He wakes up early, just as the sun is rising, to start making the waffles. Waffles he makes from scratch every single time, just like his pancakes, or his infamous chicken pot pie.
It’s a ritual he used to do weekly when the boys were little, teaching them to sift the flour just so, to beat the egg whites into soft peaks and to add the yolks later, folding it all together gently with care so as to not over work it. It is a ritual he falls back on today, even now when his younger son has nothing but grunts for him, stopping by the kitchen only long enough to scarf down the said waffles with indignation before he runs out of the door and into his car. A meal made with love, eaten by someone who could care less about it, swallowed without tasting, without making eye contact or talking to his dad, the maker of this handmade, delicious breakfast.
Personally, I think he is crazy. For getting up early. For putting so much energy into making something the grumpy teen won’t even notice. For making a food that is so commonplace in our household that it is now taken for granted and ignored, much as the father himself is dismissed.
But this is how John shows love. Every bite this ungrateful youth shovels into his mouth (as he watches a youtube video and snapchats with 6 people) is another ounce of love John packs into his son’s psyche unnoticed, a clandestine maneuver akin to parachuting into enemy territory in the middle of the night. It is the way John hopes to embed his deep and lasting connection to his kids, along with reading them the Lord of the Rings trilogy out loud, tickling them until they were exhausted, and telling he loves them every time he talks to them.
But now things have changed. The boys are grown and no longer are interested in being tickled, or often, in even having pancakes. As the years have passed they are less interested in talking with their dad about their lives, in sharing with him music they like or going with him for a walk.
Which one could say is pretty normal for teens. Except now the depth and breadth of the rejection has crossed the line from normal teen behavior into full scale alienation of their dad. Now weeks, months pass where they don’t answer the phone or call him. Neither now lives at our house or even wants to spend the night. Invites just to have to dinner - even for John’s birthday - are met with a simple text “I’m busy.” All the while they do have contact with others, eat dinner and spend the night, and all within a mile of our home.
Which is really, really, really painful.
I wonder constantly how we got here. How two people who care so deeply about the world, about community, about family, have now ended up with no one to call their own. How a man like John - a man who, as far as I can tell, was put on this earth to love - is now the target of so much anger and animosity? And how did I, a woman who sees herself as loving and kind, level-headed and fair, how did I end up in a position where I feel so deeply rejected so often? We have landed somehow in a place in which where “fairness” simply does not exist and nastiness is rewarded.
Maybe it is true what they say, that “nice guys finish last.” Maybe John’s passivity and mild manneredness, somewhere along the teen way was misinterpreted as dismissal, as not caring. But these behaviors were taught, this I know. Ignoring their father and speaking to him disrespectfully was modeled and reinforced over years and years. If we could just go back in time - oh if we could go back in time! - there are so many things we would try to do differently.
But the waffle ritual would remain the same. John would still make his pancakes from scratch, getting up before the boys do, to sift the flour and separate the eggs. He would still melt the butter onto the golden cakes while they are on the griddle, heat the plates (to keep the pancakes warm), and pour cold glasses of milk, all before waking his sons. Then boys would stumble out to the table, a bit smelly and hair messy with sleep. And they would eat. And there at the table John would still sit quietly and watch them take in his love bite by bite, hoping that in their cells, in their souls, with this act they will know how much he loves them. Even if they have been told to hang up on him or that it was ok to ignore him, even if they stop coming over or if the demands of their lives means they abandon him, as long as he is alive they will know he will always be there, ready to cook them pancakes.