Tyler ran into the park, avoiding the playground where other boys would be having fun with their dads. Instead he followed the path that led down to the creek, to watch the ducks and swans swimming.
Suddenly he stopped. There on the path ahead was the Canada goose. He had never been able to get this close to it before!
He watched as it pulled at strands of grass and ate them. I’m going to chase it into the water and watch it swim, he thought. In the water the goose was really neat; it looked like a sleek grey boat with a long black flagpole.
But the goose would not be chased. It waddled over to the edge of the creek, right in front of a duck family that was swimming around in the water gobbling up bugs, and there it stood, calmly watching Tyler with his tiny black eyes.
Tyler stepped closer and waved his arms to shoo it into the water. But the goose just raised its wings, stretched out its long neck, and honked a warning.
“Silly goose!” he shouted at it. “Get in the water and swim.”
The goose stood its ground at the edge of the creek, eyeing him warily.
Maybe if I had a stick, Tyler thought. He looked around beside a nearby bush and found a long one. But when he waved the stick at the goose, it stretched out its neck again, hissed and flapped its wings as if to say, “Look out, kid!”
A little girl came skipping along the path with her mom and dad following behind her. “Why are you trying to hit that goose?” she asked.
“I just want it to get in the water. I want to watch it swim, but it won’t go.”
“Do you see that duck family?” the man asked. “That’s why it won’t go in the water.”
Tyler looked at him, puzzled.
“This is a father goose–a gander,” he explained. “He has no family of his own, so he’s adopted this duck family. He always stays near them, watching that nothing hurts them. He’s put himself in between so you can’t get near them.”
“But where’s the ducks’ dad?” Tyler asked.
“We don’t know,” the lady answered. “He just went away–or maybe he got sick and died.”
Tyler nodded, feeling a lump in his throat. He knew all about dads getting hurt and dying. He studied the gander until the lump went away.
“But why does he stick around when he’s not their real dad?”
“Maybe he’s just lonesome and wants to be part of the family,” the man replied. “Maybe he sees that the mother duck needs his help to take care of all those busy babies. What do you think?”
For a minute they watched the many duck babies zipping this way and that to snap up water bugs. Yes, she might need help to watch over them all.
“This gander will fight anything that tries to get near his family,” said the dad. “When he flaps his wings and hisses at you, he means, ‘Look out! One more step and you’re in for it!’ His wings are strong and could give you a few good bruises and if he grabbed your leg with his beak, you’d feel it!”
“But if you want to watch him swim, go sit down a bit,” he suggested. “Once he knows the ducks are safe, he might get back in the water and join them.”
The people walked away. Tyler threw away his stick and sat down to watch; pretty soon the gander did waddle into the creek and swim over to the ducks.
As he watched the unusual family, a thought came to him. What if one of the ducklings decided he didn’t like the gander and tried to chase him away? Tyler smiled as he pictured a tiny duckling chasing a big goose.
“Like you’re doing to Paul?” The words popped into his mind, surprising him, but he realized this was the truth. By refusing to like Paul, by being crabby to him, he was trying to make Paul give up and go away.
So why did Paul stick around? Was he lonely, too? Tyler knew about lonely, about the ache inside that never went away since Dad died. Many times he wanted to cry and there was nowhere to go with his loneliness. If he told Mom how he felt, she might cry, too, and that was worse. Did Paul sometimes feel like that? Did he want to be part of their family so he would not be alone anymore?
Did Mom really need Paul’s help to raise her family? He thought of one little duck trying to look after the whole family. Silly! The gander obviously could do a much better job. He was big and brave enough to stand up for them.
Maybe Paul feels like that, too, Tyler thought. Maybe he thinks we need him. He sat and pondered the idea. And maybe we really do, he finally decided.
Tyler jumped up and started for home. Paul would be there now and might play ball with them. Maybe they could be friends. Paul wasn’t Dad, but having him there might not be so bad after all.