Image courtesy of Kyle Barrow
By Kyle Barrow
“How are we going to get into the house?” my daughter asks.
“We are going to walk,” I reply.
“With no shoes?!”
My sock-covered foot presses down on the accelerator as my temper rises.
Our shoes are in a plastic grocery bag in the hatchback of my car. Both pairs are covered in a thick layer of wet clay and dried weeds.
Hers are neon green, black, and modern looking. A young adult’s size 9. Mine are a boring primary red, blue, and white, an indicator that my fashion sense is deteriorating along with my eyesight.
She says they look like grandpa shoes.
We don’t say “accident” when we talk about her, no one tripped and got pregnant, but my daughter was not a planned conception. Her mother and I were friends that decided to be more, but more didn't work.
She is 11 now and she has been an inconsistent part of my life, not a full-time daughter. My initial contribution of gene code and predispositions have more to do with the person she is becoming than parenting. I am a nature father, not a nurture father.
Don't get me wrong, I love being a father, so much that I stood in front of a judge to demand shared custody. I work hard to maintain our relationship. I see her every two months for a week at a time, ten days in the summer.
Through the years we spent those days together explaining clouds and dueling with giants, painting in smocks and disguising kale in food, camping and screaming on roller coasters.
For the last year, my daughter and her mother have been sheltering in place under strict California mandates. We haven't been able to see each other for six months. We chose as parents to lock our child indoors for an entire year. For her safety and for ours.
As a result, she has entomophobia and germaphobia. She flinches at gnats and is terrified of surfaces that lack a chemical sheen, proof there are no bacteria or viruses present. Most days, she sits still in a chair, looking at the world through several different digital screens.
An hour earlier we attempted to hike into the Boise foothills. She hates the outdoors now, and I was asking her to step outside of her new comfort zone.
We drove to the trailhead and discovered that the recent rain had turned the trail into a series of muddy flumes. We walked less than fifty yards, turned around, and walked back to the car.
“You can’t wear those shoes in the car,” I said.
“Why not?!” she replied.
At 46 years old, I am quiet and introverted when I am frustrated.
I also have myopia. Shortsightedness.
I keep changing the font size on my monitor, moving books back and forth in front of my face, and switching between three pairs of glasses with different prescriptions to get through my day.
When I was younger than my daughter, I was attacked by a dog.
It seized my small head in its jaws and shook me. I don’t remember the attack. I remember the hospital afterward. The doctor used 26 sutures to rebuild my cheek and eyelid. The lacerations healed, but I was terrified of dogs for the next ten years.
Recently at my annual optometrists’ check up, they told me the attack had damaged my ocular muscles and that it was contributing to the natural degeneration of my vision.
So, I have a habit, during visitation, to impart all the knowledge a father can in seven to ten days, like a progressive shaman stuck on fast forward. I will drone on about overcoming fears, not settling for gender roles, the politicization of vaccinations, the derivation of religion, and blah, blah, blah. Everything I can do so my daughter is ready to face the world.
She doesn’t care about any of it. She wants to eat thick, green, mint Oreo shakes at midnight, watch Supergirl, and play games on her Switch away from mud and the virus that is ruining her life. She wants to feel safe. She wants to go inside.
But because of the trauma of my childhood, it is hard to see.
“With no shoes?!”
She waits for me to explain.
My suggestion that she walk across the parking lot, up three flights of stairs to my apartment, in her stocking feet, is unacceptable.
Her question infuriates me but I let go of the impulse to launch into a diatribe about building natural immunities. Instead, I park the car and shut off the engine.
I haven't been scared for most of the pandemic. I kept my mind busy. I enrolled in graduate school. I learned how to jump rope and play ukulele.
But now I am terrified that my daughter will spend the rest of her life trying to unravel the trauma that she has experienced.
Right now, her vision is limited.
“Why don’t we go for a walk?"
"In the park … on the sidewalk. It will knock the mud off our shoes.”
I catch her grimacing in the rear view mirror.
I remind myself that I am not afraid of dogs.
Our eyes connect.
Kyle Daniel Barrow is a writer, performer, producing director, and owner of 208FRINGE, an artistic production company. He is currently a graduate student in Boise State University’s Interdisciplinary Studies Master’s program concentrating on social sciences and creative nonfiction writing to explore content for immersive educational theatre. Kyle is a proud father.