After the Pond

My father was a controlling, jealous, and quick-tempered man. The distance between Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies separated our personalities. He and I shared little in common, so much that if not for some physical resemblance my only conclusion must be illegitimacy. But Mom was faithful; he was the one who slept around, which precipitated her divorcing him.

Ah, the day she confided in me was joyous. I was relieved that he would be gone and me freed from his anger, curses, and putdowns. My sisters suffered loss at his departure. I thrived in his absence. Even during the lean teen years, when we had no Christmas presents and often were hungry, I wouldn’t want him around. Mom was a single mother with four children; he contributed nothing. She suffered for her brood; he looked after himself and his new family.

Do I seem angry? No. I am matter of fact. Emotions like anger require relationship, and my father and I really had none. As for parentage, both my grandfathers were terrific family men and great role models. Their masculine influence, and that of my uncles, more than compensated for my effectively being fatherless. I am good with that and proud of their parental surrogacy.

As for my father, the best measure of relationship, or lack thereof, was my February 2024 visit to see him. My sister Nan convinced me to make the trip, because of his declining health; I reluctantly agreed. We hadn’t been face to face for 27 years. Again, I don’t feel animosity towards him—rather, I feel little at all. Hence, the long separation.

Sure, over the decades, we spoke via the phone. But nearly every conversation was strained. I would try to engage the man, but two barriers persistently presented: Aforementioned lack of common base and his long-standing tendency to be secretive, sullen. My sister struggled, too, and she made stratospheric, sincere efforts. She wanted the kind of father-daughter relationship he was incapable of giving.

What does any of this have to do with the Featured Image or this post’s title? During one Allagash hunting trip (see “Bean-hole Beans“, “Le Soleil and Me, or “Somewhere Between Dickey and Rivière-Bleue” for more), my father took offense at my hygiene and threw me into a pond. My uncle captured soaked me running from the water.

That year or another, to make a point, my father washed my hair in a spring that stayed just above freezing all summer long. Got to say: The Allagash hunters wore grime and stink like coats of knightly armor. And I was filthy? Making me clean was one of many acts of dominance and showboating for the other men.

Hold on, maybe I am being a bit unfair. Now, while writing, I see that my father did give me something: His insecurity-driven tirades hardened my mind such that I easily let things go. For example, I had forgotten about the pond dunking and was only reminded by my cousin sending the photo. My father also taught me to take criticism and not be emotionally crippled because of it. So, in a way, I am tougher because of him and stronger than he ever was—if for no other reason than having far greater self-control.

The old man died on April 16, 2024, at age 82. Confession: Mean as he could be, he didn’t beat us. Oh, but could he yell. Gosh, my ears hurt thinking about it. Good Night!

Photo Credit: Glenwood Wilcox