I dance into the living room and I’m greeted the way a father ought to be greeted with armloads of groceries.
“Look, Daddy’s home!”
“Hello, Little Family! I have food! It’s so good to see your wonderful faces!”
Baby Mama has her music going and she’s cleaned the living room and kitchen and I’m excited over it and we make plans for all three of us to tackle the kid’s room together as a team. “Hooray, plan!” “HOORAY!” Tiny high fives. Yeah, man!
I’m excited about making our healthy little meal, using our new veggie pasta maker to keep us in the Super Healthy Living Zone. Yeah, man! We’re going for it!
“Daddy, can you play your music instead?” My son just threw serious shade on Baby Mama’s taste in dinnertime music and I love it.
YEAH MAN. L-I-V-I-N!
“I’m excited for you to have this dinner, mama. I made this the other night while we you were sleeping and Jhonen and I devoured it. It was awesome. Right, Jhonen?”
I bought two zucchinis to make the pasta but I decide to only slice up one first. “Let’s see how quickly we get through the first batch,” I say, because I am a smart planner. I’ve got three burners working and I’m dancing around the living room and picking up a little boy for kisses and Hey! The dining room is clean, let’s eat in the dining room for real! We light incense and candles and set the table and YEAH MAN. Dinner!
“Nothing! Nothing. The chicken is great. Jhonen, isn’t the chicken great?”
“I like it.”
“OK. You’re…you’re not touching your pasta!”
“Oh, I tried it.”
“Are you…(looking theatrically at my son while talking to his mother)…don’t you want to eat your delicious veggie pasta?”
She looks at me like she’s about to vomit. She looks at me like a little kid, like Calvin refusing to eat the pile of slop his parents have dropped in front of him. There is genuine desperation in her eyes. “DON’T MAKE ME LIE TO OUR CHILD!”
I redirect. “Jhonen! Try some veggie pasta. It’s delicious!”
“I don’t want to try veggie pasta, thank you.”
“What do you mean you don’t want to try it?”
“Mama doesn’t like it. I don’t like it.”
I give her a look like she’s drowned a puppy. A delicious green puppy that I sliced up with a thing I bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond for 30 bucks! OK, wait, take that back, I didn’t slice up a puppy it was just zucchini.
“JHONEN. Please. We’ve had this before! When it was just you and me you loved it! I couldn’t make enough for you!”
“Well I don’t like it now because mama doesn’t like it.”
“But…you preferred my music and…”
Two disgusted sets of eyes glare at me from either end of the table, their plates filled with green pasta and a dollop of red sauce. I fear mutiny.
“YOU KNOW, it’s very healthy. It’s very good for you. Much better than regular pasta.”
“Its slimey. It’s gross.”
“IT IS NOT SLIMEY IT’S JUST A LITTLE WATERY IT’S FINE.”
I look left. I look right. I am surrounded by foul enemies.
“You know what. You guys are the worst. The absolute worst.”
“Maybe just if it was crispier?”
“I’M NOT GOING TO FRY IT, THAT RUINS THE POINT OF HAVING VEGGIE PASTA FOR HEALTH AND WEIGHT LOSS.”
“Not fry! Just…cook it more?”
It’s at this point a green lantern ring crashes through the dining room window and I put it on and I join a proud League of Dads across eons and galaxies. I feel their frustrations, their warm love and approval of my mission, my purpose. I carry on as their sacred texts instruct me.
“OK, FINE. MORE FOR ME. GIVE ME YOUR PASTA. YUUUMMIIEEE. LUCKY ME.”
“Absolutely. Here, take it all.”
“ONE BITE. TAKE ONE BITE.”
He is on the verge of tears. He breaks off a piece the size of the point of a pencil. The face he makes indicates poisoning, possibly imminent death.
“A REAL BITE.”
“DADDY, PLEASE NO!”
“IT’S GOOD FOR YOU!”
“I DON’T WANT TO!”
“ONE BITE AND YOU CAN LEAVE THE TABLE.”
In 30 minutes I will be in the gym, adding weight to my bench press, smiling as I run on the treadmill to Ludacris. I will be free of concerns and earthly matters while the TV in front of me silently plays the new documentary about Phi Slamma Jama. I will switch to Watch the Throne while I increase the speed and raise the elevation. I will be genuinely enjoying myself.
But I am not there yet. I am staring down a child, on the verge of tears, who I am forcing to eat PERFECTLY FINE, IF A LITTLE BIT MUSHY, noodles made from a goddamned zucchini.
He shoves a small mouthful of pasta through quivering lips. Eyes closed. Bracing himself against the table for emotional support. “May I be excused, please?” “Yes, you may. Get out of here.”
I look at Baby Mama and just shake my head. Just. Goddamn.
“What? You want me to lie? The chicken was great. Perfect.”
“I hate you. I really do. I’m going to run away and never come back.”
“HA! Good luck, Buttercup.” She kicks back and swipes open her phone, chuckling to herself.
My phone goes off and it’s my date, wanting to know where we should get dinner tomorrow. I tell her, Anywhere. Literally Anywhere.