I Your father’s on! Every Monday night my mother called me downstairs to sit before the television for Marketing on the Move! How many boys’ dads were trumpeted onto a stage, had their own theme music? My father put at ease the most prickly CEO, got the Federal Reserve Board chairman to chuckle, the president of General Motors and the UAW leader to swap stories. By show’s end, the Russian ambassador was showing pictures of his children to my dad. My father smiled at us from inside the box. He waved goodbye to thousands of homes. Like God, my father was often away doing business in another part of the world. Like the sun, he traveled to foreign places: Lisbon, Vienna, Istanbul, Cairo, Nairobi. I said the names of the cities over and over. That’s how I learned geography. I pressed against my father’s door for a glimpse of him, his exhaustion heroic like a warrior’s. In the morning, when he was gone again, I’d slip into his room, try on his boxer shorts, test his razor, reach under the covers and feel the hollow his body had left behind. II On his rare days home, my father liked to undress and lie down on the roof porch, his arms open wide, his legs spread as if making an x, a target, a location for the sun to concentrate all its energies: on the groin, the swarthy member nestled there on its flung-down sac as if it were the seat of the soul and my father were drawing light to it, all the light he could. What if I’d moved as quietly as the light did, eased out my window, across the roof? What if I’d knelt beside my father, run my hands across his exposed ribs, his long legs? I wanted to be as intimate as the light had been. Trace his thin calves, his ankles’ spidery veins, even his tired feet cocked to the side. Like someone blind, I wanted to read the line of my father’s jaw, the story of his mouth. III The summer I turned fifteen, my father, naked except for his slippers, began to appear at my bedroom door, pushing it open as if he had news that couldn’t wait till he was dressed. He’d stand next to my bed and stay till I glanced up. Time to get out of bed, he’d say, then pad off as if that was all he’d wanted to tell me. All day, I’d hate myself for even having thought of looking, lifting with my fingertips his penis, its drooping head like a flower I was simply tilting back to the light. IV In the dark of his side of the car, my father would start to say something, then stop. I’d hear him drawing in deep breaths, like those a diver takes just before going under. I wasn’t going to make anything easy for this man, comfortable with everyone but his son. What did he expect? That I’d feel a tug on the line and pull him up? Rescue him? I was used to wishing him dead. After years of distance between us, resentment was safer than hope for a young man, rage more respectable than confusion. I held to it. It was the one sure principle of my life. V What if my father and I had headed off together, just the two of us, on a trip that’d last so long it would finally exhaust all our silences and we’d begin talking so much it’d become natural for me to rest my hand on his arm to press a point home, punch his shoulder when he made a bad joke, nudge him when he started to get sleepy? Maybe I’d lift my hand to his face, graze the stubble of his cheek as if I were still a child who understood nothing except by touch. Maybe I’d lie down, nestle my head in his lap, curl my arm around his thigh. It is always then I imagine my father swerving, the car skidding, no guardrail able to stop us. Flung out of the car, we stagger onto a field of snow only to find under us a mirror breaking, a whole lake crumbling beneath our feet. Here is where the fantasy always leads. It is dark. We are alone, far from shore, sinking through the ice, arms flailing, going down, both of us crying out like brothers trying to save each other, borne under by each other’s weight, drowning in each other’s arms. VI Let go, I beg and uncurl my father’s fingers. He won’t drop his hand from the rail on his bed. Help me, I ask, and he does — finally — let me roll him to the side, loosen the tape of his briefs, loosen also with warm (but not too warm) water the dried fecal matter, wipe it from his inner thigh, peel back the scrotum, lifting and scrubbing (but not too hard), at each step rinsing the washcloth, draping it back around my fingers so I can probe through it the little purse mouth of the anus, the drowsy penis, every part of my father’s soiled loins. I do my best — and I guess it is OK, because my father falls back asleep. Hardly awake myself, I finish changing his diapers and, just as I used to with each of my infant sons, I kiss his brow — as close to the dreams there as I can get. A pretty ending, one might say of this goodnight kiss — except for the basin of muddied water, the smears that won’t wash off the sheets, not even with rubbing, every dark streak that refuses to be persuaded from the weave of my father’s blanket, from the soiled nightshirt I can’t pull off without waking him. I want all that touches my father to be spotless, to smell sweetly of vitamin-E cream and baby powder. I want my father immaculate, unstained. How can I go back to bed now, abandon him like this, all my work left incomplete? VII What do we expect of our fathers? That they make a final, legendary journey back, travel whatever distance they must to reach us, appear as ghosts in our new houses, sit by our beds, and speak in such a way that we at last can speak, too? Do we really hope that they might leave us at last with a kiss, and that kiss be so right it explains everything that confused us as children, each puzzling grief, each unfathomable longing? VIII For an entire week, when I was four and you and I were both afraid Mother was never going to be released from the hospital, at bedtime you led me to the window I loved best, Father, the one that opened like a door, and we looked up at the stars as if we had the power to reach them. You told me stories of a flying horse, swung me onto the back of Pegasus, and then pulled yourself up behind and wrapped your arms around me. We are crossing the burning floors of suns, you said. We are walking on beds of starlight. Don’t be afraid, son. We are riding bareback now on a horse with wings.