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Fragility in Fatherhood This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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“I am afraid.” It’s the first time my father has ever said that to me. Kitchen, 10:47 p.m., he’s holding a spatula. I glance at my watch - the world isn’t going to wait for an apocalypse; it’s going to end in minutes. If my father is afraid, what more is there to go wrong?

“What scares you, Dad?” The words pop out one by one, thudding against each other and trying to scurry back beneath my tongue. The kitchen is my father’s, and he encompasses the oil burns and the shelves full of spices. I almost walk away. I can imagine the sound of scuffling footsteps and the awaited isolation after the door slams - angsty buzz to thicken the air between us.

“I’m turning 50.” The age of wisdom and halfway done if you’re lucky. The age of everything at once, with retirement unpacking its things a few doors down. The age of heart attacks and will to live.
“It’s just another year.” A step from decade to decade, year to year, day to day. Easier than his coffee-drowned sunrises - do I wish him happy birthday? The consolation of continuity, late nights are always red-rimmed, early mornings are always grouchy. 49 years of always waking up.

“I know. But one feels frailer, somehow.” In the invincibility of youth, fragility is for petals and the hardened shell of snow, not fathers. Only perceiving perpetuity, I open crusted eyes. He’s dreading the morning I spend without his stubble scarred kisses. Empty spice shelves and drawers stripped of their spatulas, there’s an unfilled space by the stove. I wish I had never spoken, that the question had found its refuge behind my teeth and stayed. I want to outrun his fears.

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