My earliest memory of my dad?
I was young. Maybe eight or nine. Memories at that age are vague and details may or may not be accurate but I’ll relate the story the best I can.
It was a Saturday and the weekend project was to toughen me up. To do that my dad had scheduled us to chop firewood with our neighbor. If I remember right he was the coach of a football team and oozed manliness. Perhaps my dad thought I might absorb a little of it from him.
Not that I needed outside oozing. My dad was plenty tough as well. He grew up an orphan and was scrapping from the day he was born. I always wondered what he thought about me, a kid raised in the suburbs. Soft as the day is long. What was nice is he never showed any disappointment in my wimpiness. He grew up playing sports. I grew up being picked on by the kids who played sports.
He must have spent a few nights wondering whose kid I really was.
Child labor laws be damned, they handed me an axe and we spent the next eight hours (or a few hours or maybe an hour) chopping. Immediately my hands erupted into blisters, my arms burned and my breath came in ragged bursts. My second swing it only got worse. On this day though, I would not wimp out and disappoint my dad.
When it seemed that we had turned an entire forest into logs that would conveniently fit into a fireplace my dad looked over and said the words I’d been waiting to hear all day; “I think we’re done.”
I had done it. I had done a day’s work. A days’ worth of man’s work.
I was overjoyed and I believe I even saw a little pride welling up in the corners of my dad’s eyes. It was more than I could handle.
The only detail I’m fuzzy about in what transpired next was if I said “Yippee!” out loud or just thought it in my head. Either way, the next thing I did was hurl the axe up into the air as high as I could throw it. I was so happy that it was the only course of action I could see.
I never asked if my dad was proud of how high I threw it or how amazingly straight up I’d managed to get it but a few seconds later the lights went out.
Apparently gravity, despite poor timing, was still working and returned the axe roughly from where it had begun.
It landed squarely on the top of my head. Had it been at a different angle it might have completely removed that head. The only positive thing about being unconscious was that I didn’t have to witness the looks on the faces of my dad and our neighbor.
I rejoined the living in the truck on the way to the emergency room. This was before the days of concussions so once they realized I wasn’t split in half they gave me some aspirin and sent me home.
Looking back now, I imagine my dad took a few painkillers as well as he knew what he was going to face when my mother heard about my little incident.
She took the news poorly, which made me feel even worse about it. A bystander would have thought that my dad was the one that hit me on the head with an axe. I’m not sure my mother was aware that I was standing right there when she said “You know what an idiot your son is!”
To celebrate my big day out with my dad my mom had made steak for dinner. She did not make my dad a steak. While my mom, brother, grandmother, grandfather and I sat at the table enjoying steak my dad sat there eating a bowl of cereal that he’d prepared himself. I knew then and there that I would never in my life eat a bowl of cereal so stoically.
I think my mom was just surprised he knew where the cereal was.
I know that Father’s Day is a supposed to be the third Sunday in June but that day will always be Father’s Day to me.
Because later that night after I went to bed my dad crept in and kissed me on top of my swollen head and made me feel like he would always be proud of me. Despite the fact I’d embarrassed him in front of the neighbor. Despite the fact that he had to eat cereal for dinner.
Despite the fact that I really was (and remain) an idiot.
An idiot who is loved. In the end, what more could an idiot want?