Written By: john  Meyer

FATHERHOOD By John Meyer East Hampton The boy couldn’t have been more than ten. Latino kid, with the big, limpid brown eyes. Reminded me of Bobby Blake in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the young Mexican selling lottery tickets that Bogart throws water on. Standing behind me in line at the One-Stop Market deli in East Hampton with his dad. Dad is one of the many laborers in the area, with the tan Frye boots, the dusty jeans, the hammer hanging from his tool-belt. I’d bet he’s got a truck parked outside. “Manuel,” I hear him say, “take these, get us a paper.” His English carries a distinct Spanish accent. “Si, Papa,” the kid responds, and his father immediately corrects him: “Ingles, Manuel, we speak English now.” He wants his boy to assimilate; this is his new home, the U S of A. Now I’m interested. I half-turn to observe them. Dad is giving his boy a dollar and a quarter. He doesn’t need to do this, he could pay for the paper when he settles up for the sandwiches. But I’m guessing he wants Manuel to learn the value of money. American money. The boy ducks from the line and moves to the selection of papers laid out side-by-side below the sandwich counter. It’s a loud display: there’s the Daily News, The New York Post, the Times…and El Diario. All but the Times are shrieking their bold headlines with color pictures: the feature story in The News concerns a potential transit strike, the Post details Lindsay Lohan’s latest DUI charge, complete with a mug-shot of Lindsay who is showing more than a fair amount of skin. The kid pauses before El Diario. This is the one he can read, but he knows he can’t bring this one back. He’s been commissioned to get the paper that speaks English, the language of his adopted country, this great land of opportunity. What ambition does his father hold for him, I wonder, watching Manuel bounce with indecision on his scuffed Nikes. Doesn’t want him cleaning pools or climbing the crane to cut tree-branches after the hurricane. Would he like the kid to run his own pool-cleaning company? Or go to law school and become an assistant DA? Maybe even run for office? My father never had that kind of ambition for me. Now Manuel is drawn to the garish covers of the News and the Post: both these papers scream Tabloid, Wuxtry, getcher schlock tabloid right here, only a buck twenty-five. I’m watching this kid’s indecision as he hesitates over his choice…and I feel something move me: here’s a young mind, a blank canvas ready to receive impressions. What he learns now, at ten, will color his whole life. Impulsively, I reach in my pocket, break out of line, approach the boy. “Hey Manuel,” I say to him. He looks up at me tentatively, warily. I grab a copy of The New York Times and thrust it at him. “This is the Times, Manuel: it’s the best paper in the country, maybe in the world. Because it tells the truth. And I’m giving it to you.” I hand him an additional buck and a quarter. “But I won’t be here tomorrow,” I go on, “so it’s up to you to stick with this, all right? Every day. You won’t go wrong, make it a habit, okay? Promise me.” The kid, astonished, takes the paper, runs back to his father. And I dash out the door, in a rush, forgetting my own purchase, blinded by emotion. I don’t want any questions, any thanks; and I don’t want them to see me crying.