A stay-at-home father whose own father has just died, struggling in his career, possible infidelity of his wife, her success as a big-time attorney, their son an odd child who isn’t fitting in at school and is instead regressing back toward babyhood…this father is asking: Is this what life means? Is this all there is?
My name is Logan Pyle. My father is dead, my wife is indifferent, and my son is strange. I’m thirty-six years old. My life is nothing like I thought it would be.
The three of us plus one dog, Jerry, live in my childhood home, a sweet and sturdy Craftsman-style bungalow on a quiet block in a tree-lined section of a small Western city that was until the end of the last ice age the bed of a glacial lake. We sit at the confluence of three rivers, two of which — the Clark Fork and the Blackfoot — come together just east of town. A few miles downstream they receive a third, the Bitterroot, and the three persist across the Idaho panhandle and into the great Northwest as one. The scenery — the natural world in general — gets a lot of attention here. We’re ringed on all sides by mountains, and the sugar maples that line our streets turn outrageous shades of red and orange and gold every fall.
“Where’s the blue, Jules?” I shout in the direction of the stairs. “It’s a blue day, but I only see red. Julie,” I shout once more. A sudden pain clutches at my spine. “Fuck. Four is too big to be carried,” I tell Owen, depositing him a little roughly on the bed. Right away, his thumb is in his mouth.
“You sure it’s blue?” asks Julie, rather dreamily, from downstairs.
“It’s the twentieth,” I shout back. “Odd, red, even, blue.”
“Four and three-quarters,” he says, showing me the fingers of his free hand.
“Exactly my point. Now come on. Take that thumb out and help me look.”
He frowns. “I don’t want to.”
“Julie,” I shout again. I give up on the top drawer and start in on the middle. “Sometimes in life we have to do things we don’t want to do,” I tell Owen. “It builds character.”
“What’s character?” he asks, around the thumb.
“Pardon? I can’t understand you with that thumb in the way.”
He takes the thumb out and says, “What’s character?” then pops it right back in. Flipping over, he buries his face in the pillow and sticks his rear end in the air.
“Sit up like a big kid, please,” I say.
He shakes his head, squeezes his eyes shut. “Shh. Baby sleeping.”
“Christ, Owen, now? We have to go.”
“Baby sleeping,” he says again. I sit down next to him and rest my hand on his rump.
He’s been carrying on this way for weeks now — “regressing,” according to one or another of the myriad parenting books Julie’s perpetually reading half of, then quoting to me. Besides the thumb, he’s gone back to the bottle and climbing into our bed in the middle of the night, and he even insists on wearing a diaper some days under his pants. And now and then he’ll slip into an odd, German-sounding baby talk it pains me to hear. Julie insists it’s normal, or at least common — “‘a phase many children experience,’” she read aloud to me last week, while we were getting ready for bed. “‘It’s incumbent that the parents of the distressed child recognize his or her behavior as expressing a critical emotional need and react accordingly,’” she said, laying the book down. “What that means is that we have to act like whatever Owen does is okay.”