We were sitting at a park bench eating burgers and fries after I helped Ryder with his pitching skills. I’d always been athletic and had played football and baseball in school. My son had natural abilities like I did, and I looked forward to more days like this of showing him all that I know. He really was an amazing kid, and we’d bonded like we had been always in each other’s world. Royalty had done a damn good job with him without much support beyond Raini.


My heart still ached every time I even thought of her, which was every single fucking moment. I wanted to be with her, yet guilt, pride, stubbornness, and resentment prevented me from reaching out to her. She didn’t reach out either, only texting me regarding Ryder. Co-parenting had been easy despite our failed attempt at a relationship.

Still chomping on his burger, Ryder asked, “Did you ever love my mother?”

“Finish what’s in your mouth before speaking.”

He quickly chewed and swallowed. “Did you?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Don’t most kids want their parents to love each other?”

I nodded. “In a perfect world, children would grow up in a healthy, loving, two-parent households.” I threw my hamburger wrapper in the trash and downed the rest of my lemonade before asking, “Would you like us to be together?”

“I know I was angry and said some mean things when I saw you and mama…together.”

I grimaced. “No need to rehash. I was there.”

“But as happy as I am that you’re my dad, and I get to see you all the time, my mom always seems so sad and whenever I leave to be with you. I don’t ever remember her being sad before. She’s always been happy, and if she was mad it was about work or something I did, but never sad. I think it has something to do with you.”

Hating the image of a sad Royalty, I blocked the thought by picking up and emptying his trash. “It’s complicated, Ryder.”

“Answering whether you love Mama or not is not a complicated question.”

“That’s between her and me.”

He grabbed his mitt and stood up. “I thought you would be different than Mama.”

I looked at him. “What are you talking about?”

“That day we met, you treated me like what I said mattered. You didn’t treat me like a child.”

“Your voice matters, but you’re still a child, Ryder.”

“I don’t feel like one most days. I’ve had to get myself up most mornings since I was five because Mama either had to go to an early meeting or had trouble waking up because she stayed up late working. She taught me how to wash dishes, clean, and cook by the time I was in second grade so I can help around the house. I even write grocery lists and have them delivered because she’s always on the grind, trying to make a better life for us. I do all these responsible things that kids my age don’t ever have to do, and the minute I say or do something she doesn’t like, I’m a little boy again. Just because you’re my dad now doesn’t mean you have to treat me like your child, too.”

I firmly tapped the table, indicating he should retake his seat. When he did, I said, “I love your mother, more than I’ve ever loved another woman. I even loved her back when we met, though she doesn’t believe me.”

“That’s because you were married. Why would she believe you?”

“She told you that?”

“She didn’t want to at first, but I was mad at her because I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t tell you about me. She finally told me you didn’t know about me because she found out you were married.”

“Look, what I did wasn’t right. I shouldn’t have cheated on my ex-wife.”

His face fell. “So, you do wish I didn’t exist.”

I rushed to his side and pulled him up and hugged him tightly. “No, son. I am so grateful for you. I thank God every day for you, grateful that even though I did wrong, somehow God still blessed me with you.” I looked down into his innocent face with his mother’s eyes. “I’m new to being a father, and I don’t want to mess up with you. No matter how much you or I fu…mess up, I could never stop wanting or loving you. I am so happy that you’re in my life.”

He stepped back from my embrace. “You say you love my mother, but you stopped wanting to be with her?”

“The reason I’m not with your mother now is because she kept you from me. I’m having a hard time forgiving all the many moments I missed in your life. Yes, I was married when I met your mother, and she didn’t know. Love between a man and a woman, is different than love between a parent and child. My love and your mama’s love for you is unconditional.”

“It shouldn’t be different. Love is love.” Ryder argued, “If you can love me unconditionally no matter what I do then you can love Mama the same way.”

Realizing he had a point I rubbed his head playfully. “You know you would make a good lawyer one day?”

“Well I do have the law on both sides of my DNA.” He smiled as he bent to pick up his ball.

When he straightened, I placed my hand on his shoulder. “I do want to say this, from now on I will do my best to talk to you man to young man and when you’re older, man to man. I want you to be better than me and respect the women in your life. You’re a Toussaint, and you’re going to have your pick of women as you get older. Be honest with whoever you choose to date. If you like several women then date them, just don’t lie and pretend she is the only one. It might seem like fun or exciting that you have these women or in your case girls trying to be with you but remember that every woman you hurt is someone’s sister or mother. I hurt your mother deeply with my lies of omission and she didn’t trust me with the truth. And now I feel guilt and pain that she had to raise you all alone. That you had to do things I didn’t have to do until I was so much older because I did have both of my parents. God still loved me through my sins and blessed me with you despite my ill behavior, but I missed years of being with you because of it. I don’t want the same for you. And I will do everything in my power to be a good role model, be the kind of father you need.” I grabbed him to me again.

Ryder patted my back. “Alright, Daddy, I can’t breathe.”

I put him in a headlock. “Better get used to it. I’m not your mama. If I want to hug my son, I will.”

He somehow managed to slip from my grasp and laughed. “I get it, you love me. I love you, too.”

Ryder then knocked the cap off my head and took off running. I charged after him, loving this new stage in my life. Fatherhood.

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