The Dutiful Husband
by Todd Smith
I walked in the back door of my house and heard the typical arcade hootenanny emanating up from the basement. My 10 year old son Murphy had his friend Silas over and the boys were hollering away as they played video games in their rambunctious after school delight. I sent a hello clattering down the steps to them and through the electronic tin their nonchalant Sup! Sup! response trickled back up. It was Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate those we love with gifts and flowers, and a sentiment that was completely lost on two rapscallion middle schoolers. I, the dutiful husband, was carrying a bouquet of fresh flowers for my wife Sarah and walked towards our living room to deposit the flowers in a vase.
Over the last couple of years, my wife Sarah and her father, a straight man’s Tim Gunn, have turned our living room into a picture perfect magazine layout. The room is now airy and bright, arty and elegant, a sanctuary away from the rest of the house that had been besieged by all of Murphy’s stuff. As Murphy has grown so has the seemingly endless barrage of his school supplies, books, electronics and sports equipment and all of it has now overrun our small Linden Hills home. But through this on-going plague of sticky clutter, the living room has remained an unspoiled hallowed ground.
I walked into the clean and crisp living room and noticed that everything was in its right place: There were two corresponding paintings on separate walls and they bookended the room; an elaborate display of pillows (that no one ever used) were strategically placed on a slate gray couch (that no one ever sat on); a faux animal hid was set just right under a handsome and finely polished table. I set the flowers in a silver vase and the arrangement burst out like a towering floral fireworks explosion.
Exiting the living room, I suddenly spied a red object placed underneath a chic blue chair in the corner of the room. The red item was hiding but clearly doing a poor job of it. Thinking it might be a secret Valentine’s Day gift, I excitedly walked over, reached down, grabbed the red object, and oddly discovered that it was a random pair of boy’s red underwear. This was a problem because 1.) The underwear was not my son’s and 2.) They were filled with poop.
I immediately recoiled, put the undies back, and gathered my wife Sarah because her perfect living room was now a crime scene. She came into the room, glanced over at the flowers, smiled, and lightly touched my wrist as a sign of appreciation. Then we both bent down by the blue chair like a pair of CSI detectives and examined the pair of dirty underwear.
“These are not our son’s underwear,” Sarah said with an unequivocal mother’s intuition. She straightened and then said, “These are Silas’. You have to call his parents.”
“Oh, no, not me, that’s totally you,” I snapped back.
I rejected Sarah’s suggestion because this was going to be, without a doubt, an extremely delicate conversation. Sarah needed to make the call because between us she’s the one with the naturally calm demeanor and a soothing voice that mixes the edelweiss sweet hum of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music with the hot buttered roll accent of Marge from Fargo. I, on the other hand, have a “dad tone” that is as blunt as Ron Swanson’s mustache. If mishandled, the potential fallout from this conversation would be a minefield of social awkwardness between our families that could last for years. After a round of debate on who was going to call Silas’ parents, Sarah deftly played her hand.
“Todd, you have to do this,” Sarah said, pausing ever so gently, “It is Valentine’s Day.”
So, on a day usually set aside for romantic tidings, my wife didn’t want chocolates or a candle lit bath or a nice night out at Tilia. All she truly wanted was for me to make a phone call to another parent about how their son defiled our living room.
I called Silas’ parents, a couple who I have known for years.
“Hey, Jenny, it’s Todd,” I said.
“How are you? Thanks for having Silas over today,” Jenny responded cheerily. “He had a great time.”
“That’s really nice to hear,” I said. “Um, so, Jenny, I don’t quite know how to ask this so I’m just going to just go ahead and ask it.”
“Does Silas wear red Hanes underwear?”
“Yes. Why?” Jenny replied, her words now pointy.
“Um…because he left them at our house today…in our living room…under a chair…full of poop.”
“Oh, god. What! Really?” Pause. “Oh god. What! Let me check with Silas. Silas? Silas!”
My phone filled with what sounded like a flock of angry parrots all squawking Silas’ name.
“Todd, can I call you back?”
Less than a minute later, my phone rang.
“Hey, Todd, it’s Jenny,” she said exasperatedly. She took a deep breath and then said, “Yes, my 11 year old son, an honor roll student, pooped his pants at your house and instead of coming home he took them off and threw them away. In your living room. Oh, god.”
“Don’t worry about it at all. Seriously. No worries.”
“And Todd,” Jenny said warmly, “If it makes a difference, Silas said he was having so much fun with Murphy that he didn’t want to stop the game they were playing to use the bathroom. He just tried to fart. You know the rest.”
To lighten the mood, to bring the spirit of the day full circle, I casually offered, “Oh, hey, and Jenny! Happy Valentine’s Day!”
“Oh, God,” she said.