About a month ago Mel responded to a query on Facebook asking if anyone wanted a free sofa. It was from friends of ours in town, who graciously dropped the sofa off at our home. I have to assume that it looked better in the photo, because once it was in the garage I could tell that it wasn’t any better than the sofa we already had. I decided I didn’t really want the sofa in the house, and was planning to take it to Goodwill.
But like most fathers I didn’t get around to taking it for a good month. During that time, Tristan (my seven-year-old) discovered the sofa and began spending a lot of time lounging on it. I found him out in the dusty, hot garage, stretched out on the blue beat-up sofa, playing his Nintendo DS, or just looking up at the ceiling. Sometimes he and his friends opened the garage door and hung out on the sofa.
Suddenly our garage became this bachelor pad for little boys talking about Pokémon, roller blades, and farts.
So when I said, “I need you to help me take this sofa to Goodwill,” Tristan nearly shit himself. He cried. He screamed at me. He called me mean. Eventually, he hopped on the sofa, sprawled out, and kept repeating, “no.”
The truck was all backed up, and my plan was to lift the sofa into the truck myself, which was difficult anyway, but an extra 50lbs of little boy made it all the more difficult.
“Dude,” I said. “I know you love this thing, but it’s going. I don’t know what else to say.”
Norah, my-four-year old, started to get involved. “I’ll help you move it!”
She started tugging on Tristan’s leg. “Tristan! Get off. Stop being a butt face!”
Tristan started screaming, “Stop it, Norah! Stop it!”
He was full-on crying now. Then he started kicking at his sister, and so she started crying.
This small project suddenly had become a huge ordeal.
I had my reasons for getting rid of the stupid thing. We have a small garage. Our Mazda Protégée (a compact sedan) hardly fits in there without the sofa, but with it, Mel was struggling to get the baby in and out of the car. She wanted it gone. There was also the fact that I’d just spent several days building shelves and organizing the garage, and a beat-up sofa was really taking away from all my hard work. But mostly, it just looked trashy.
On the street adjacent to us was a house with a sofa in the garage. Every time we walked past that house there was always a group of three 20-somethings sitting on it with the garage door open. Most of the time they weren’t wearing shirts, but if they were, the shirts usually didn’t have sleeves. They were always drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, and dropping F-bombs. A vehicle was always parked on the lawn, and there were always random garbage and car parts scattered about the yard.
They were our trashy neighbors.
Buying a house was a huge accomplishment for me. It took years of college, hard work, and scrimping and saving to save up a down payment. It took us a year just to get a loan approved. Now that I have a home, I want it to look nice. I want it to be respectable. The sofa became this irritating thing that made me feel like I was stepping away from my goal.
Eventually I got frustrated enough to lift one end of the sofa into the truck myself, and then lift the other end, and slid it in. Tristan was a passenger the whole time. Once he was in the truck, and still sitting on the sofa, he stood up, crawled down the side of the pickup, and ran into the house, crying.
The whole way to the Goodwill I questioned myself. I wondered if I was letting my own worries and judgment of others keep Tristan from his own little space. In hindsight it really didn’t matter if the sofa stayed in there. It was a small inconvenience on our part, to give Tristan his own little place to hang out. Like I often do, I allowed my own convictions and fears govern my actions, and I followed through with donating the sofa.
Once I got back, Mel told me that Tristan was in his room crying. She offered to set up some camp chairs in the garage for him and his friends, but it didn’t work. “He’s becoming such a little preteen,” she said. “I didn’t know this happened so early.”
I went into his room. Tristan was on his bed, his face buried into his gorilla Pillow Pet.
I leaned next to his footboard, folded my arms, and said, “When I was ten years old or so, my father had an old sofa on his porch. I didn’t live with him, but sometimes I visited. Not often, but sometimes. My stepsister and me would hang out on the sofa. We thought it was amazing. We’d look at cars driving by. Make fun of the drivers. It was our own little space. One time I came back to my Dad’s, and the sofa was gone. I was really mad at him for it. At the time, I hated him for getting rid of it. But now, I understand why he did it. The sofa looked ridiculous. It needed to go. It was just something that had to happen. Sometimes that happens in life.”
I paused for a moment. Tristan looked up at me. He wasn’t crying anymore.
“I guess what I’m trying to say is, I get what you are going through right now. I’m sorry I had to get rid of the sofa. I hope you can forgive me.”
He didn’t say anything. He didn’t give me a hug. But he did get up and walk into the living room. And within a few hours, he seemed to be over it. I don’t know if what I said really turned the tide. Perhaps he just finally accepted that the sofa was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. But what I like to think is that we had a moment. That what I said helped him to know that I understood what he was going through.
When I think back on this experience, I realize that so often my decisions are more of a reflection of myself trying to impose my values, my biases, my own fears and lessons from my past on my family. I make a lot of knee-jerk decisions because I don’t want to look a certain way, or I want to distance myself from particular groups of people. I rarely think this deeply in the moment, but I wish I did. I think it would help me to make better decisions.
Long story short, if I were to go back and do this all over again, I’d have left the sofa. I’d have moved it to the back of the garage perhaps, but I would’ve left it for Tristan because he found value in it, and I needed to respect that.
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley