In My Father’s House, Part 2

A childhood memory: waking up in the pre-dawn winter hours to the muffled thrumming of my father’s car warming up in the driveway. In my mind I can picture the clouds of crystalline exhaust illuminated by the back porch light. I would lie snug in my bed and listen to the sounds of my father preparing to go to work: his step (the heaviest in the house) in the hallway, the jingle of the dozen or so keys on the big ring on his belt, the clink of a coffee cup being set down on the counter; finally the closing of the back door to mark his passing. It was familiar and unremarkable, and I would go back to sleep.

When I awoke again my mind was filled with my own thoughts and plans for the day. In this time my father owned his own business and was rarely home for supper. My brother and sister and I would eat with our mother, and go about our evening routine. I would often be in bed again when I heard him return. There would be the sounds of my mother frying him a steak, and of talking; their voices distinct, but not the words. Sometimes the tone was obviously my mother reciting the sins of the day, and if they were heinous enough, we would be summoned from our beds for the promised retribution of When Our Father Gets Home.

As a father now myself, I understand how this had to have been as unpleasant for him as it was for us.

During this time our father was a seldom seen force in our lives, operating outside our understanding, toward ends unknown. We would see him mostly on Sundays, and there was a feeling of awkwardness as if none of us were quite certain about how we should act. And yet there was always food on the table, a comfortable house, and clothes for every season, even though we gave little thought, or saw little connection, to how these things came to be.

It wasn’t until I was 11 or 12 and old enough to go to work with my father that I really started to get to know him, and learn what a just and wonderful man he was. I admit he never seemed to be at a loss for things for me to do: pick up rocks and litter, sweep the drive, clean the restrooms for the rest of the workers and the guests. As I learned more about how to please him, my responsibilities and privileges grew. I came to know the special feeling of joining him in the early morning while everyone else was asleep as we got ready to go to “our” work.

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