Friday, December 23, 2022

The Last Argument With My Father

The last argument I had with my father occurred in  a December in the mid-1980's.

My post-high school existence was not necessarily something to write home about.  Having been accepted into a "name" college in the state in which we lived, I only made it a single semester before the combination of being away from home and having my first girlfriend while I was away resulted in me packing up and returning home (also, quite probably, to my parents' and my relief as the tuition was far and above what we could have afforded).  I enrolled as a student in our local technical/junior/community college full time and found myself a series of odd jobs - handyman, heating/cooling duct installer, gutter installer - to generate income while I took classes. The goal was, of course, to transfer to State U after two years of requirements completed.

My transportation at that time was a 1970's Datsun truck, gifted to me by my maternal grandfather when he had gotten a new one.  It was a small, cramped thing painted a now-faded red with a camper shell and a a standard transmission and engine that began to quake the whole truck when one exceeded 60 miles per hour.  It was cramped in the cab - literally only two normal humans could sit comfortably or perhaps three, if one in the middle did not mind have shifting occurring between their legs.  It was the perfect sort of truck for the young man who was just sort of inching his way through life towards a hinted at but not yet seen goal.

It was in the evening on the day in question in December when the initial incident occurred.  I cannot specifically remember why I was where I was but I remember where I was:  On the overpass above the Major Interstate that bisected our town, which likely means I was driving back from the grocery store on one side to our home on the other.  It was snowing, which was not unheard of in my hometown - not the wild blustery flakes of a Midwestern snowstorm which whites out all that is around us, but significant enough that snow was laying down on the ground, the overpass, and the road - which explains why I hit something.

I do not recall what I hit - I believe I have a memory of every car I have run into and nothing leaps to mind, but that does not mean another automobile was involved. It literally could have been the overpass as well.  Whatever it was, what resulted was no injuries - and a small, bend on the driver's side, right in front of the door.  Small, but noticeable.

The next stop was home.  And home meant my father.

The joke between my sister and myself is that our father, TB the Elder (who passed this year), was as a grandfather to our children not the man we grew up with as a father.  As a father, he had the tendency to over-react when something went "not well", going from zero to 60 in about 0.1 seconds - never physical violence or swearing or derogatory language about you, but definitely a great deal of voice raising and yelling, to the point that even today I cannot stay in a room with any sort of conflict or raised voices in it.  What that lead to, of course, was learning to attempt to hide anything that went wrong until either it could be "fixed" or it could no longer be hidden.

My arrival at home was likely quiet, I suspect:  I walked in, talked with my mother and father, and began looking for an opportunity to slip out and try to repair the damage:  likely in my head was the idea of using a hammer or screwdriver to lever out the dent.  My father, who went outside to get firewood, beat me to it.

In retrospect as a father myself, I can understand where some of his rage and frustration came from:  without knowing anything else, he had no idea what had happened.  Was I hurt?  Was anyone else hurt?  Was there a hit and run?  - I write all of this a father now who has thought same things when I have gotten "the call".  But some of it was simply the way that he had always reacted to things:  anger and raised voice.

I stumbled in my responses - I always did when he was that way, and to this day I still am reluctant and hesitant to speak in such moments as I do not react well and I do not trust myself to respond in moments of anger - after all, I am my father's son.  At one point he roared "You never tell me when things go wrong."

"You always yell when I do" I roared back - and then promptly turned and left the house.

This counter-response was so unlike me up to that point that I do not know where it came from - even now, I am surprised that such a thing came out of my mouth.  I never, ever contradicted my father in anything in common speech, let alone when there was this sort of thing.

And so I wandered off down our street into the snow.

I have no idea what I was actually thinking at the time.  I really had nowhere else to go, as it was evening and snowing and late.  And so I walked down to the end of the street, crossed the road, and went over to the recently built municipal park where I just stood with my hands in my pockets, watching the snow.  Perhaps I was just planning to wait it out until my parents went to sleep and I could creep back in to the house and go to bed or perhaps I was waiting for some kind of divine revelation about what to do.

What I was not waiting for was what actually happened:  the crunching of snow behind me as my father crossed the road.

In all my years, I can only recall my father coming after me after a traumatic event once, when we had had to put our dog to sleep and I (much younger at the time) had gone up the back hill at our house to grieve.  The last thing I had expected now was to see him out in the snow, coming for me.

The words of what we said specifically are now lost in the winds of time and snow. He apologized, I apologized, we both walked back up the lane together.  We never spoke of the incident again and the small dent remained a permanent part of the truck as long as I held on to it until later the next year when, as my sister and I were both off to State U, he bought a more reliable car to manage the trek there.

We never had an argument like that again - partially, perhaps, because after that I was off to college (it took the second time) and partially because two years later he had a significant brush with death in the form of Staph Pneumonia that literally almost killed him; when he came out, he was a very changed man and most of what seemed to have fueled whatever caused that anger had dissipated on the hospital bed.

Likely - and I will never know it now - there was a conversation between my mother and father after I had stormed out.  Likely it involved mostly my mother talking and father not saying anything. Likely it involved her telling him he needed to get back out there and find me. It is all likely, of course, but this side of Heaven it now remains a mystery as to its origin.

Which is, I suppose, ultimately irrelevant to the story.  

What is relevant - and what I recall now with vivid force even as I write - is not the accident or the words or even specifically how I felt during all of it.  What is relevant is the picture I always hold in my heart of my father crossing the street to find me, the snow trailing down in the not-quite darkness that only snow clouds seem to hold, a benediction of sorts during the season of The Greatest Giving.


  1. What a nice story. Our fathers were completely different though for some reason you and I were similar. Being on the farm, I bent, dented, broke many a thing over the years and I absolutely dreaded telling my father about each and every one of them. I guess he must have showed anger some of the times for me to agonize about telling him but the ones I remembered he showed amazing grace and restraint. Sometimes his restraint made me feel even more guilty after telling him.

    Now as a father myself, I have been humbled about how much of an edge my words can have towards my daughters. I don't shout ever but sometimes when I express my displeasure, tears instantly form in their eyes. I am humbled that they care enough to form tears. Fortunately they are like me and quick to forgive. But it is hard for me to forget the power I have over them with words. I suppose your father realized that last thing, with your mom's help, on that snowy evening.

    1. Ed, one of the things that my mother had mentioned about my father which it took me years to connect was the fact that when his older brother was killed by a drunk driver, my father was pretty much left on his own to deal with his grief as his father was looking as his mother and his remaining older brother was looking after his siblings. That, possibly combined with his growing up experience - my grandpa, from what I understand, was a hard living man before he found the Baptist church - formed him in ways that I can probably never understand.

      Perhaps because of that experience, I have hopefully managed my words better over the years - not perfectly by any stretch of the imagination (your words about your daughters ring true with me as well). I rate that by how willing they are to tell me the sorts of things that, once upon a time, would have not been met so well by my father.

      Your comparison of our similarity I will treat as an unexpected and completely delightful Christmas gift.

  2. Nylon124:26 AM

    Ah, what is a parent's love eh TB?

    1. Nylon12, for all of the flaws my father had, he had a great many virtues as well. He was able to overcome most of the flaws over the course of his life - if I should overcome a tenth of what he did, I will consider it a success.

  3. That's a good Christmas story. It's all about caring for the other person. Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

    1. Randy, the event literally entered my mind at 0200 this week again, and suddenly I realized what a good Christmas story it might be (my father, not my writing of it). I am glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for stopping by, and Merry Christmas as well.

  4. Thanks for the peek into your life, TB. Our dads at that time were pretty similar. Dad didn't ever resort to violence, but he could and would chew me up with his words and attitude. We walked down to the barn on one occasion I remember. I don't remember the conversation's context, but he turned and told me, "any time you think you're man enough, we'll step out behind the barn and see who walks back out!" I don't remember there being any animosity at all before, it was just a sudden threat. Very confusing memory. He was prone to outbursts. After he lost his job and faced several humbling occurences, he softened up a lot. He finally told me he was proud of me. And liked the man I'd become. I was in my 40's when that happened.

    I was exactly the same as you with the "raised voices" reaction. Until the head injury. That one accident changed my filter from always on, to never on. Now, it's difficult to keep my mouth shut when someone is being an ass. And none of my family knows what to make of it. Heck, I don't either. Just like your outburst to your dad, I hear myself talking, and think, "oh no, did I just SAY that? Out loud????" And if someone is being a little aggressive, my back gets up. It's completely unlike my previous decades.

    Our raising sure has had an impact on our lives. And the beautiful act of your father coming out to make it as right as he could was a wonderful thing. Your forgiveness was, too. When folks rub against each other, there will be friction. How we deal with that friction is more important than the conflict itself. It can have lifelong implications.

    Happy Christmas!!

    1. STxAR - Our fathers lived through times that in some ways we cannot imagine but made them into the men they were. Sometimes it is hard to shed something which was perhaps a habit or even a survival mechanism. That is not to suggest that it was "wrong", just perhaps not needed in a different way.

      Head injuries are strange things - to your point, behavior can change and from what I know of you, I can definitely hear you saying "Whaaat?" even as the words come out.

      He was prone to seemingly random gestures like that. In retrospect, I do not wonder that it was simply the way he was able to convey affection and emotion.

      Happy Christmas to you as well!

  5. I wish Blogspot had a like button. Great story.

    1. Thank you M2M. His humility far eclipses anything I will be able to accomplish in my own.

  6. Anonymous1:08 PM

    I recall my DAD having ability to create some raucous with my older brother when something went down like this but he couldn’t live long enough to witness me as a brain addled 18 or twenty year old. I like to think he would have handled me the same way as yours handled you. Thanks for the heart warming TB.


    1. FNB - Thank you. To be fair, it took us a number of arguments over the years to get to this point...

    2. Anonymous4:31 AM


  7. Thank you Bob.

    That would have been quite a thing tor what should have otherwise been good news. Hopefully everything went smoothly after that - it certainly did for my father and myself.


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