Almost Handsome

Standing in front of the mirror in our downstairs bathroom, I don’t like what I see. The man staring back at me looks perpetually fatigued, large purplish bags under each eye. The hairline higher than ever, compounded with a mess of thin hair matted to the top of my head.  And the color – God, how pale I look, as though I’d never seen the sun. The harsh fluorescent light from the bathroom casting ghastly shadows across my face.  My unwashed hair and unshaven face make my look older than forty-five.  With several more days of neglected hygiene, I could pass for homeless.

 

“God, I look awful – I never look like I get enough sleep” which, in truth, I haven’t.  Not for the last several years at least.  Countless nights of sleeplessness with my son. If he gets, then I get up - except he could fall back to sleep. Once I was aroused, my mind wouldn’t let me go back to sleep, images flashing of what I would or need to do at work and at home, the imminent tasks dialed up in their gravity.  Don’t forget about that deadline. You’ve got a big meeting coming up and you haven’t even prepared yet.  And when will you file your taxes? C’mon, man –it’s already March”.

“You look fine…” Jen says with genuine sincerity. “Are you having a moment?........’

“I don’t know who this guy is in the mirror, but he’s starting to look like my Dad”, I say flushed. “When did this happen? When did I start to look like this guy?’ I worry that my tone seems to be soliciting for a compliment.  I don’t want to become that guy – the guy that needs constant ego strokes from their spouse.

“Oh my God, the drama……” Jen says throwing her hands in the air. “Just the other day you looked fantastic. Remember when you went with us to drop Vaughn at school and you stayed for morning prayer?”

“Yeahhhh…..”

“The other Moms talked with me after how good you looked, all dressed up for work. In fact, one of them said you were almost handsome…….”

‘Wait……what?..........almost handsome? What does that mean?”

Though it sounded like a compliment, it wasn’t. Almost handsome – no guy wants to hear that they’re almost handsome. No woman wants to be told she is “almost” beautiful. No musician wants to be told they’re “almost” talented.  No business person wants to be told they “almost” got that promotion.

“You know what I meannnnnn……” Jen says, drawing out the word “mean” for a full two seconds.

“Wait, almost handsome?…”

“I’m just paraphrasing. That’s not exactly how she said it…”

“I guess that’s what I can aspire to……….almost handsome”.

“Oh, man. Now I wish I’d never said it. You’re not getting the context of how she said it…..”

I sit down on the couch of our family room, absently grabbing both the remote and the tablet. When I gaze into the tablet, I can make out my own reflection in the opaque background. I see a distorted reflection of what I just saw in the mirror. The tablet gets tossed aside quickly.

Vaughn sprints into the family room.  He has been up in his room, drawing. He shows me the sheet of paper, which outlines all of the stats from a fictitious football game he just imagined – New England Patriots vs. Jacksonville Jaguars. The paper is lined with the Patriots players on the left, and then a grid of all the statistics from the game. This is Vaughn’s latest thing - telling me the story of a game through stats he’s made up. He delights in sharing Tom Brady’s QB rating, the teams total rushing yards, receiving yards, turnovers.  His eyes light up as he tells the story of the game.

“Okay, you can see that Edelman did not have a good game, only 44 yards. Can you guess why?”

“Was he double-teamed?”

“You’re right!” That’s why Amendola has so many yards – 88”.

I’m not so interested in the story of the game, as much as I am pulled in by Vaughn’s recounting of it.  His eyes flash with excitement, the pitch of his voice going up and down, much like a sports commentator.  He points to numbers on the page and pleadingly looks into my eyes, asking me to interpret the numbers.  When I am right about the interpretation, he smiles.  When I am wrong about the interpretation, he grins even more broadly, the smile taking up the whole bottom half of his face, and giggles at having fooled his Dad.  Sitting close to me on the couch, I can take in every feature.  He looks so much like me. The blue eyes that squint when he smiles, the high hairline, even the sloping chin.  I appreciate this distraction from my moment of insecurity.

“Hey, Vaughn, guess what?”

“What?.....”

“I love you.”

Vaughn pauses and looks down at his sheet of paper.

“Okay………..let’s look at Gronkoswki’s stats. What do you see? How do you think he played?”.

I don’t even flinch after Vaughn’s abrupt re-direct, because I’ve learned a lesson. Your children don’t care how you look.  They want your attention, for whatever it is in that moment.  We can fall into an insatiable drive for unachievable perfection - we cannot bear to be almost talented, almost achieving, almost worthy, almost hitting our goals, or almost handsome.  But we are not almost with our children.  We are enough; we are more than enough. This boy’s eyes light up when he talks about the Patriots with me. This is the boy who stands at the top of the basement stairs, waiting for me to come home from work.  I can see his shins through the cat door as I make my way up the stairs.  The boy who can’t wait for you to come home and kiss you face-to-face as you stand on the third to last step, because you are not almost..............you are enough.

Almost Handsome

© 2019 by Paul Carroll