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“What are you doing to my steak? Drop the tongs and back away slowly!” Eric jumped as he heard a loud voice roar at him from across the patio. He looked over his shoulder to see a bearded man in his mid-50’s walking over to him. He was wearing white Bermuda shorts and a Hawaiian shirt that was unbuttoned to show a swath of white chest hair and a deep tan. Eric stepped away from the grill with large, exaggerated steps and sarcastically handed over the tongs.
“Relax, dad. I was just checking if it was done—” He began, only to get cut off.
“Ah, ah, ah,” his father said, playfully shaking a finger at him. “Don’t check anything. Don’t even look at my meat. You’ll never be in charge of the grill while I’m still kicking. Why don’t you ‘check’ on getting us some new beers. I’m all done with this one.”
Eric rolled his eyes as he took the empty Budweiser bottle out of his dad’s hand and placed it with the several other empties that adorned the table beside him. Digging in the cooler for two new bottles, he opened and placed one back in the waiting hand.
“Here you go, old man.” The old man grunted in approval and snapped at him with the tongs, something he’d been doing for as long as Eric could remember. It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, and Eric was as content as could be. He reminisced on past “Cookout Sundays,” a tradition that had been a staple of his childhood, although it had waned as he grew older. In his teenage years there was nothing he had wanted to do less than hang out with his parents, and then when his parents had divorced the cookouts had taken a hiatus.
Now, as an adult (even as he thought the word, Eric wondered if he truly believed it applied to him), he was happy for the days he got to spend with his dad, leisurely grilling and drinking, with the occasional conversation mixed in. The conversation usually flowed between surface-level topics, such as generic updates on his work and personal life, and more serious discussions, like the state of their team’s bullpen and playoff chances. However, today that would change. Eric had something a little more personal on his mind.
“Hey pops, I got a question for you,” he said casually, picking the label on his beer as he gazed out over the backyard. His dad grunted, which Eric took to mean he was listening, and continued. “What did you think of Rachel?”
Despite his attempt to appear nonchalant, it was clear this question was meaningful. Eric’s dad was not one to comment on the women his son had dated, and Eric wasn’t one to ask for his opinion. In the several years he and Rachel had been together, she had met his dad sparingly, but they had always had good rapport whenever they had spent time together. He suspected that his dad had liked her, but had reserved judgment on whether or not they were a serious relationship. Any relationship that wasn’t a lead up to marriage was deemed “not serious” by his father, and a college relationship was unlikely to meet those standards.
Eric’s dad took a long sip of his beer before answering. “I liked her. She had a good head on her shoulders. Didn’t take too much of your shit. And she dumped you, so clearly she’s got some sense.” He finished this deep analysis with a chuckle as he started unloading the contents of the grill on to some plates. Eric began to mumble something about the breakup being mutual as his dad continued, cutting him off. “Why do you ask? You thinking about trying to win her back or something?”
Eric took a sip of his own and responded. “Well, I wouldn’t be ‘winning her back,’ since we broke up mutually, but we’ve been hanging out again and I was trying to figure out where to go from here. It’s been nice spending time with her and we don’t seem to have any of the fights and other problems we used to. But we’ve also kept it pretty casual, so I don’t know what it would be like if we actually got back together. Most of our fights had to do with the fact that we were in different places in our lives, which is no longer the case now that she graduated. I dunno. What do you think?”
“Hmmm,” his dad said in a neutral tone as he tossed some corn on the grill. He stared at the coals for a long moment before responding. “I gotta say, as much as I liked Rachel, getting back together with her could be a bad idea. Nothing against her, but getting back with an ex almost never works. I’ve never told you this, but about a year after your mom and I split, we began ‘hanging out again’ as you call it. We even talked about getting back together, but as soon as we tried having that discussion, the fighting started again. All the old shit came out of the woodwork, and we realized it had never left. You guys probably broke up for a valid reason, and that reason will probably still be there if you try and make it work again. Don’t go through all the heartbreak all over again. Keep moving forward. Never backward.”
Eric nodded slowly as he absorbed the poignant dad wisdom. He knew his old man was probably right, but what if he wasn’t? What if Rachel was the person he was supposed to end up with, and they were the exception to the rule that an ex is an ex for a reason? His dad had given the advice he had expected, but not the advice he wanted to hear.
His dad’s voice chimed out again, this time about something much more serious.
“The food is ready. Grab a plate and some fresh beers. Let’s eat some meat.” .