The Other Parent

Illustration of a little boy

Jacob Roquet

Illustration of a man sitting in chair

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 10 No. 4, "American Heretic: Portrait of Jim Dombrowski, artist and activist." Find more from that issue here.

Elwood and Dixie Jean were married 12 years before their son was born. Me and Elwood have been friends since first grade so naturally he wanted to name it Theodore after me. Dixie Jean, however, wanted to name it Junior after its daddy. She said it was because she was crazy about Elwood. I think it was because she didn't like me. Me and her had a little romance one time. It didn't work out and ever since she's been kinda hostile.

Now, Elwood is normally the boss in his family, but in this case the best he could get was a compromise. They named the baby Elwood Theodore. That was quite a name for a little fellow, so me and Elwood shortened it some. We called him El for Elwood and Teddy for me. El Teddy.

Dixie Jean said it sounded like a Mexican bull fighter, but that didn't bother us. That's the thing about me and Elwood. We're not prejudiced against any minority group, no matter who they are.

Now Elwood was the valedictorian of our high school class and he really has an intellect. He has some awful deep thoughts. Sometimes I just can't follow him. One night before El Teddy was born he says to me, "Theodore, who do you look like?"

"Well," I said, "I guess I look like my Uncle Marvin." "

Why don't you look like your father?" he asked.

"I don't know," I said. "But Uncle Marvin's got a boy who favors my dad some. You remember Cousin Bruce?"

"Yeah," he replied, but I could tell he wasn't interested. "You know in my family," he said, "all the men tend to look alike. I look just like my dad. My dad looks just like his dad. We all act alike too. Yessir in my family the genes of the paternal side definitely tend to be predominant. I can hardly wait to see if this child is a boy. It will be a wonderful opportunity to see if the trend carries on."

He then went into a lecture about the factors that influence inheritance. I didn't understand a lot of it but it sounded quite impressive.

When El Teddy was born I understood more of what he meant though. The child looked just like Elwood. He was a great looking boy.

Elwood had been our quarterback in high school. He was All State so he naturally assumed his child would play too. Dixie Jean had been a cheerleader in high school. She could jump high doing cheers. I think that's what attracted Elwood to her. But otherwise she was uncoordinated. In fact she was the least athletic person I have ever known.

I mentioned this fact to Elwood, but he told me not to worry. He said in his family the genes of the male parent would always dominate. He assured me that El Teddy would be a fine athlete. I always do what Elwood says, so I quit worrying.

In the fall of the year when El Teddy was four years old, me and Elwood decided to begin his football education. We had tried to start earlier, but the weather had been damp and Dixie Jean wouldn't let us take him out.

You see, Dixie Jean has this fixation about the weather. She literally hates anything except bright sunshine. And she told us that Elwood Theodore, as she is inclined to call him, couldn't play football unless the weather was perfect.

Now Elwood is normally the boss in his family. But in this case he took a back seat. I swear, when it comes to that baby, Dixie Jean can be down right domineering.

Anyway we finally got a perfect day and Elwood says, "Theodore, let's go get El Teddy. It'll be a fine opportunity to play football."

So we take the boy and go outside. Elwood stands beside him and I toss him a few passes. He misses the first four or five. I can see Elwood is dejected so I kind of lob one. It's a little high, but by golly, he leaps up and catches it. I throw a few more like that and he jumps and catches them all. We do that for about 30 minutes. Every time I throw where he has to jump, he catches. If I throw a level pass he misses, but I don't throw many so he looks real good. Elwood is grinning like a possum. "Boy's got a good spring," he says. "I saw somebody else jump like that once. I can't remember who it was."

"I can," says I. "He jumps just like Dixie Jean did when she used to lead cheers."

That kinda takes the wind out of Elwood, but he don't say nothing. We start letting El Teddy kick some. He is not too good at it, but he seems to like it, especially when he gets to kick his leg high.

All at once some clouds drift over. There's no rain in em so I don't pay attention. To me the day is still perfect. El Teddy doesn't see it that way though. He starts crying that he wants to go home. We try to quiet him and he just howls louder. Finally we take him in. When we get inside Elwood remarks, "Him and his mother think alike about the weather, don't they?"

I know he's depressed, so I don't say nothing.

Then El Teddy comes out of the bedroom with some pompoms in his hand. He does a yell that sounds something like this:

California oranges, Texas cactus.

Can you do that without any practice?

He jumps real high at the finish. Elwood almost screams. "Where did you learn that?" he yells.

"I taught it to him," Dixie Jean says.

Elwood throws his pompoms away and then he starts talking about genetics. He says sometimes there are accidents. They are not mutations exactly. It's just that genes that would normally dominate sometimes assume a less important role. Their role is then taken up by another gene, and well, I can't explain it any further. It's like I said. Elwood is a great intellect. And sometimes his thoughts are so deep I just can't follow him.