ON SATURDAY, I came home to something I don't often experience as a man with a wife and kids.
I came home to an empty house.
My 12-year-old daughter, Eve, was at my mother's for the weekend, and 9-year-old Solomon was out with my wife, LaVeta. The only one at home was the cat, Styx. She stared at me expectantly as I sat down on the bed, no doubt waiting to see how I would use my newfound freedom.
I was hesitant at first. I thought it must be a belated April Fool's joke, because there was no way my family would let me have a Saturday to myself. If I opened the door, banana cream pies would launch like artillery, and LaVeta's fake Vincent Price laugh would echo through the house.
Or maybe it was some sort of experiment. Little Solomon wants to be a scientist, after all, and he's always watching those science videos on YouTube. Suppose he finally decided to go beyond making George Washington Carver dioramas? Suppose I had become the boy's next experiment?
Suddenly, I felt like a rat in a maze. It was as if my son and his research team were hidden behind a two-way mirror wearing lab coats and recording my responses to stimuli. I looked behind me nervously, just knowing that Little Solomon would come out with a test tube. Or worse, LaVeta would call and ask me to meet her at the market.
I broke into a cold sweat, licked my lips nervously and caught a glimpse of the cat. She was staring at me like, "Yo, this dude is crazy."
Styx was right, of course. I was behaving irrationally, and the cat's disapproving glare convinced me to put my newfound freedom to the test.
I changed my clothes quickly and went downstairs, knowing that LaVeta and the boy could come home any minute, and rob me of my moment in the sun. With each passing second their return seemed imminent. I knew I didn't have much time, and, of course, that made me take even longer.
I spilled some coffee and had to wipe it up. I fumbled with my keys as I walked out the door. I had to go back into the house because, as always, I forgot something.
By the time I got in my car and started it, however, I knew I was home free, and I was about to strike a blow for all married men.
That's right. I was going to the mall alone.
At first, it seemed a little nutty, this whole mall idea.
What would I do without Little Solomon begging to go to the Lego store?
Would the mall be the same without Eve dragging me into Hollister, the nightclub teen clothing store with shirtless boys on shopping bags and dark, cologne-drenched aisles?
Would I feel the same about buying clothes without LaVeta being there to second-guess my choices?
I knew I was taking a risk in going there alone. But there was a tremendous upside to a solo mall trip. Not only could I pull a Frank Sinatra and do it my way, but also shopping without the family could be completed in about half the time.
I pulled into the mall's parking lot and walked inside like a man on a mission. I started in the shoe section, where I spotted a pair of sleek black Pumas that looked like a sort of sneaker-shoe hybrid. I loved them, but the only pair they had in my size were the ones on display.
"Can I get a discount?" I asked.
The clerk said yes. LaVeta never would have approved.
For good measure, I ordered another pair of shoes. They should arrive by FedEx in a few days. Then, with credit card in hand, I went to another section of the store and bought a nice Ralph Lauren suit.
"What's the suit for?" a curious customer asked. "Do you have a wedding or a funeral?"
"Nope," I said with a wide smile. "I just like suits."
Over the course of the next hour, I bought a striped dress shirt with French cuffs and a yellow paisley tie to accessorize my suit. I bought a pair of jeans and a nice linen shirt to go with my shoes. I did it all while managing to avoid both the Lego store and the purgatory that is Hollister. In doing so, I purchased much more than clothes. I bought my freedom.
And in that one brief shining moment, I struck a blow for dads everywhere. With no wife and kids in tow, I managed to conquer the mall. I didn't just do that for me, my fellow dads. I did that for all of us.