My Father’s Image

Growing up, there were few things I knew for certain about my father, Guy, besides his name and the heritage behind our dark, bushy hair.  He was always a stoic, private man, and these traits about him made my friends weary to be around him. Most of my friends even describe him as “intimidating,” but they didn’t know him like I did, not that the information I had was much more than anyone who met him.
            Of the few notions I gained about or from my father, I couldn’t begin to imagine how many times I heard him tell me or my two brothers, “self-respect is everything,” in his stern voice. Billions of times is an accurate estimate. My father also always used to say, “If you look respectable, you’re half-way there.”
            I mostly based this advice on the tie-and-coat attire my father wore to work. His sleek black coats matched his sleek black hair every day, paired with a plethora of silky, tastefully-colored ties. Yet as I aged, I learned about the other facets of self-respect he preached about.
            A category of the ideal “image” my father strove to beat into me and my brothers was reputation. None of us would succeed in life if we tarnished my parents’ or our own reputation.           “You know your Aunt Pam had three abortions before she was twenty,” he reminded me,one day, about one of his four sisters during another parent-daughter discussion. I had been caught sneaking out the night prior. It didn’t help my case that they already teenager-proofed the house by setting a security code in the kitchen and hiding nails in the top of the garage door so when the door was opened, the proof was left behind. The window on the first floor that I used to exit the house tested my grace and balance, and I fell out of into my father’s thorny barberry bush. The rustling and the pain under my parents’ bedroom window woke them shortly after.
            My image was looking pretty trashy to my parents, who assumed, from the reminder about Aunt Pam, that I was out all night getting pregnant.
             He finished the Aunt Pam story as he relayed the consequences of her actions.
            He told me, “And she spent the next few years watching a black and white TV next to our drunk, angry father, is that what you want? People will look at you, they will judge you, and that will come back to haunt you and mess you up for the rest of your life.”
            Along with the knowledge of my dad’s opinion on self-respect, I also knew, for certain,two of his childhood facts: my father grew up with seven people who all lived in one tiny house and this household was poor because of Grandpa Weeks’ drinking habits.
            My father grew up on Illinois Street in the “Mexican neighborhood” (as my mother named it; she grew up in the Polish neighborhood, as-a-matter-of-fact) in South Bend, Indiana. The houses were all boxy little shacks crammed next to each other in the neighborhood with a slice of green that shot across the front of these houses, simulating a yard.
            But Grandpa didn’t care about the lack of yard, or the tight packing of the four girls in one room, my father and his only brother in another, and Grandpa and Grandma in the last room, because it was cheap and the factory he worked at was just a block down the road. When he wasn’t working, Grandpa exercised his Mexican rights and drank tequila.
            Once, my mother told me when her and my father dated she would pick him up from his house, because my father’s family didn’t have a car. She told me how she used to pull up to the house, and sit in the car and wait until my father ran out of the house and into the safety of my mother’s car. Grandpa chased my father out of the house one of those times, dancing around the yard violently, calling toward my mother, “Mija! Come inside!”My father enclosed himself mom’s white ’87 Camero, yelling, “go, go!” as they sped down Illinois Street.
            The few stories I heard about my father’s childhood always left me dumb-founded. Our family life was nothing like the life my father had growing up. The houses I lived in all had four bedrooms for five people. A TV in every room.Our family had a three-stall garage. We had a white picket fence. Two treadmills in our basement.Two blond, soft dogs.A lush half-acre of yard that my father maintained once a week, his skin soaking in the sun to a light ebony shade, during summers.I didn’t realize right away that my white-picket-fence-having, easy-sailing life was due to him.
            “I don’t want you to have the same life I had,” was one of the other few phrases my father repeated. And truly meant.We didn’t live in the same area as the rest of my father’s family did. My four aunts and grandparents saw each other every day, while we saw them roughly two times a year, if it was absolutely necessary.
            The life my father had growing up appeared to be mainly avoided by two contributing factors. The first was location. My father got out of the bad neighborhoods of South Bend, and moved his new family to Granger. Granger is a quaint little town on the border of Michigan and Indiana, with winding neighborhoods and baseball leagues with teams in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. My father even had a house built specifically for our family. I watched the dirt lot turn into a wooden skeleton that turned into the house my family has called home for over eight years.
            My father also hardly ever drank, or wasted money on alcohol. Every once in a while, my father would order a new red wine from some high-class company somewhere in California or North Carolina, but that would be the only bottle in the house.Grandpa Weeks took to the bottle as a leisure activity.My father chose Notre Dame football. The only time I ever saw my father drink were Friday nights, when my mother and he enjoyed a sweet and tart blue raspberry margarita at Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, or a single twenty-ounce glass of Foster’s Australian beer from Outback Steakhouse where my younger brother and I both worked.
            My father was a separate force than Grandpa, or the rest of his family, and he was a force that sprouted from rubble. I obviously didn’t take this fact into consideration when my father’s brown hand swept like bear’s claw over the nightstand in my bedroom, where a large wooden anchor sat.
            I bought that anchor when I was sixteen. Michael, my boyfriend at the time, took me around the garage sales in his neighborhood, and I found it. It was meant to hang wine glasses upside-down at some nautical-themed soirée I loved nautical-themed trinkets, so I bought it for a dollar. It sat proudly before pictures of beaches framed on my cerulean walls.
            My father knocked the anchor straight off the nightstand in one swap.
            “If you want to act like trash, then you will live with trash,” he whispered at me after I watched the anchor fall apart on the carpet. The glare in his eye was an unwavering establishment of superiority, where the black of his eye consumed the mahogany of his irises. His black brow was furrowed deep, creating ripples of waves across his greasy forehead.
            “What was that?” my mother asked from a bedroom down the black hall.
            “Nothing,” my father called in a sing-songy way. Then he whipped out of my room, like nothing had happened, into the blackness to find my mother.
            This was the angriest my father had been at me throughout my teenage years. At the time, I didn’t know it, but included in the image rule my father had, there was a deep-seeded fear for his children. He was afraid for me. He was afraid of me repeating his poverty-stricken family’s failures, leading out of a life he built.


One thought on “My Father’s Image

  1. ” He was afraid for me. He was afraid of me repeating his poverty-stricken family’s failures, leading out of a life he built.”
    All father’s want their kids to do better. A powerful tale. Thank you for sharing.


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