“Hey kiddo, what’s the haps?”
Ten year old Ken looked at his father, Robert. He blinked back tears and looked out the car window. His mother watched from the doorway as the car idled in the driveway.
With a constricted voice he said, “I thought you were gone. Maybe I wouldn’t see you again.”
Robert embraced him. “I don’t know what made you think that. I’ll always be your father.” He took Ken by the shoulders. “Things change, Ken. Things always change. But rest easy. I’m your Dad and you’re my son.” Ken smiled shyly. “I have some errands to run. But the day is yours. What do you want to do?”
“I’ll ride shotgun, Dad. Let’s go.”
Robert backed down the driveway and pulled out. He turned onto the highway.
Ken felt he hadn’t seen his father in weeks. His mother insisted it had only been a few short days.
They passed a donut shop.
“Can we get a donut? They have really good ones.”
Robert smiled at his son. “I’ll run one errand first, kid. Then we’ll stop. Okay?”
“Okay.” They rode for a minute. “Hey, Dad? What will turn on you, no matter how good you treat it?”
Robert watched the road. “Hmmm. Give me a hint.”
“You mean the answer?”
Robert nodded. “Sure…”
“Okay, I give up.”
“A steering wheel!” Ken burst into hilarious laughter.
Robert chuckled. “You made that up? Good turn of phrase, kiddo.” He winked.
Ken grinned. “Donut shop…”
“Errand first, remember?”
Ken nodded and watched it recede. The smell of fresh donuts filled the air.
Robert cleared his throat. “You know, Ken. What I said, before? It isn’t anyone’s fault. People change. Whatever the agreement… when things change, people adapt.”
Ken nodded. “Are you divorcing Mom?”
Robert took his time. “I don’t know. But don’t worry about it. People get divorced all the time.”
“None of my friend’s parents divorced.”
Robert frowned. “I find that hard to believe. Knowing some of them… makes no sense they were ever together.”
“But what happens?”
“You’ll be fine. We all will. How old are you, nine?”
“Well, plenty of time for… I hope you never have to….”
“Well, in business, people have contracts. They promise to deliver goods in exchange for money. If a guy doesn’t deliver, or the other doesn’t pay… ”
“You mean they lie?”
“I’m not talking about something that simple. No one’s calling anyone a liar, Ken. It’s more complicated…” Robert focused on traffic and slowed for a light. “Look, you play baseball…?” Ken nodded. “So there you are. Strategies change. And everyone adjusts for the better of the game, and the team.”
“Charlie promised to make me pitcher, and then he put me in the outfield. He lied.”
“So… What did you do?”
“I didn’t quit, if that’s what you mean. I told him what I thought and played my position.”
A speeding car passed them on the right and cut him off.
Robert wrenched the wheel and slammed his brakes. Despite the seatbelts, he reached to protect Ken. He pounded on the horn and yelled. Profanities filled the car. Ken covered his ears.
Horn blaring, the other car sped away.
Robert’s cell phone rang. He signaled for silence. “Listen and learn…” He sighed and picked up the call. “George! I’m on my way. Some guy tried to run me off the road.”
Their conversation continued about things Ken didn’t understand. Business stuff. His father alternated between his stern voice, and laughing.
They passed a donut shop, but Ken remained silent. Robert signed off and muttered something.
“What do you do? For work, I mean.”
“I’m what’s known as a middle-man. I buy equipment from distributors and get them to customers. That was George. A builder.”
“I want to be a dictator.”
“A what?” Robert chuckled.
“You know, the guy in the office who says to the secretary, ‘Mary, take a dictation…’”
He nodded. “Oh, you mean the ‘manager.’ A ‘dictator’ is different.”
He turned onto a bumpy dirt road leading to a construction site. Big machines moved about the skeleton of a big, new building. A dump truck drove by a sign reading ‘Hard Hats Must Be Worn.’ To Ken, it looked like chaos, great for exploring.
Robert parked the car and got out. “Stay put. I’ll only be a minute.” He approached a man wearing a hard hat, and carrying a clipboard. They nodded while pointing at the building.
Ken didn’t think they were angry, but they gestured a lot. While his father spoke, the man bit a donut. He waved his donut hand at the building. His father pointed to his watch and they shook hands. Ken’s father walked back to the car over the rough terrain.
“Whew! That wasn’t so bad. Lunch time.” Robert started the car.
“I want a donut. You said…”
“It’s time for lunch, kid. You know what your mother...”
Ken stared straight ahead. “The only thing I wanted was a freakin’ donut. You promised, Dad.”
“We passed a bunch, but you just keep driving. You don’t listen. You promise but go on and do whatever…”
“You’ll see it isn’t so simple when you grow up a bit.” Ken was not mollified. Robert set his jaw. “Okay… Next stop, donut shop.”
Ken pointed, “There’s one.”
Robert hesitated, “I don’t know that one. There’s a better one, up a ways.”
“It’s a donut, Dad…”
Robert wrenched the wheel and pulled into the lot. He sighed and left the engine idling as they sat. Ken began to fidget. ‘Now what?’
Robert pulled out his wallet and handed Ken a twenty, paused, and pulled another.
“You’re right, Ken. I’m sorry I don’t listen sometimes. Get a dozen. Whatever you like.” Ken’s eyes widened. “And get me a large coffee too. Black.”
Ken clutched the money and opened his door. He turned back to his father. “Come with, Dad. It’ll be more fun.”
Robert smiled at his son and cut the engine.
They walked into the donut shop. “What’s your favorite, Dad? You like sprinkles? I always thought they’re over-rated.”
“I’m more of a Bismarck man. You know, with the custard?”
“Oh, yeah! And chocolate on top!”
Robert sat at a table. “Go ahead. Get me a Bismarck and a coffee. The rest are yours.”
Ken studied the display case. He needed to choose carefully. His father watched. They smiled.
He brought his Dad the Bismarck and coffee and returned to the wide variety. The plain cake and a double chocolate were simple choices. He eyed a Bismarck but held off. An apple turnover beat out the fritter.
“Do I have to eat them all now?”
Robert laughed. “Do what you want. You don’t ‘have to’ anything.”
Ken ordered the last chocolate with coconut topping. He committed to the Bismarck and a hot chocolate to wash it down.
The woman rang up the total and Ken paid. He brought the box to the table and gave Robert the change.
“I commend you on your fine selection, your discernment, and self-restraint, Ken. Sure you don’t want that éclair? I hear it calling.”
Ken declined. He’d decided. “They had only one coconut left. My favorite.”
They tapped their Styrofoam cups and drank.
“Thanks, Dad. This is great. You want another?”
Robert smiled. He reached for the donut with coconut topping.
“Dad! No! That’s mine. You don’t listen!”