Once upon a time early in my fatherhood and before we all had cameras on our phones, my wife and daughter were traveling and I was home alone in my office missing them.
I had just purchased a nifty full-color flatbed scanner and had a working knowledge of email attachments, so I lifted the lid and scanned myself making a goofy dad-face.
So it was in the time of pioneers. We had to make do.
I rediscovered the scan this week while searching for some other image. In the old days I would have been riffling through snapshots in a shoebox; in this case I was arrow-keying through a vast archive of digital images that have accumulated and cascaded down through a series of outdated and outmoded (and in one case, smoking) computers and Zip Disks and CD-Rs and standalone digital cameras and flip phones, right up to the business receipt I snapped with my phone three minutes ago.
We are all archivists now. The scrapbooking will require all eternity.
During the scan, I failed to hold my pose, so my face and cranium are oval and elongated, as if a potato subsumed an eggplant. The result lands somewhere between cartoon and uncanny valley. My beard stubble and eyebrows are much, much darker compared to the frosty fringe I currently sport, and even through the distortion there is a certain freshness around the edges of my eyes suggesting there have been some missed naps over the intervening 16 years.
In part I blame the very child for whom I scanned my snoot. I loved her then and I love her now, but my face then and my face now stand testament to the ways parenting is not always picture perfect.
But above all that scan calls into question whether I should have been entrusted with a child at all. Because even as I leaned over to hold my face a half-inch above the glass, even as I punched the button, even as I made the goofball face, I remember thinking what if this is dumb, well it is dumb, but what
if it is dangerous and yet resolutely holding my eyeballs wide open as a kajillion candlepowers pan-seared my retinas. It felt like I had committed self-propelled Lasik using a light sabre taped to a Taser.
I staggered around for a while seeing nothing but the pulsing imprint of blinding illumination. It was like my eyeballs were floating in a lava lamp.
After 30 years volunteering as a firefighter and medical first responder, I am the Dad who sees death and injury lurking in everything from marshmallows to wading pools. Therefore my children were raised on safety speeches. And yet here I was self-welding my corneas. Some stories you save for decades before sharing them with the kids.
The kid I burned my eyes for is now 21 years old. I sent the scanner-selfie to her phone from my computer with a click. She texted a reply almost immediately: “Glad your sight came back. The thought was there, though.”
Then came the heart emoji, and with apologies to cringing ophthalmologists everywhere, I regret nothing.
An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio”(tentshowradio.com). Read more from Michael Perry at www.sneezingcow.com.