The Old Man was not always easy to relate to. He grew up in a much different time than I did. He grew up in a different household, in a different town, and in a different world.
He was older than the usual dad with children my age. He was hard-handed and stuck in his own ways. The Old Man was born out of The Great Depression, so his views on money, discipline, and waste were very strict.
The Old Man hated waste. He used to tell stories about dinnertime when he was a little boy. They would have contests at the dinner table to see who could eat chicken and clean the bone without leaving any meat on it. This carried over to his adult life, and up until the day he passed, The Old Man could clean a bone better than anyone I ever met.
As children, this was a contest. But to my grandparents, this was a way to teach their children to eat everything and waste nothing.
Like many, my Old Man had his share of, “When I was your age,” stories.
“When I was your age, we used to walk six miles to get to school, uphill and both ways.”
He would argue about my behavior and say, “I never did anything like that when I was your age!”
He would tell me, “I never sat around and watched television when I was a kid.”
And when I would answer, “But Pop, they didn’t have televisions when you were a kid,” he would send me to my room, which was fine with me, because I had my own television.
The Old Man was not always approachable. After work, he would come home and sit at an otherwise empty dinner table. He would eat reheated food, and he would look at his plate with such intensity.
As a boy, I studied him. It seemed as if he ate with anger; almost as if he chewed his food to vent his frustration. His thick, dark eyebrows clenched downward as he sat at the head of his dining room table. His fork scraped against the plate, and he never seemed to look up. The Old Man would reach for his glass, drink, and then he would return back to his plate.
It was clear there were too many thoughts spinning around in his head. I assume the worst of his feelings was fear. He was afraid of being old. He was afraid he wasn’t good enough, or strong enough. Sometimes these fears would consume him. But fear has its way of turning into anger. And that’s when The Old Man would snap at me.
My mother would say, “He doesn’t mean it.”
But I rarely understood. And how could I?
She would tell me, “Your father is just scared. That’s all.”
But she never explained why.
The Old Man was scared of hospitals. He was frightened of doctors and the unknown. He was afraid to get old and feel helpless. He was in fear of not being able to produce. He was fearful of losing his business and frightened of the bills, which always seemed to pile up on a weekly basis.
If I asked about this, The Old Man would say, “You’ll understand when you get older,” and then he would send me away.
That was then . . .
And this is now . . .
I came home from work the other day and tossed my keys upon the kitchen counter. I sifted through the mail and separated the junk from the bills. Then I opened the fridge to reheat food from the previous night.
I sat at the head of an otherwise empty table and chewed my food with intensity. My eyebrows clenched downward, and the only time I looked up from my plate was to drink from my glass.
Like The Old Man, I don’t like feeling vulnerable.
I don’t like being afraid . . .
I have a pile of bills, which I separate in priority.
I have frustrations at work.
And like The Old Man, these fears and frustrations have often turned into anger. That’s when I snap, and when I do this, I snap at the ones closest to me.
But I don’t mean it . .
My Mother hasn’t been well for several years now. She was admitted to the hospital this morning. And this is another thing I share with The Old Man; I don’t like hospitals. I’m afraid of doctors, and I’m frightened of the unknown.
And sure, I want to yell.
I want to punish someone or break something. I want to express my anger and shake my fists at the world. But that never worked for The Old Man, so I suppose it won’t work for me either.
But you were right, Pop
I do understand now.