Universal debt

Like his father before him, Chris Hunt gladly makes sacrifices for his son

It was the black hours of the early morning and I was shivering. Beside me, wrapped warmly in the blankets he’d ripped from me only moments before, was my son. He was asleep. Finally. He’d had a nightmare around midnight, likely bred from mild anxiety about returning to school after the winter break. 

His mother had gotten up with him then. Four hours and a shrill shriek for his daddy later, it was my turn. 

I knew sleep wouldn’t come, so I just lay there and mused that he’d better appreciate his parents.

He didn’t. Later that day, he’d kick his mother and call us names because he didn’t want to do his homework.

Little did I know that I was just beginning to pay a debt I’d been carrying around for decades.

I must have been in my early teens. I was peering out my front door waiting for my father to come home. I couldn’t stop pacing.

My friends had invited me out and my father had gone to get money so I could go. I remember boiling with fury as I glared through my own unkempt reflection into the street. He’d been gone, in my opinion, far too long. I had a life I had to get to living and I couldn’t suffer waiting for it to be subsidized.

When he finally arrived, I held out my hand and glowered. At his feet.  My dad was probably the most masculine man I’ve ever met. Even drunk on teenage angst I was still intimidated by him.

He gave me two twenties, which I snatched rather angrily. He noticed. He then took off his belt and gave it to me.

We didn’t have much growing up. The one belt between us was all we could afford. The money he gave to me that day was the sum of everything he had. 

My dad worked hard his entire life, holding down horrible jobs with meagre pay to feed a large family. My siblings and I seldom went without, but he and my mother saw too many days without eating enough so that their children could. 

That’s why his belt could fit a slight teen all those years ago. 

I didn’t say thank you that day. I never told him I appreciated it. Because at the time, I didn’t.

In fact, the first and only time I told my father I loved him was in his palliative care unit. Just after he passed. I had a lifetime of chances to tell him, but I never did.

Fast forward two eventful decades and there I was, sitting in a hospital with my baby boy in my arms. I knew everything I wanted for my life wasn’t going to happen.

Before I found out I was going to be a father I was working towards becoming a travel writer.  I’d always wanted to see the wonders of the world, and writing was something I was always reasonably competent at. 

But with fatherhood looming I had to make a choice. Do I follow my passion, which would see me away for extended periods of time, or do I settle down?

There wasn’t really a choice.

I traded my pen for a punch card. I took a full-time position in a mailroom and a part-time job in a hospital where one of my responsibilities was to bring bodily waste to a lab. 

The hours where horrible, the work brutal and thankless. But at least there was food on the table and a roof over my son’s head. 

I have no regrets. I gladly mortgaged my future to lay the foundation for his. Because that’s what you do for your kids. You fight for them, sacrifice for them. And you do it quietly, often with no thanks because you realize they won’t ever appreciate it until they become parents themselves.

It’s the universal debt, and it’s the one tab I don’t mind hanging over my head.