It’s three o’clock in the morning. I’m staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. I’ve brushed and flossed three times in the last fifteen minutes. I’m running out of Listerine—probably better off, it’s burning my tired gums.
My girlfriend is in the bedroom fast asleep. We know if the test is correct things will change. How so I haven’t any idea. A future of off-brand toilet paper and tuna, I assume. All the money I now spend on bike parts and beer will go to diapers and dental work.
I put another round of toothpaste on the brush. I think back to health education at Fawn Hallow Elementary. I remember the dentist who visited us during Mrs. Parmalee’s class in his long white coat and blue embroidered name—Dr. Rossborough. He held a gigantic purple toothbrush and matching fake teeth. He wouldn’t get off the subject of molars. He made it abundantly clear with slides on the overhead projector of the dangers of poor dental hygiene—yellow teeth or no teeth at all, and always with the bloody gums. I went home that day and brushed as fervently as I’m brushing now. Then, I did so from the fear of having a cavity. Now I do so from the fear of having a kid—with the fear of being a bad father. I brush not knowing if I’ll be able to teach him right from wrong. I brush not knowing if I’ll be able to teach him how to floss.
You know son, it might sound weird to be as proud of my cavity-free life as I am. But someday, when all your friends have mouths full of fillings, you’ll understand.
Surely my hypothetical, inquisitive son will immediately ask what a filling is. At which point I’ll hit my first roadblock as a father for I haven’t a clue. I just know most people have them and the dental community frowns upon them.
I’ll try to teach him the value of flossing. Though flossing now, as an adult with a fake kid, is still a pain in the ass. How I’ll convince him to do it is unknown. I could offer candy rewards but that seems counterproductive.
Will I have to floss his teeth for him? My parents never flossed my teeth for me. Then again, those nifty new flossing sticks never existed. Instead we were bought a roll of floss, 100 yards of Johnson and Johnson waxed mint. Which lasted four boys, three brothers and myself, the entirety of our grade school years—a total of 48 years on one roll. I never flossed growing up and though I turned out fine, my son will be half another human’s genetics so it couldn’t hurt to be extra cautious.
My son will brush well. I’ll teach him as much. His mother will tell me not to baby him. She’ll tell me it’s time for him to start brushing on his own but I’m not one to half-ass a job. That’s not actually true. I’m definitely one to half-ass a job, but I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt. Once I become a parent I’ll all of a sudden know how to finish things I’ve started and not at the last possible moment. Essentially, all my natural instincts will disappear. I’ll become a responsible human worthy of rearing another life form.
There he’ll be at the sink, brushing just like his old man. But his old man, though grown up and mature, still has a problem with Jr. brushing his teeth while talking about his penis like it’s a science experiment. Sure he has questions, he’s just a toddler, and I’ll answer them to the best of my ability even while I freak out internally. The fear that government cameras are spying on me to see if I raise my child along the strict guidelines of school and state will keep me on edge whenever my son’s penis is brought up in conversation. Otherwise I’d be more than happy to show the kid that no matter the effort, he’ll never be able move his testicals from their designated spots on either side of the scrotal sack as if they were Chinese massage marbles your grandparents brought back from the “Orient.”
I’ve never had a dog of my own because I don’t like waking up early on account of something else, yet I feel when it’s someone else I’ll be able to handle it. This is probably how most unqualified couples convince themselves they are mature enough to procreate and continue the species. But kids, though seemingly popular by census reports, sound more problematic than positive. How there are so many of them is beyond me. I’ve heard babies will wail as if plagued by locusts—that shadows can send them reeling. Can there really be so many defective condoms? Are people still convinced of the “pull out” method?
Then there’s my hypothetical son, an intellectual from an early age, willing to stifle his discontent and let the rest of the world go about its business. He’ll grow up with an air of confidence and mischief. At times he’ll challenge his father to games of chess and Risk until he’s so bored of beating me he’ll take up sports where my height alone might be enough to make the competition challenging.
Time will pass and my efforts to teach him to floss will have been as useless as my health teacher’s efforts to teach me to use condoms. Flossing is just too much work. There are too few hours in the day in which a kid is not at school or supposed to be in bed. How can a parent justify another minute spent wasted in front of a bathroom mirror? Scope is good enough, he’ll start arguing. Too exhausted from working all day to pay for the Scope, I’ll give in and let him go about his business. What that business is I won’t be told. By the time high school rolls around we’ll only talk when I have to leave work early, to the chagrin of my boss, so I can, ironically, take him to the dentist.
I’ll schedule his appointments in the afternoon so neither of us will have to go back to work or school. Before we go I’ll make sure he brushes and flosses. Dentists are some of the most judgmental people on the planet, I’ll tell him. They have no problem scolding or mocking you and we both get enough of that at work and school, right? Seeing as he’s a star football, baseball, and basketball player as well as a 4.0 student with little to no practice or studying, he doesn’t get along with his teachers and coaches, for they have little grounds to punish him on other than jealousy. After flossing, poorly no doubt, forgetting his molars entirely, we go to his appointment.
Afterwards, I’ll have my first fight with his dentist because he swears it’s absolutely necessary for my son to have his wisdom teeth removed.
As soon as possible. Let’s schedule an appointment now so we don’t forget. Don’t want to delay it any longer or there could be dire consequences.
I’ll ask for some reasons and the dentist will look confused.
Oh, a great deal. There are pamphlets in the lobby if you recall.
I’ll contend that people have simply forgotten their early teething years. When it happens again we are told to rip them out because it’s supposedly medically beneficial.
The dentist won’t like this one bit and will begin on my son. You don’t want braces do you? Statistics show teenagers with braces get fewer opportunities to lose their virginity.
Thinking about an upcoming ski trip, my son will freak out. When’s your next appointment, Doc? Can you fit me in this week?
It’s Friday, so the dentist suggests next Wednesday for X-rays, the following week for the extractions.
Annoyed that my own dental hygiene is being put into question – my son is half me after all – I’ll contend once again my son needn’t have his wisdom teeth removed.
Dad, leave it alone. If he says I need ‘em out, I need ‘em out. It’ll cut like a knife and I’ll finally realize what it’s like when your own flesh and blood betrays you. I’ll pray silently for God to forgive me from whatever wrongdoing I’ve done to cause my own son to disregard and disrespect me so. I’ll receive no answer. The appointment will be made.
Weeks later, I’ll abandon the church while my son eats applesauce and yogurt, and dreams of all the breasts he’ll soon grope while away on his ski trip. I’ve failed him. I’ve failed myself. My wife will ignore my pleas for another child, another try, another way to save my dental hygienic legacy. She won’t understand because she had her wisdom teeth removed as well, has several fillings, too. It’s all her fault, I’ll argue. It’ll get so bad we divorce. She’ll get the house. All I’ll get is the ceiling fans I never installed and a couple empty file cabinets from the basement. To save myself the heartache of facing my failure—my own hateful son—I’ll start working longer shifts to justify missed custody days.
I’ll cry on my commute, thinking about when he slam dunked for the first time. When he hit his first bottom of the ninth bases loaded home run, or scrambled off a ninety-nine yard QB sneak for a touchdown with just one second left in the game to win the state championship. I’ll continue the waterworks at my desk thinking about him conquering the world in Risk in mere minutes and calling checkmate before I could even move all my pawns. I’ll cry still when I picture him standing before the mirror, brushing his teeth and examining his penis, asking how big it could get. Depends on the size of their breasts, the deepness of their vagina, and the swell of their butt, my son. I could teach it all, I’ll reminisce, but I wasn’t good enough to teach him how to floss.
I make my way to bedroom. When I get under the covers, she stirs. When I wrap my arms around her, she sleeps. Her naval continues its never-ending tides under my hand. I can feel the little black hairs continue their directions to where it all began—to where it all begins. Through the wall I hear the crying of a child. Through the other, the barking of a dog, until I finally fall asleep with the resolve; I hope to never have any teeth but my own to look after.