I am a father with three months of experience. My son, Daegan and I are fumbling through this together. He’s a human with only three months experience himself so we’re both doing our best to be patient with one another.
During the day, Daegan hangs out with my partner, Sage while I work, but by 5:30 I’m back home. I start dinner, popping Daegan in the sling, angling him behind me while I chop the onions for tonight’s refried bean burritos. Sage sits at the kitchen table, reading aloud from Michael Palin’s “Pole to Pole”.
Twenty minutes into dinner prep, Daegan starts to cry. He doesn’t need a diaper change, he doesn’t want to nurse. He’s just upset. Sage suggests that maybe a walk will help and that she’d enjoy the chance to relax and be alone in the house for a bit. I hand her the spatula and tell her what needs to be done with dinner.
In the living room I put Daegan into his fuzzy blue snowsuit and quickly put my own shoes, coat, hat and mittens on. Into the sling he goes and we head outside. Once I’m on the porch I put on his hat and gloves. He gets really upset when he’s overheated. He’d rather have cold hands for 2 minutes than roast for half that time indoors while I get dressed.
I can see our breath as we walk through the quiet neighbourhood. After just a couple of minutes Daegan is no longer crying. He’s somehow turned his legs in the lotus position and is peering over the edge of the sling, eyes sparkling. A dog barks in the distance and I tell him “That’s a dog. He’s barking to tell us where he lives.” Daegan stares at his red mitten like it’s the most interesting science experiment.
Soon, I’m telling him stories my mom read to me. “Once upon a time there was a dog named Crispin’s Crispian. He was named Crispin’s Crispian because he belonged to himself…” It’s fun to be the storyteller. I can see why my mom spent hours reading to me when I was little.
I finish the story and look down. Daegan’s leaning to one side in the sling, fast asleep. I walk around some more, giving him time to settle, and Sage time to have dinner and relax a little. As I walk I glance through windows. Behind some, families are sitting down to dinner together. In others there are blank faces illuminated by the blue glow of a television. As I walk toward our house, I peek in our own window. The golden light of the kitchen filters through the steamed up windows. Sage is in the living room, asleep in her reading chair, book still in hand. I pull the blankets up around her shoulders and carry Daegan upstairs to bed.
Six months later, everything is different. I’ve quit my job, and we’ve given away all but our clothes, computer and whatever keepsakes were important enough to us to fit into twelve boxes we shipped to the Missouri Ozarks. With the assistance of friends, we’ve built a yurt in a small clearing surrounded by forest. We have no electricity, central heating, or running water. We also have no electric bill, water bill, heating bill or rent. I can spend the entire day as a full time parent. Though it’s hard work, I also consider myself to be the luckiest person on the planet.
The days start off the same. The sun wakes up Daegan, Daegan wakes up Sage to nurse and I wake up to start the breakfast fire. I put a kettle on for coffee and a cast iron frying pan to make pancakes. Once everyone’s fed and the grown-ups are caffeinated, Sage hugs us goodbye and goes down the narrow path that leads to our friends’ house. There she’ll use our computer to make a living building websites.
I do the dishes with water gravity fed from a jug above a sink whose drain simply leads to the ground outdoors. Then, with everything cleaned up, I put on my hiking boots and pop Daegan in the sling again for our morning walk. He takes up his usual cross-legged position but sits up much straighter now. A bird scolds us from a tree above and he smiles and points at it. A dog barks and he says “Bah bah bah!”
“Yes, that’s a dog!”
I hop from rock to rock as we cross the creek and then come to a fence with two rows of barbed wire. In a practiced motion I curl around him, protecting him as we squeeze together between the wires and into the neighbouring field, starting up the small mountain that watches over our little yurt every day. As we climb, I can see Daegan nodding off like a truck driver trying desperately to stay awake. I take my right hand and put it in front of his forehead. He leans in to it and within seconds his breathing slows and he falls asleep leaning forward in the sling.
At the top of the mountain I sit and look out across the forest and to the yurt below and try to imagine the other timeline – the one where I kept going every day to work from nine to five and I can barely picture it. How much would I be missing?
Daegan wakes from his nap and repeatedly pats his hand on his leg, a sign he uses to say he is hungry and wants to nurse. I tell him “Sure, we’ll head home, love.” and together we walk down the hill and back to the yurt.
Now Daegan and I respectively have over twenty-one years of experience, him as a human and me as a father. Over the past several years we’ve adopted a new method for exploring the world. Together we pick a random destination. It doesn’t need to be of huge significance, just a direction to aim toward. Then, instead of being hugely invested in and anticipating the amazing thing at the end of the trip, we enjoy the new and different places we see along the way. I hope this is how he learns to lead his life
Today’s destination is a simple one: a restaurant whose samosas get wonderful reviews. As the crow flies it’s only five kilometres away but the map shows no direct route.
We head for the ravine near our house, I preferring to be in the mostly empty forest rather than sharing the streets with others any more than is necessary during the pandemic. Daegan prefers being in the ravine regardless of the time. The forest is where he’s most comfortable and he knows the area like other people know their own neighbourhoods.
We head east and soon see a new trail built on the other side of a construction fence. It appears to head exactly the right way. We look at one another and decide to be rebellious. We find a hole in the fence and walk together on a new gravel road through the valley. On one side a river burbles along, filled with ducks and geese.
At times we could imagine ourselves anywhere in rural Ontario. In all directions we see only trees and the river. Traffic sounds are almost completely gone, absorbed by the hills and trees with what’s left drowned out by cicadas. Every once in a while the top of a highrise tower peeks over the top of the trees to remind us of where we are. I hear a squirrel scolding us and I look around for it. Daegan points to the top of a large maple. “He’s right there.”
The road ends and tiny footpaths go in two different directions. I ask him “What now?” He leads me down the path on the left and it ends at railroad tracks. The direction we need to go is on the other side of a trestle, the only way across the river. Daegan looks both ways and listens then says. “It’s safe, we can cross.” We cross the trestle and walk together in the shade next to the tracks.
Ten minutes later we arrive at a road heading in the direction of the samosa shop. We follow it but find ourselves on the wrong side of a tall chain link fence designed to keep people away from the railroad tracks. Daegan tosses his backpack over the fence and then curls himself up small and slides under the fence. I toss my bag and climb over the fence.
Soon we are sitting on the lawn outside the shop sharing a paper bag filled with hot samosas, transparent in spots with grease. The samosas are delicious but far too hot. We take bites then immediately take sips of Coke to soothe our burning tongues. We talk about books and food, about Daegan’s painting and photography and my cycling and writing. There may be a pandemic happening around us but at the same time, today feels just like any other day. I’m relaxing, eating and talking with my son just as I always have done.
After we finish our samosas we walk back home. By the time we arrive we’ve walked fifteen kilometres together. We walk into the living room and there is Sage, lit by the sunset, asleep in the reading chair, a book still open in her lap.
Daegan and I tiptoe into the kitchen and start cooking a batch of refried bean burritos together.