Father’s Day is coming up this month. I’ll be lucky if the Old Man recognizes me. Alzheimer’s is fast dimming the badge of my childhood sheriff.
To say that my father and I had an adversarial relationship for the first 18 years of my life would be pointless. He was a career military officer, and I belonged to the ADHD crowd.
If my father does recognize me today, it may be a memory dredged from a different period in our lives. I might be his son the newspaper columnist, the son who made good by becoming a cop, or the kid who still needs his butt beaten for using a broom handle to ramrod a bushel of grass clippings into the muffler of our Rambler.
What? No, I don’t know why I did it. In fact, that’s a stupid question for a time when a child was considered slow, lazy, dumb and even dangerous simply because the meds he needed hadn’t been invented yet. The grass idea just popped into my head, and I followed through.
I got a whacking for it. I can’t remember if it was by belt or by hand. In either case, it was just one more reminder that the Old Man and I didn’t share the same train of thought. His was a mile long and carried useful products, whereas mine was just an engine and a caboose.
Depending on your belief in corporal punishment for children, I either had it coming, or my father was a bad parent. Here’s the thing: For all the threats, flogging and confinement I received as a kid, I don’t bear any ill will today.
Some people do. I understand that physically disciplining a child can be carried too far, and some people harbor anger at parents for the punishment they received
Several years ago, a co-worker asked if I had ever been brutalized by my father. The fact that the question didn’t immediately register on me must have shown in my face.
Doug • “Like, did he use a belt or his hand to spank you? Because I always got it with [deep breath for dramatic purposes] … a BELT!”
Me • “Fishing rod, bamboo torch, rolled-up copy of Life magazine, open hand, cooking pot, unopened Christmas present, fly swatter, Book of Mormon and once even a dead chicken.”
Note: Not that it bears going into, but the last one was for chasing my sisters and rubbing its rotting carcass on them.
But a belt? Really? Whenever I got it with a belt, I was always at least a little grateful that the Old Man took the time to remove his service pistol from it first.
Today, I can’t muster up any resentment for the whippings I got. Partly because of the even greater number of times I should have received them and didn’t. But mainly because the “just wait until your father gets home” monster of my youth is now an easily confused old man who shuffles after Mom like an ancient hound dog.
I was at the University of Utah clinic in South Jordan on Saturday when I had a moment of overwhelming irony.
I stopped and wondered if it had ever occurred to my father, when he was focused so intently on the target of my criminal a-- all those years ago, that I would one day be carrying an envelope with a sample of what came out of his to a laboratory for testing.
Even if it didn’t, I figure that I owe him this kind of care today because I love him and also for all the crap I gave him when I was a kid.