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My Sons

I watch my sons spar out in our front yard and can't help but laugh as Goten pounces on Gohan and struggles to hold him down. Gohan is still much stronger thanks to the Old Kai's training, but it's never kept Goten from trying to beat him for the past eight or so years. With reflexes slightly slowed from the years of peace, Gohan kicks Goten in the stomach, forcing my youngest to let go and grab his stomach instinctively. I wince, knowing from experience that a mule kick like that hurts. "No f-fair," Goten coughs out. "Th-that was cheap, Dad."

I step back away from the window, knowing that Gohan will look to make sure that I'm not there. I know that he's worried that I'll be angry about Goten's slip-ups, which are becoming more and more frequent. I thought that I'd explained to him that I didn't mind, but I guess I'll have to do it again. After all, it's not like I can claim to be Goten's father in anything more than blood. I don't know if I can even say that about Gohan either. Piccolo was the one who really raised him after I died, Piccolo and Chi-Chi.

I've always been the hero. I'm always the one who ends up saving the earth from its latest threat, whether it be aliens, killer androids, and the like. I don't complain – in all honesty, I like to do it. But I'm not a hero because I really want to save millions of people that I don't know from dying. Although that's a part of it, I mostly do it only because it means that I have a challenge. I can test my strength against that of a worthy enemy and see if I measure up. It's just luck that I've been able to win as often as I have, nothing more. I'd take off right now if I could sense a challenge and I'd probably do it without even giving a real goodbye.

Being a father was something I wasn't ready for when Gohan was born and I'm not really sure that I'll ever be ready for it, even though Goten's already fourteen. Thanks to all the interruptions during his childhood – dying, fighting Vegeta, fighting Frieza, living on Yardrat, dying again – Gohan and I didn't really spend much time together after his fourth birthday, other than the three years of training for the androids and the year in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber. The Cell Games made it quite clear to me that I wasn't cut out to be a father when I sent Gohan out there seeing only the warrior and not the child.

I wasn't jealous at all when I saw how Gohan and Goten treated each other. It was obvious (to me, anyway) that Goten worshipped the ground Gohan walked on and Gohan treated his brother like the way Grandpa Gohan treated me when we lived together. It was Gohan that Goten looked to for permission to do things, only sometimes to Chi-Chin and never to me. It was Gohan that Goten was afraid of getting punishment from, though his punishments were never harsher than going to bed without dinner. I was quickly relegated to the grandfather position, which was something that I was infinitely more comfortable with. It meant that I could be his friend and not have to play the "daddy" card, not that I remember ever playing that card with Gohan more than once, maybe twice.

I had a talk with Gohan about Goten several weeks after Majin Buu's defeat. Rather, he had a talk with me, for "spoiling" Goten. I had been letting him do pretty much whatever he wanted to do as a sort of apology for forcing him to fight the pink creature. Gohan had been quietly getting angrier and angrier as those weeks went by, but he never said a word. It was probably because he felt it wasn't his place, although I don't know for sure.

The final straw was an argument that I heard the two boys having when Goten went to Capsule Corporation and didn't return when Chi-Chi asked him to. Goten had come back looking sad and repentant, but when Gohan didn't buy it and told him that dinner wasn't an option that night, Goten started yelling at him. "Dad doesn't care!" he'd said. "He said I could do whatever I want!"

What I heard Gohan say hurt more than I thought it would. "Dad hasn't been here for the past seven years," he replied. "He hasn't raised you. You will do what I tell you until Mom tells you otherwise. Do you understand?" Goten stomped off to his room after giving a muttered affirmative. When he reached his room I could hear him through the thin floors of our house, throwing a tantrum.

Gohan looked like he wanted to follow his brother, but he spotted me lurking in the hallway. The last time I'd seen his eyes that cold was when he ascended to the second level of Super Saiyan and I had to swallow in trepidation when I saw them. He was really angry and being the target of his ire was an uncomfortable place to be. "You need to start acting like his father and not like his best friend," he said quietly. I winced visibly and I know he noticed it. "He's going to be completely spoiled at this rate and that's not what Mom wants. Mom can't keep him under control if you keep undermining her like this. If I'd been gone this long without her permission I'd have been grounded for life and you would have agreed with her! Now you're letting him get away with a slap on the wrist and Mom doesn't have the heart to disagree with you right now. She just got you back."

I didn't know how to get out of this one until I remembered that Goten treated Gohan as his father. I smiled at this realization, something that took Gohan by complete surprise. "You're the dad in his mind," I told him. "That makes me the grandpa and grandparents always spoil their grandchildren."

I could see the wheels turning in his head as he tried to make sense of this startling revelation, so I tried to make it easier on him and explain. I'm not sure that I did a very good job of it – even though I told him that I didn't have any right to interfere with their relationship, he still worries about what I might do if I hear the conversation. Maybe if I'd told him that I didn't have any desire to be Goten's "dad" as such we might not be having this problem of him searching for me any time Goten uses a variation of the forbidden word.

Gohan stops looking around to see if I'm in hearing distance and grins back at Goten, secure in his knowledge that I can't hear. "Well, maybe if you wouldn't leave yourself so wide open, we wouldn't be having this problem, son," he teased. "I thought I taught you better than that!" Goten growls and leaps back at his laughing brother, who jumps out of hitting range and laughs harder as the younger boy falls flat on his face. I laugh too, watching them brawl so ferociously. They spar for a few more minutes before Goten finally gains the upper-hand and manages to toss Gohan out of their makeshift ring. It appeared sometime during the seven years I had been in the Otherworld. Chi-Chi told me that the two boys took great pains to make it just like the rings in tournaments. Gohan's influence, no doubt – he always wanted to do everything correctly, no matter what it was that he was doing.

Goten starts celebrating, doing a strange victory dance that I'm pretty sure that he and Trunks made up as children and Gohan sits up, a proud paternal smile on his lips as he watches the spectacle. I smile as well, though it's probably sadder than my eldest's is. I might be their father, but our relationship is more complicated than that.

After all, I might be Goten's father, but Gohan is definitely his dad.

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