Thursday, May 31, 2012

MFF#13: A Child Needs His Father by Rebecca Barray

Welcome to Unwritten's  May Flash Fiction challengeEvery story (600 words max) began with this sentence: 

 I never expected to be in this position so soon, saying goodbye to my son.

For our lucky #13 and last MFF entry, Rebecca Barray brings us this wonderfully poignant piece told from a father's perspective. Too many good dads go through what this dad has experienced, but I think the bittersweet end will keep you on the edge of your seat, as it did mine. Read on and be generous with comments!

A Child Needs His Father

I never expected to be in this position so soon, saying goodbye to my son. Only three short years had passed since Riley entered this world, making me a father. Cheryl and I had a lot of happy times. But as the months flew by, I saw the growing resentment in her. Finally, we decided to go our separate ways and she was even giving me full custody of Riley; she didn’t want a toddler holding her back anyway. Then, her mother told her how much child support they could share. And the worst part: she wanted to take him back home to live with her mother, twelve hours away. The judge awarded her full custody right away, saying simply, “A child needs his mother.” As though a father’s presence is superfluous. Her drug and alcohol use of late didn’t matter: A child needs his mother.

So now, here I sit, spending my last day with Riley at his favorite spot: the playground at the park. She calls from her cell phone, mumbling to me that she’s ten minutes away. My last minutes with him soar by. I memorize the tinkling of his laughter as he swings high into the air. His face lights up as he runs, jumping into my arms. I smell his baby shampoo, hugging his little body close. I catch him for probably the hundredth time as he flies down the slide.

Ten minutes turns into twenty, then thirty. I’m thrilled for the extra time. I spin Riley on the merry-go-round, slowly so he doesn’t get sick or fall off, but he loves it. We play hide and seek in the labyrinth of tunnels. I show him how to place his feet on the climbing wall, yet again, so he makes it to the top. 

My phone rings again; it’s been almost an hour since I heard from Cheryl but the caller ID informs me that it’s not her. “Hello?” I sit down on the bench and watch Riley play in the sand.

“Mr. Simon?” a female voice asks.


“This is Officer Michaels with the West Virginia State Police. There’s been an accident.” Faces flash through my mind: Mom, Dad, and then, Cheryl. “Your wife, Cheryl Simon, crossed the median just east of mile marker 32 into the westbound lanes of I64 and collided, head-on, with a tractor trailer.” I don’t tell her that Cheryl is now my ex-wife. “She was taken to Charleston Area Medical Center for extensive injuries, but, I’m sorry to say, she passed away en route. Her injuries were just too severe.”

My eyes close and I remember Cheryl’s smile when she walked down the aisle at our wedding. I can see the tears slide down her cheek when she held Riley for the first time. I hear the excitement in her voice when she called me at work to tell me that Riley had said his first word, “Dada.” Then, I see her bloodshot eyes when I would get home from work. I hear the slur in her voice when she called earlier.

“Sir? I’m very sorry for your loss.” 

“Thank you,” I say, suddenly back in the present. I finish up on the phone just as Riley runs over, grabbing my hand.

“Daddy? Will you catch me again? Please?” His little voice pleads with me, as though I might say no. 

“Of course, Kiddo. Let’s go.” I’m so sorry it had to be this way, but I can’t help feeling grateful. I guess a child needs his father after all.


Rebecca Barray is a stay home mother of three (four if you count her extremely child-like husband). She loves fiction and spends her precious little spare time reading, writing, learning about writing, and thinking about writing. She also likes to take pictures.

Becca’s Blog is where she shares her goals, tips, and dreams. She’s also been known to share mommy moments, as well as bits of her latest fiction love: romance, poetry, or fantasy. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. It's sad and happy all at the same time. My brother lost custody of his son like that. And for the same reason, she didn't really want their son, just the child support that came with him. So sad.

  2. Rebecca,

    As a father fighting for custody of his children, this story touched me. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jeannie and TJ! Glad you liked the story!

  4. Your scenario about the child-support issue happens all too often. Good for Riley that his dad did his best under the circumstances.

    Bittersweet that he regained custody in that manner, but a lot of years of heartache in courtroom battles wiped out too.

    Good job, Rebecca.

  5. Congratulations, Becca. From the comments, it looks like you really touched some hearts. I loved all of the playground imagery. You're good at setting scenes and tugging at heartstrings. I don't have children, but I know that custody issues are super-painful and difficult.

  6. Thanks Leona, that means a lot coming from a writing instructor.

    And thank you, too, Ann. I really try to work in little details to bring the setting to life. Glad it seems to be working! ;)

  7. Nice work, Rebecca. I'm sure the scenario you paint happens more often than it should, and it all too often ends up in some kind of tragedy. I particularly liked the part where the father needs to mentally preserve the moment. What heartache!

  8. This one sent chills up and down my spine. I rejoiced with the fortuitous shift and love that final line -- Very nice writing, Rebecca

  9. Thanks Daniel and Judy. So glad you could feel the emotions I was trying to draw out!

  10. Every child that comes into the world should be wanted, by both his/her parents solely because s/he is their child...and it's sad when there is a child that is not.

    I'm so glad that you allowed the boy to be with the parent who truly wanted him. And I'm glad that you made the narrator such a stand-up fellow that he was able to still think fondly of his ex-wife.

    Good show, Rebecca!

    1. Thanks so much, Eden. It was a satisfying ending, though a little sad. I'm glad you liked it. ;)

  11. Done! :) Love it, by the way.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Erin! Glad you liked it. ;)

  12. It was a compelling story. I liked the setting at the playground where he first worries and then is able to relax after the bad news.

  13. Thanks Kim! So glad you could stop by and read it!! It's my first time entering a real contest. I'm so nervous!

  14. A big thank you to Mysti for the wonderfully inspiring prompt and amazing contest!! I hope 13 ends up being lucky for me!! You have a great blog here and I hope to enter lots more contests in the future. It was lots of fun. ;)

  15. Becca, I am speechless. My eyes are filled with tears of sadness and joy. I really think this is the best piece of flash fiction I've seen so far.

    I loved the description of the child playing while his father memorizes the moment. I've seen both sides of your story in my family and you've captured the emotions perfectly. No matter which side loses custody, it's a painful situation.

    I am in awe. You definitely have nothing to be nervous about.

    1. Oh my gosh! Thank you so much, Melody. I'm so glad you liked it.

      "Writing Fiction For Dummies" says that a great story gives readers "a powerful emotional experience". If I've been able to give that here, I'm happy. :)

  16. Good writing, sad sad story, bittersweet ending. GOOD JOB!

  17. Congratulations, Rebecca! I love flash stories. That dad will need to catch his son in more than one way.

  18. Wow, Becca. As I catch up on my blog reading after a busy end of the school year, I am so glad I found this. Beautifully written...gave me chills!

  19. Becca, I loved it! I love a tale with a twist at the end, leaving me breathless and wondering, or thrilled :-) Way to go, Becca.
    Best, M.

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