Can’t Judge A Book
Ray already has dinner on the stove when I get home. We hug and kiss. I hold onto him a long time, loving the solid feel of his muscles and the smell of his spicy soap. I change out of my lady attorney clothes into shorts and a t-shirt and pull my hair back into a pony tail. I’m leaving our bedroom when I hear our oldest daughter, Genna, her voice shrill, complaining, which hasn’t been a new thing since she turned fifteen.
“Why can’t you look like the other dads?”
I stand in the doorway to the kitchen where Ray stirs thick, rich marinara, the smell of garlic and caramelized onions thick in the air. Weariness hangs on his features. He is up at five every morning for his carpentry job and yet cooks almost as soon as he gets home after showering and winding down. He just raises an eyebrow at Genna.
“You’ve got that freakishly long beard and all those tattoos. None of the other dads look like that,” she says.
“Genna,” I say, my voice pointed and disapproving. I’m appalled. She’s always loved her father, always loved that he had her name tattooed on his bicep. Up until a year ago, she thought he hung the moon. He is the sweetest man on earth with his soft Tennessee accent and big heart, always doing Habitat for Humanity and building structures for the local animal rescue groups.
“Kaley thinks I’m adopted. How can you even be with him?” she asks me. “That beard is disgusting.”
Ray stops stirring and leans back against the counter his arms folded against his chest as if she has physically beaten him. My heart lurches. I tell myself this is just her being a teenager, a phase, and I look at him, hoping he knows that.
“I’m going over to Kaley’s for dinner,” Genna says.
“No. You aren’t. You’re apologizing to your father and then you’re going to your room. You’re handing over your phone,” I say .
“No,” she says. “I’m tired of being laughed at because the man who says he’s my father looks like some kind of motorcycle gang hillbilly. I hate him.”
“Let her go, Sara,” he says softly as he scoops up the newspaper from the table and places it in recycling.
I stare at him open-mouthed as Genna barrels past me, her shoulder nudging mine. I want him to stand up for himself, but I see a steeliness in his eyes that belies the softness of his tone.
“Come here,” he says. I go to him. He pulls me to him tightly and rests his chin on my head, my nose is buried against his shoulder. He sways gently, his palms rubbing over my back.
“I’m not hurt,” he says. “Well, maybe a little. But I know she’ll come around. She’s just going through a phase. Like you did.”
“Yeah, but my phase resulted in me living with you and being disowned by my family.”
“Aw, but they came around. Just like she will.”
“You’re a one in a million.”
“Thank god for that. The world can only have so many motorcycle gang hillbillies.”