For my Earthdad
Each time he comes home, his face changes. He is an old man at her birth, a youth at her third birthday party, and a fifty-something when he walks her to her first day of kindergarten. She hears the adults mutter about how Clare’s mother can’t keep a husband longer than a year, and Clare can barely suppress her giggles. You don’t get it. All those men—they’re all one husband.
She tells her second-grade class, My daddy is in space.
Oh, says the teacher. You mean he’s an astronaut.
What does that mean?
Someone who goes into outer space in a big rocket ship to explore the universe.
The next time he comes, he’s thirty with curly brown hair and she asks him why he doesn’t have a rocket ship like a real astronaut. “Astronaut” just means “star sailor,” Clare. You don’t have to sail the stars with science.
Then what do you sail them with?
He sticks his tongue out slightly. That’s for us to know and the rest to find out, eh, Clare-bear?
Clare curls up under his arm. He strokes her hair and watches the evening news, correcting the headlines under his breath.
Clare Young, please report to the office, your father is here.
At twelve, Clare’s not too old for her face to light up at the announcement. In the main office, she greets a bespectacled young man with an infectious grin. Hey, Dad, she says, trying to hide her excitement. She fails, miserably.
Hey, Clare-bear. Ready to fly?
They walk towards his car. She straps herself in the front seat and says, Where are we going? Or when? Ooh, is it the Roaring Twenties? Partying with the Fitzgeralds?
Not till you’re older. Turn twenty-one and we’ll talk. He bops her on the head. But you are thirteen now, and your mother promised me I could take you to the moon on your thirteenth birthday!
The moon? Seriously? Clare giggles. Then she stops. It’s my twelfth birthday. Not my thirteenth.
His eyes widen. Your mother is going to kill me.
You promised me the moon! No taking back!
He laughs. Okay, the moon it is. Hey, what’s a year in the life of a time-traveler?
If he notices her softening eyes, he doesn’t comment. Instead, he whisks her off to become the first woman on the moon and out for ice cream afterward, and she almost forgets what he’s said. Almost.
What do you think?
Cody Green stares at the paintings the seventeen-year-old Clare has covered her bedroom walls with. So these are all different ways you imagine your dad?
No, they’re all my dad. Just at different points in his life.
They look so different.
She shrugs. People change quick out in space.
Ah, says Cody. Is he some kind of… really lame… dad-alien? A whole species of dads?
He’s not an alien!
Cody grinned. That would make you half-alien.
Stop it! She swats a pillow at him. He’s not an alien! I’m not an alien!
That’s too bad. Cody leans in towards her. Because I find aliens incredibly hot. If those aliens, y’know, happen to be named Clare Young.
Clare grins and throws her arms around his neck. And I have a thing for Earth boys named Cody Green.
Clare, I’m home! He bounds into his daughter’s room just as she receives her first kiss. He stares at Cody. Cody’s eyes drift up to one of the paintings on the wall, then back to her dad’s angry face. Silently, all hell breaks loose.
So, the Roaring Twenties party at last, she says.
His hair is grey and his accent vaguely Scottish—heaven knows where he picked that up. She’s learned to stop asking him his age every time they meet. The sheer amount of time passed in between visits always gives her shivers. She used to think she had to wait longer, with him just popping in and out of her life at a moment’s notice. But nine months is nothing on a thousand years. Clare takes a sip of her diluted cocktail—once an overprotective dad, always an overprotective dad.
You are twenty-one, right?
Yeah. You got it right this time.
Good. He’s twirling his wedding ring around his finger and for the first time, Clare wonders if it’s her mother’s or not. Now, only one drink because you’re small, and no flirting with Ernest Hemingway. He’s not good enough for you.
He pauses, frowning. Cody Green?
Clare closes her eyes. We broke up, Dad.
Oh. He puts his arm around her. Oh, Clare-bear….
It’s okay. It was mutual. She takes a deep breath. Dunno what to do with all my paintings of him. One of them won an award.
I thought that was the digital one. Of all my faces shifting in and out. Brilliant, that one.
Uh, Dad? I haven’t painted that one yet. She smirks as he smacks his forehead with his palm. But thanks for the idea.
Taking out her sketchbook, Clare begins to draw the worry lines on her father’s latest face. His eyebrows settle into a protective mantle over his glacier-blue irises and for a moment, she knows that, whatever the world throws at her, she will always be safe, as long as those eyes are watching over her. He is her father, and will still be her father for a thousand years to come.