15 Minute Story #19: Fathers and Sons


Author’s Note: Due to events yesterday I’ve chosen to write a non-fiction piece for the 15 Minute Story today. 

If you ever want to feel useless, just wait until your kid is in the hospital. You stand there looking at this person you’ve known their whole life. You think of all the things you’ve done from him. You think of every single thing you’ve said or taught him. You think of the happy moments. You think of the moments when he screams in your face or cries or yells. You think of the times you discovered new levels of frustration that only parents can find. You think of the mistakes you’ve made. Both personal mistakes and mistakes you made while trying to be a good parent. You think of all of it all at once because right now all of it has led to this moment where your child is hurt enough that he’s in the hospital and since you never bothered to become a doctor, the only thing you could do was bring him to building he was born in and hope the professionals here can fix him. If you’re a parent, you’ll find yourself in this position a few times.

Most of the time whatever is wrong is minor. You’re in and out in a few hours and it’s no big deal. Yesterday was like that. Yesterday my son was assaulted. My morning began with him calling me from a friend’s house where he’d stayed the night and telling me he needed to go to the hospital. He said he was on 45th Street so I initially drove to North 45th only to find out he was on South 45th. So I drove like a bat out of hell all across the city on Sunday morning rain slicked streets. We were home before noon after a few stitches.

A few years ago my son had a bad accident. He’d fallen off of a roof and hit his head. I watched as medical professionals swarmed around him. His face was swollen to an almost unrecognizable state as they worked to save his life. It wasn’t certain that they would. I stood there helpless thinking, “Tonight I get to watch my son die.” But he fully recovered from that incident.

A few years ago, a good friend of mine and I were talking. His oldest son is a few years younger than my own. He said, “Think back to our teenage years. Now think of all the times we almost literally died and how many times did our parents know what happened? Not many. ” I nodded. He went on, “Now think about our sons. They’ll likely get in just as much trouble as us and most of it we’ll never even hear about most of it. And the things we do hear about will scare us senseless because we have no power of them.”

He was right, but then again, if you’re any kind of parent, you’re likely to spend a fair amount of your time scared senseless anyway.

Words by Jack Cameron
Illustration by Ossaín Ávila Cárdenas

About 15 Minute Stories
It’s good for writers to write every day, but it’s easy for life to get in the way of that. One solution I read about recently was to write a 15 minute piece of short fiction every single day for a month. You may not have time to do NaNoWriMo every month, but if you like writing, you can always find 15 minutes.

So for the month of January, I’ll be writing and posting pieces of very short fiction that I took 15 minutes to write. I’ve asked that my friend, Ossaín Ávila Cárdenas join me by taking 15 minutes to draw an accompanying image for each story.  Ossaín is one of the owners of a local zine shop in Tacoma called The Nearsighted Narwhal

The Best Thing In My Parenting Plan

For most of the last six years my son and I spent time together every other weekend and on Thursday evenings. Such arrangements are not uncommon for dads who do not live with the mother of their child. When your time with your kid is limited, you tend to pack as much as you can into what time you have, but it’s never really enough. There’s an urge to overcompensate with gifts or other things that aren’t allowed at the other house in an effort to be the favorite parent since you can’t be the parent with the most time. Soon you learn that it’s not a worthy battle and that such things aren’t fair to anyone. But regardless of what you do, you inevitably feel that you are less a part of your child’s life than you want to be.

The one thing that kept me sane through all of this was one simple line in my parenting plan. It was something that even the most contested of custody disputes would be hard pressed to exclude if you put it in. And it’s the thing that made the most difference during those times when I felt a disconnect between my son’s life and my own life:

“The child shall be allowed telephone contact with the parent with whom he is not residing (initiated by the parent with whom he is not residing or the child) at 9:00pm each night.”

This simple line meant that despite my lack of physical contact,  I still got to talk to my son just about every day of his life one way or another. I was still a daily presence in his life.

Fathers have an uphill battle when it comes to getting custody, but even if you don’t win custody, you can still not completely lose. I know these calls mean just as much to my son as they do to me. By putting it in the Parenting Plan you make it so the other parent can’t prohibit the call without violating the Parenting Plan. I never really had to deal with that part, but it’s still a good thing to put in there. A child needs both of his parents. Always. This way even if you’re not there in person, you can still be there.

– Jack Cameron