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Sometimes, when we're by ourselves, I'll sit my daughter down and tell her about my father—her Grumpy. At eighteen months, she doesn't understand much of it. Still, I want her to know about the man who died when she was only five months old. So, I tell her about the receipt I found while going through his belongings: $50 donation at Christmas for a family in need. I tell her about how he loved animals. And how he would share his glass of milk with the cat. He was a carpenter. He was stubborn. He loved us very much.

All of those things are true. But they're not the Truth, if you know what I mean. Some day she'll want to know the whole story—and I'll have to figure out a way to tell it to her.




Once, before he needed the wheelchair, before he needed the oxygen, before his rattling coughs and moans kept me awake all night, my father was only a moderate recluse. He had moved back to Maine full time, after emphysema had left him incapable of continuing his work with the Local 623. Most of the time he stayed at home, watching television, listening to the police scanner and chain smoking. Sometimes he would sit in the parking lot at the old shopping center and watch the traffic on routes 2 & 4 in the hopes that he might see some schmuck get pulled over by the cops when they missed the drop in the speed limit. Otherwise he sat at the bar and drank with the other lonely old souls who populated the local watering holes before 4pm on a weekday afternoon.

One thing he didn't do was attend family gatherings. So, it was surprising to see my father's pick-up pulling up to my sister's house one late June afternoon for my brother-in-law's birthday party. He hadn't been planning to attend the cook-out. He had been driving over to a buddy's place and decided to stop by. All I could figure was that he'd been drinking already. See, the one thing that he liked less than family gatherings was being around all the townies who had never really left the bubble of Temple, population 500, and spent their time getting rowdy, scamming disability and drag racing on Intervale Road.

I went from quietly relaxing with my food while feeling awkward and out-of-place to being on edge wondering how my father was going to embarrass me today. But he didn't have anything biting or sarcastic to say. Instead, he sat down on a chair next to me and asked my mom to get him a little food. Then he chatted with people. Not much and not with many, but with the few folks there he actually liked and who saw through his prickly exterior. It was going surprisingly well. He still cracked off-color jokes that made me uncomfortable and said a lot of racist shit—but he was there and he wasn't starting trouble. We were spending time together at a family gathering and I was actually enjoying it.

Then Kevin came over. Scrappy, drunk, trembling Kevin who had always been a bit of a ne'er do well. Kevin, one of the gaggle of locals who ran with my brother and had been getting crap from my dad since he was a teen. Kevin who saw an opportunity to get his comeuppance.

“Hey Dick.” (Actually my father's name and not an exceptionally ballsy greeting).

My dad might have grunted in response.

“Remember how you used to always give me crap. Bet you can't get away with that anymore.” Kevin stuttered and slurred, dredging up memories of oft well-deserved bullying.

My dad gave a half laugh. “Why don't you leave me alone?” The words like gravel rattling up from scarred lungs.

“Now you're an old man. You're not so tough anymore.” He attempted to strike a pose of strength. He actually wobbled a circle until steadying himself.

“I really don't feel like getting into this. I'm just spending some time with my family. Go away.”

“Yeah, see, who's the tough guy now? You always thought you were such a badass. You thought you were better than us. You thought it was so funny to see us scared. I ain't scared of you no more. You're all fat now with your cane. You're not so tough now, huh. Huh? I mean, it's all cool. You were a real asshole, but it's okay. I mean. Oh. Destiny, you don't remember. Your dad was in a lot of shit, too. Now he's just... now you're just....”

By this point other people were trying to intervene. Kevin's sister grabbed his arm and told him “Let it go. Leave him alone.” But he just couldn't let it go. The verbal diarrhea kept spewing forth.

“Boy, you do not want to go there.” My dad's tone made me tense. This wasn't likely to end well.

Poor Kevin was oblivious, too drunk to notice the quick and subtle changes in my dad's body language. He kept it up, insinuating that my father was old and feeble, that he couldn't do anything.

Carefully my father measured out his next words, laced with venom: “I've had about e-fucking-nough.”

My dad took off his hat and set it on top of my head. Kevin said something stupid. I wasn't sure what was going on. My dad took off his glasses and hung them on the collar of my t-shirt. Kevin kept digging his own grave. Revelation switched on in my head. My dad handed me his cane. Kevin had no idea what was coming. I did.

I had never seen my dad move that fast. I didn't know he even could move that fast. But in the blink of an eye he had covered several feet and punched scrappy, drunk Kevin hard enough to knock him on his ass in the grass about thirty feet from the deck while his bottle of beer flew through the air, leaving an arc of amber liquid glittering in the sunlight. Everyone stared for a moment. A few people laughed. Kevin's sister went over and said “You deserved it,” while helping him to his feet.

My dad sat down next to me once more, wheezing heavily. He took his glasses from my shirt and put them back on. He took his hat from my head and placed it on his own. He reached for his cane and rested it against his own knees. Between labored breaths he asked “Does your old man still got it?”

I couldn't help smiling.




So, sure, I'll tell her about the pink plastic Christmas tree ornament that he bought me one year. She'll hear all about how we would talk on the CB radio. And how we'd pop Tex Williams into the eight-track player and dance around the living room. My little girl will be regaled with all the sweetest father-daughter tales of my childhood. But she'll also learn that her Grumpy was one ornery son of a bitch, and he wouldn't want to be remembered any other way.



This was an intersection week for therealljidol. I partnered with the wonderful mezzogiorno to explore memories of our fathers. You can check out her entry, I Wake Up Strange, here. And special thanks to my volunteer beta readers banyangirl1832 and everywordiwrite.

Comments

( 34 murmurs — Talk About the Passion )
x_disturbed_x
Jun. 4th, 2013 12:58 am (UTC)
He sure sounds like something! Never underestimate someone because of their age.

cacophonesque
Jun. 4th, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
He really was something! And sometimes that something was incredibly difficult to live with--but he was my father and I have to admire his tenacity.
kandigurl
Jun. 4th, 2013 04:46 am (UTC)
My dad's name is Dick as well. This always alarms friends when they first meet him, because they don't really know how to respond, and he says his name with such pride.
cacophonesque
Jun. 4th, 2013 02:33 pm (UTC)
But my dad's name was Dick Long.

There are only so many snickers one can hear before it gets a little old. ;)
kandigurl
Jun. 4th, 2013 04:47 pm (UTC)
Ha, okay, you win. ;)
whipchick
Jun. 4th, 2013 12:40 pm (UTC)
I like your dad. And I think he and my dad would have either liked each other or had a cordial dislike :)

The framing structure here is neat - it really plays up the idea that we have something deeper to tell underneath the surface.
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:18 pm (UTC)
He was quite the character, that's for sure! And I remember at one point, my dad was like "I'm not a racist, I have everyone equally." Which wasn't wholly true--but he sure didn't like most groups of people.

I wanted to explore this idea of why we tell the stories we tell, and why we choose to hold back some stories. I think that when we're passing down our histories, we have so much power to shape the narrative and our choices are deeply important.
bookishgeek
Jun. 4th, 2013 02:22 pm (UTC)
My boyfriend's dad's name is Dick, ha. I really enjoyed this read. It was powerful stuff.
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:19 pm (UTC)
My story is bringing all the people with Dicks in their lives out of the woodwork!

I'm glad you enjoyed. I really enjoy telling family stories.
bookishgeek
Jun. 5th, 2013 02:23 pm (UTC)
that comment made me laugh very loudly at work, thank you. :)
alexpgp
Jun. 4th, 2013 02:25 pm (UTC)
The old saw "if youth but knew—if age but could" fails to consider that, occassionally, age still can!

Liked it!
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:22 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad that you liked it. My father wasn't someone I'd consider a hero--but he had his moments.

If he'd still been in his prime, I don't think Kevin would have had so many chances to walk away.
myrna_bird
Jun. 4th, 2013 05:31 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed this so much. It's lovely you can relate his curmudgeonly ways and still have very clear respect and love for him. I absolutely loved your ending about remembering him as his ornery self. One day your daughter will appreciate knowing all the unique facets of her Grumpy!
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:25 pm (UTC)
It was hard for me when I was younger. But then I started to learn more about how tough his life had been... while I didn't excuse his behavior, I understood a little better. And it meant that I could forgive more. He was quite the character, though. I'm a big believer in remembering people with their flaws... it's easy to lose someone's essence in the mists of nostalgia, but one thing I can do to respect my father's wishes is to remember him as he was.
myrna_bird
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:46 pm (UTC)
Well said!
halfshellvenus
Jun. 4th, 2013 07:15 pm (UTC)
What a neat story, and very well-written.

Somehow, I couldn't help cracking up at your father putting all of his accessories aside and pouncing on Kevin. Just because the tomcat is old, it doesn't mean he can't still catch a mouse or two. :D
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:31 pm (UTC)
I spent a lot of time making sure the structure worked and that I was able to bring not just the story, but my father, to life.

I think that putting aside his accessories was an indication of his having grown up with a father who was strict about etiquette. You know that whole "You wouldn't hit a guy with glasses" line? He had to take them off to give his opponent a chance at an honorable fight.
spoothbrush
Jun. 4th, 2013 10:41 pm (UTC)
This was... just a really great read.
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:32 pm (UTC)
Awww. Thanks. It was nice to share a fun story about my dad.
lrig_rorrim
Jun. 4th, 2013 10:43 pm (UTC)
He reminds me of my grandfather. You paint an exceptional and vivid picture with words here, and I feel like I almost met the man. Thank you for the introduction. :)
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:35 pm (UTC)
My primary goals were to spin an entertaining story (since I so often go sort of thinky-thinky or maudlin) and to make my father come to life with all his complexities.

I'm glad that I was successful in doing that for you.
medleymisty
Jun. 5th, 2013 12:38 am (UTC)
Wonderful and beautiful, and makes me feel closer to you and like I want to be friends and stuff, and also like your father was pretty darn cool. *hugs*
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 01:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you. My father was cool in some ways (and very challenging in others). As to feeling closer, we can be friends. I'm pretty easy to be friends with... just don't be mean to me. ^_^
sweeny_todd
Jun. 5th, 2013 03:27 am (UTC)
I loved this intersection. The pieces are both melancholic, but so affirming too. Beautiful.
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 03:13 pm (UTC)
Thank you! We both wanted to avoid falling into being completely maudlin, since it's a trap for both of us. So we both worked to find humor as well--and I'm really pleased with how it worked out.
cheshire23
Jun. 5th, 2013 05:29 am (UTC)
So that's why you call him her Grumpy. What a great name, and a great story! <3
cacophonesque
Jun. 5th, 2013 03:16 pm (UTC)
Once upon a time, he was "Grampy", many many years ago. And then one day my nephew was over (the one who is only a year younger than I) and saying something and addressed him as such. For some reason, on that day, my dad kind of growled at him "Call me Grumpy." Very quickly all of his grandchildren switched over to the new name, and when new grandkids came along he got introduced as such.
jem0000000
Jun. 5th, 2013 05:42 pm (UTC)
Awww, this is really sweet. :)
roina_arwen
Jun. 5th, 2013 07:48 pm (UTC)
Grumpy sounds like a fascinating man! Great story!
n3m3sis43
Jun. 5th, 2013 07:54 pm (UTC)
Wow, I wish I had even one memory that cool of either of my parents. Thanks for sharing this.
lawchicky
Jun. 5th, 2013 10:16 pm (UTC)
With my dad in the hospital right now, this was really hard to read- well written, but it seemed to wallop me.
joyfulfeather
Jun. 6th, 2013 03:01 am (UTC)
What a great memory, and very well-told! Thanks for sharing this.
jennickels
Jun. 6th, 2013 03:26 am (UTC)
Very funny. When my first child was born everyone called my dad "Grumpa." But when my oldest started talking she decided his name was just Papa so that stuck. He's also a recluse. I was shocked to see pictures from my mom's family reunion with him in them. My mom died almost 13 years ago but my dad is still part of the family. Just he never visits... anyone. He doesn't much care for people.

Oh, and one of my friends growing up--her father's name was Dick (they lived next door to us). My kids still won't say his name because it's a bad word. They just call him "Hailey's papa." Although they call my friend's mom "Nana" just like her granddaughter. I always thought that was cute since they didn't have a NaNa of their own (my mom died a couple months after my oldest was born and my mother-in-law is Gramma and they rarely see her because of distance).

Great story and a great memory.
shanns_ljidol
Jun. 6th, 2013 06:43 pm (UTC)
That sounds like some of my family. LOL
( 34 murmurs — Talk About the Passion )