel is published under the name of Molly Taggart and is available at Amazon in a Kindle edition.
Chapter 1 (of 4)
Coach Eric Taylor sat at the kitchen table looking through the old photo albums of the first eight years of his marriage to Tami. They were the only ones that would contain any pictures of his father. After he'd gotten remarried and settled in California, Graydon Taylor had never bothered to visit his son's family again. Not that Eric had made the effort to fly there either. He was disappointed his father wasn't a part of his children's lives, but, at the same time, he wasn't sure he really wanted the man around his kids. Those first eight years of Julie's life, the few times her grandfather had seen her, Graydon Taylor had been affectionate and kind enough, but Eric didn't know what might come out of the man's mouth if he spent more time around her.
Coach Taylor had gone to his father's wedding, but he hadn't taken Tami or Julie, and he hadn't lingered long at the reception. Eric always wondered, but never felt he really knew, if perhaps his father's remarriage had softened him, if perhaps his father's second wife had managed to take some of the acid out of his tongue. Maybe she had. Maybe she hadn't. Eric thought his father had been generally less critical on the phone over the past ten years than he had been during Eric's teen or college years, but in every conversation, the man still managed to hint that Eric should have made it to the NFL. He still managed to express surprise at Eric's success as a high school football coach. He still managed to marvel at Eric's ability to win and then maintain the commitment of "that sassy one all the boys were always chasing."
Coach Taylor's infrequent phone conversations with his father had always been a struggle. He would have to muster himself up for hours ahead of time before making the call, and when he was done, Tami would always sit on the couch and tell him to sit down in front of her on the floor. Then she would work extra hard on the knots in his neck and back.
He saw one picture now of Julie and her grandfather in front of the Christmas tree. Jules was about six, and she had just opened a box of earrings. They had been 14K gold too. She didn't even have her ears pierced at the time. Tami had taken her to the mall the next week. It had pissed Eric off. He'd seen the gift as an act of manipulation on his father's part, and Tami had told him to relax, that the man was just being generous to his granddaughter.
After he moved to California, Graydon Taylor continued to send regular birthday and Christmas gifts via mail to Julie and eventually Grace. They were always overly expensive, and once Julie turned thirteen, she started receiving sizeable checks –a thousand dollars for Christmas, a thousand dollars for her birthday. It had always thrilled Julie, but it had irritated Eric, and he had insisted that all but $50 of every check go straight to her college fund.
Coach Taylor now felt Tami's fingers trail lightly across the back of his shoulders. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the feel of her hand sliding up his neck and then into his hair. Her soft lips touched the top of his head. He heard her put the beer bottle down next to him. "Thought you might like one."
"Thanks," he said, opening his eyes just in time to see her shapely figure disappearing through the open frame that led from the kitchen to the hallway. She had probably assumed he wanted his privacy, a silent time to reflect, and she was right, but he was glad for her momentary touch. He took a sip of the malty liquid and then turned the pages of the album, moving backward through the volume, watching Julie grow younger and younger, seeing Tami's hair grow lighter and shorter, seeing himself grow leaner.
Tami was reading when she sensed Eric enter the bedroom. It was almost eleven. She had waited up for him, but she hadn't wanted to disturb him while he sat looking through the albums. She knew his father's death had stirred up a lot of pain. This wasn't the usual mourning of a son for a father he had loved and lost. It was something much more complicated. There wasn't much Eric would miss about Graydon Taylor, but she knew her husband, knew he was regretting all the lost opportunities.
Eric stood beside the bed and stripped down to his boxers. He lay down next to her, laced his fingers together behind his head, sighed, and looked up at the ceiling.
She reached over and placed a hand gently on his chest. "Thinking about your dad?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
She could see the exhaustion seeping across his face. He hadn't slept much at all the previous night. The call from Graydon Taylor's second wife had come just a few minutes after they'd put Gracie to bed.
Tami removed her hand. "It's hard, losing the man who raised you, a man you so desperately wanted to connect with and never quite could."
"I don't want to talk about it, Tami."
She moved her hand away from his chest. She tried to mask her irritation, but she knew it crept into her tone. "I just want to help you, Eric. I hate seeing you like this." She looked down at him from where she sat. The irritation began to fade into compassion. He looked so tired, so dejected. "I love you. I'm your wife. I wish I could do something for you. Anything." She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder and felt the tension in his muscles. She began to dig a thumb into a knot in his shoulder, as though to prove the fact. "What can I do? I just want to be of some comfort. Help you relax a little bit, at least."
He turned his neck sideways to look at her. "Yeah?" he asked.
"Yeah," she said softly.
"Well, there's something you could do." He nodded downward. "You know, to help me relax."
She laughed, and then she realized he was serious. She hadn't thought he would be in the mood for anything like that, but she supposed it was even less likely he was in the mood for joking. She saw the reaction to her laughter in his eyes, the mingled annoyance and disappointment, the tinge of embarrassment. "Okay," she said. "I can do that."
"Tami, if you don't want - "
She stopped his words with a deep kiss. She moved her lips from his mouth to his chin, then his throat, trailing kisses down his chest and stomach. As she did so, she slipped her fingers beneath the elastic band of his boxers and slid them down. When her mouth reached its object, he gasped and placed an encouraging hand gently on the back of her head. "Tami," he murmured, "baby, you're so good to me."
Later, she drew herself back up and lay her head down on his chest. He encircled her with both arms. "Thank you," he said. "That was very, very relaxing." She heard the heavy drowsiness in his voice, but still he asked, "What would you like me to do for you?"
Tami kissed his chest. "I don't need anything tonight," she said. "Tonight was just for you."
"You sure?" he asked with a yawn. "I can rally. I will, if you want me to."
She smiled. "Eric, you're about to drop off. It's okay. Another night. If you can actually manage to sleep tonight, that's exactly what I want you to do."
"Mhmm…I love you, Tami."
She said, "I love you, too," but she knew he didn't hear her. The sleep had overtaken him.
Tami snuck quietly out of the bedroom and to the kitchen and began to look through the old photo album. Julie was so young in the pictures, so innocent, in such adoration of her parents. Now she called her mother twice a week.
There were very few pictures of Graydon Taylor. Tami had never understood the man's relationship with his son. He had been a charmer around her, though apparently secretly disapproving of her behind her back, blaming Eric's early marriage to her, in part, for his failure to make it to the NFL.
She'd urged Eric over the years to stay in contact with him, but, like her husband, she wasn't sure she wanted Graydon around the kids on a regular basis. Earlier in their marriage, Tami had feared Eric might behave toward their children as his father sometimes did toward him – distant, commanding, critical - but Eric had been quite different. He had his gruff moments, to be sure, but he had just as many tender moments, a willingness to listen to Tami's parenting perspective, a penchant for motivating others, and, most importantly, a strong desire to be a better father than the one he'd had. Neither of them, thank God, had become their own parents.
The funeral was going to be strange for Eric – saying goodbye to a man he, for the past twelve years, had spoken to only two or three times a year. Tami sighed and rose from the table to go pour herself a glass of wine. She knew she wasn't going to be going to bed anytime soon.