The Way Forward

Across the kitchen island Cara said something but I ignored her and kept shoveling pasta into my mouth. She knew the rules.

“You make the best pasta sauce ever,” she repeated once her mouth was no longer full of food. “Tammy’s mom just uses some store bought stuff that tastes like tomato-flavored water.”

“It’s all about having the time to make things from scratch,” I reminded her. “I’m sure Tammy’s mother is a very busy woman.”

Cara shrugged, stuffed another forkful into her mouth and started to reply but my frown snapped her mouth closed. She chewed noisily while coming a little too close to glowering at me before trying again.

“I think she actually likes the way it tastes,” she said with a shudder. “So what about you – you gonna spend all your time cooking for us now? Maybe do a bit of knitting?”

I snorted and almost choked on my juice; Cara laughed so hard she almost fell off her chair.

“I always knew you’d be the death of me,” I muttered. “No knitting needles for this guy… but I am starting piano lessons next week.”

With only a small twinge of satisfaction I watched her struggle to avoid spitting her drink out.

“Seriously? Wow, you’re totally retiring just in time then – I knew all those punches couldn’t be good for your brain,” she finally managed. “But come on – what are you going to do with all your free time? I don’t want you to get bored or something.”

I took a long sip of juice and considered how I wanted to tell my daughter that a complete retirement was a long way away. I knew there was no point in lying to her, she was too smart for her own good – kind of like her old man I suppose. So I did it the way I did everything with her: truthfully, holding nothing back and trusting she could handle it.

“I can’t afford to retire quite yet kiddo. We’ll be okay for money for a little while, so don’t worry about that, but I just don’t have enough saved up at this point to spend my days in a rocking chair, smoking fine cigars and talking about the good old days.”

“So what are you going to do?” I swear that girl never missed a beat.

“That right there,” I told her with a smile and a shrug, “is the million dollar question.”

We finished our dinner in silence but I could almost hear her mind grinding away at the problem. I collected our dishes and carried them to the sink while my own thoughts fought furiously to find the way forward. I wasn’t scared - it was too early for that. I think it was more daunting than anything else. How many times in your life do you get the chance to make a change of that magnitude? And was I really ready to leave the ring behind?

“Well the first place to start,” Cara announced as I was scrubbing our forks, “would be the Employment Center on Broadway. You can talk to the people there to figure out what you’d be good at.”

“That sounds pretty good to me,” I told her over my shoulder, leaving my hands to soak in the steaming hot water. It did wonders for the pain in my knuckles. “How do you know about that place? You’re too young to have a job; you’re busy enough with school and your basketball team.”

“It wasn’t for me, Dad,” she sighed, struggling with the terrible burden of a thick-headed parent. “Mel’s father-in-law got laid off or something a couple of months ago and she told me he went there and they were super helpful. Besides, I’m not that young and school is totally easy.”

“Speaking of which, don’t you have homework to do?”

“Nope, all done!” I waited her out – she was an even worse liar than I was. “Okay, fine. But after I’m finished can we watch a movie?”

I told her that would be alright and she bolted out of the room to get her work done as quickly as possible. She’s a pretty smart kid, so it didn’t take long. When she emerged from her room she picked Shrek off the shelf, as I expected she would. We had probably already watched it twenty times by that point – Cara could recite almost all the dialogue by memory. But that time I held my tongue and let her put it in the DVD player without protest.

When you’re standing at the center of a whirlwind of change and uncertainty, familiarity can be a great comfort.

The End

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