Last night I spent the better part of an hour searching for Buzz Lightyear in the tall grass alongside the river. Against my advice, H. had lugged an unseeingly number of toys to the outdoor concert earlier that evening, and after we returned home, we unpacked the toys to find that Buzz was no longer among the others.
Of course, this was hardly the first time a toy had gone missing, but given Buzz’s cinematic history, I didn’t want to miss my chance to watch Toy Story 4 play out before my eyes. And so, I drove back to that park—now empty aside from the bands of 20-year-olds passing bottles of Boone’s Farm—and did a full sweep of the area.
I found no Buzz, just an expensive pair of sunglasses, which I left conspicuously on a nearby rock in case the former owner found herself sweeping the area later that night.
But on my drive home—just as I began to think Toy Story 4 was going to be a real downer—I received a call from my wife informing me that a friend of ours had snagged him, that we could retrieve ol' Buzz the following day. Friend, I was no hero that night, but at least I tried to be.
In Stephanie G’Schwind’s anthology, Man in the Moon, contributors offer their own versions of the failed heroics of fatherhood. Though on occasion, we’re left reading about failed fathers more generally. It so easy for fathers to fail, especially when children often begin their lives with such high opinions of them. Though as some essays prove, this isn’t always the case.
One particular essay that stuck out is Carole Firstman’s “Liminal Scorpions,” which begins with the unforgettable line: “I recently found a scorpion on my father’s desk, which I have since stolen.” The essay goes on to recount Firstman’s efforts to pack up a few key belongings for her ailing father, who has taken a trip to Mexico and decided he’d like to die there. Firstman’s father is hardly likeable (case and point: he demanded his wife and newborn daughter live in an army tent in the backyard when her baby noises became “too much of a distraction for him”); nevertheless, Firstman—now grown—gives her father his due, dutifully jotting down his requests and sending the items.
The scorpion comes into play because Firstman’s father was a specialist in arachnids, at one point amassing “at least a thousand jars…” Firstman describes both the cruelty of his collection, as well as the care with which he studied them. “By decomposing, they would have become part of the soil, thus contributing to the next cycle of life. But preserved, they inhabited a space somewhere between life and death.” Firstman’s depiction of her father serves as another form of preservation—for better or worse.
Long story short, my inability to find Buzz will surely cost me Father Of the Year. Though in truth, any number of past transgressions might’ve already cost me the prize. But as all of the essays in G’Schwind’s anthology confirm, perfect fathers are rarely worth writing about.
I like to think that relationships between parents and children thrive in these moments of folly. But having once served as the child in the relationship, I also know that folly can stunt the growth before allowing for the bloom.
You’ll know all of this in a couple of weeks, dear Friend, when you become the father. Good luck. I'll send good vibes your way.