Fatherhood Never Stops Grabbing You By the Balls—Even When Your Nest Turns Empty

The red second hand travels along the familiar white face of the schoolroom clock in my officetick… tick… tick… audible and inexorable, stopping so diligently at each and every hash mark before moving on to the next, the sound resonating through the gathering quiet of my solitary evening like a steady heartbeat, bringing to mind a manifest of life’s tortured anticipations—waiting for the bell to sound at the end of a school day, for a lopsided game to be mercifully over, for an interminable meeting to conclude, for the labor pains to come closer together, for the notary to finish rumpling the many pages of the divorce settlement, for the commercials to end and the show to resume, for the light to change to green.

Tick… tick… tick…. I have nowhere in particular to go. Nothing at all to anticipate. No crib to assemble. No stroller to fold and lift. No Barney videos to watch. No kid to pick up from school. No snacks to provide. No functions or fund-raisers to attend. No practices to coach. No list of parents to advise of a game cancellation due to rain. No holding my tongue about asshole teachers. The middle school English nitwit who gave him a B on his life story. The history teacher who took umbrage with his thesis that Malcolm X was as crucial to the success of the civil rights movement as was Martin Luther King Jr.—I edited the thing; it was NOT an 82. The varsity coach. The players hate him. The parents hate him. The only time he ever won a championship was when his team rebelled and coached themselves. How to explain why the fancy school keeps asking him back?

No weekend tournament to sit through. No hard bleacher seats. No typing on deadline in the motel bathroom in East Jesus with the door closed while he sleeps. No other parents to deal with: During the years your kid goes from three to 18, it’s like you have a couple dozen awful in-laws with whom you must share your life. No graceful pretending that someone in the room is not there because it’s the polite way to handle things. No impossibly tight soccer socks to tug over malleable toes and rubber ankles. No cleats to double knot. No Pokémon movies to attend. No Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, checkers or first-person-shooter games to play. No living-room-size battlefields of G.I. Joe figures and accessories to gather and put away. No jabbing my bare feet on tiny bayonets. No Airsoft pellets to worry about. No free throws to rebound. No need to visit the grocery store, planning dinner while rolling along the aisles. No dishes. No homework. No bargaining about bedtime. No standing by with my hands in my pockets, calling out wan encouragement as he scooters, skateboards or bikes down the huge hill outside our house; on several occasions he gets the wobbles midway and I feel my testicles spontaneously jerk upward—I don’t know if it’s ever happened to you, but it’s powerful. I read later that the phenomenon is part of the primitive fight-or-flight response, proof positive that fatherly love is something strong and physical that has you by the balls.

No sharp little fingernails digging holes into the top of my bald head during shoulder rides. No diaper genie to empty—I will never, ever forget that smell. No Dr. Seuss to read—Oh the places you’ll go. No day-long hip-hop showcases. No disappointment when my own favorite act seems so much better but does not win. No standing on the beach in an impotent panic as he paddles calmly out of a seizing rip current a distant quarter mile away, staying parallel to shore as he’d been taught—and had apparently learned. No blood to stanch when he slips playing one-on-one with me and face-plants on the asphalt—I hold him tightly; a blossom of red grows on my white T-shirt, removed from my back to meet his need.

No lunches to make. No avalanche of munchies in the pantry. No Cribs-inspired battalion of assorted drink bottles in the fridge. No trail of crumbs from the kitchen to his makeshift studio, where all the kids hung out. No spontaneous BBQ feasts. No large friends sleeping on the couch. No scuff marks on the hardwood floors. No dead bottles, candy wrappers or chip bags to be harvested. No supercute girls to pretend I don’t see. No raucous laughter. No happy competitive arguing. No canned crowd noise from whatever Xbox sports game is being contested; no ghost announcers making cogent comments. No kids giving me pounds, giving me dap, giving me man hugs, putting on their best Eddie Haskell: “Thank you, Mr. Sager.”

The clothes dryer, with its annoying trove of trapped coinage, stands eerily silent. The bamboo outside my window sways in the Pacific breeze; the hollow stems knock together, making the sound of an eerie marimba. It is Indian summer. My fingers ride the keyboard, clicka clack. A fan circulates, stirring the papers on the bulletin board at every pass. My nest is empty. The red second hand travels along the familiar white face of the schoolroom clock in my office. Tick tick tick….

We’ll see what happens next.


Mike Sager's new novel, High Tolerance, A Novel of Sex, Race, Celebrity, Murder . . . and Marijuana is available now on Amazon.

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