The Good Father
Looking for a wife, I decided to go to church.
I was proud of my intention to be a father. Fantasies of parenthood gave me a sense of belonging. Soon I would be among the mothers and fathers of the regular community. I would fit in as a parent. Whatever qualities I lacked currently might be acquired in the process of becoming “Daddy”.
Everywhere I went, I noticed pregnant women, but especially mothers with young children. Babies in particular gazed at me, as though I were a shiny object. Probably because I gazed at them with the same fascination. This happened most often waiting in line at grocery stores. Babies and small children reached as though to touch me. Vain of their attention, I considered myself superior raw material for parenthood. I was certain that infants were able to see beneath the surface of my character flaws to the core of the good father I was determined to be.
One Sunday, I showed up in a congregation of fundamental Baptists, silently reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I was prime material for seeing The Light, so long as it was shining in the direction I was already headed. To become a daddy seemed a righteous cause to me.
The church was a neat brick building, well placed on the mountainside, like a billboard advertising itself, topped off with a blazing white steeple. Coming to church, feeling somewhat ashamed of my tactical pursuit—being on the hunt for a female to breed with—I wore Presbyterian camouflage: a navy blue blazer, club tie, pleated khaki trousers, and a of pair shoes that cost as much as a refrigerator.
Into the rear of the sanctuary, I came and took a seat on the isle of an otherwise vacant pew.
Up in front on a low-rise stage, sat a piano and several rows of folding metal chairs. A heavyset man in shirtsleeves played the piano, banging away like a bricklayer. A pair of teenage girls sang a duet of Onward Christian Soldiers.
Young children ran up and down the center isle and rolled in the floor. Individual grow-ups circulated between groups. In total, the pews were sparsely populated. To give you an idea: I would estimate the church could have held two hundred. There were perhaps 50 people, with no apparent structure imposed on the gathering, no leadership evident but the piano player, and he did not have on a coat and tie.
Gradually everyone turned to have a look at me. All were friendly, welcoming, but overly impressed it seemed, by the expensive clothes and length of my hair, which was down to my shoulders. Maybe I looked like a visiting preacher from Nashville or Charlotte, a television evangelist; I was having a brilliant hair day.
I recited the Lord’s Prayer silently, listening inside myself to the bronze bells of the language.
One of the children came running up the isle with a paper flower, handed it to me and ran off. At that, I felt baptized.
I was wondering if I could just walk forward and introduce myself to a brunette with nice hair. She seemed to be single, probably she had a boyfriend, protecting his interests, and hers, not turning around to look at me again.
Just then, the piano player came down on a base chord.
All standing, the congregation began to sing, a quietly joyful noise; hardworking people devoted to family, responsible to each other, singing gospel for comfort. Listening, I felt myself relax; my intention: to discover a woman and get a family, was carried away on a palate of emotional foam rubber. I felt only the soft easy feeling of a safe place. I had come as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Internally, I was naked.
Through a tall window near the front of the church, on the east side of the building, flew a vaporous substance. I do not expect anyone in a position of public trust or authority to credit this statement, but I saw it. It flew the way a fish swims. The color was pale blue. Plasmatic, organic in appearance, something alive and aware. It elongated and swirled among the congregation; then flew across the sanctuary, disappearing through an opposite window. Then it was gone.
Evidently no one else saw it, nobody fell down writhing and speaking in tongues.
The people stopped singing.
Then suddenly, a small man in a dark suit came in through a door behind the altar. He had a fleshy round face, pinched eyes, and a big voice. He seemed certain that his voice was a gift from God, letting us have it—the gift—apparently believing his exceeded the value of lesser voices no matter what he said.
He exhorted us to bathe in blood, The Blood, The Blood!
His piercing, hateful gaze lighted on me repeatedly. I would not look away and satisfy his lust for guilt. We stared at each other down the length of the sanctuary, him self-righteous, me defiant and proud, both of us faking it.
I was guilty, and he was wrong.
My intentions were pure. I wanted a baby. I was never more determined to get anything. Was that a sin?