The tall, lanky man my sister brought home was not unlike my father: both British, with startling blue eyes, a dark mop of hair, and a rakish grin. Before anyone could introduce them, my father reached out his hand, grasped the younger man’s in a death grip, and stared straight into his eyes.
“I’ll trust you’ll be behaving yourself under my roof!”
“Nice to see you too, Stan.” The younger man tried to pull away, but my father wasn’t ready to release him.
“Okay, okay, I won’t make a peep.”
All this before my poor sister could even introduce her date. Obviously, the two men had met and it was not under happy circumstances.
“That one’s up to no good!” I heard my father mutter to Mother under his breath.
It was an ominous start to what was supposed to be a celebration of Dad’s fiftieth birthday.
The gathering was set up in the recreation room of our home, where there was a pool table and plenty of seating to accommodate guests. Our basement walked out to a patio, and since it was the beginning of summer, we assumed guests would spill out there. We had a dry bar in the main area, and the laundry room tub was commandeered for ice and drinks. My younger sister and I were charged with passing around snacks and making sure people’s drinks were topped up.
Even before Michael arrived tensions were high. They always were when my parents entertained; everything had to be perfect: the house, the food, the alcohol. The latter brought its own form of stress. We never knew what might happen when libations were involved.
I can’t recall the reason that my Dad ended up on his hands and knees on the laundry room floor – something must have needed fixing – but I’ll never forget the moment Michael waltzed into the room and, seeing my father’s ass as a perfect target, decided to kick him.
My father leapt up so fast, tore off his shirt, and landed a right to Michael’s jaw, who obviously up to the challenge, retaliated. The men locked arms and a wrestling match ensued, and all I could do was stand blocked by the melee, yelling “Stop!”
I had seen my father enraged many times, and we all lived in fear of the violence we knew lurked below the surface, but this was the first full on fight I had witnessed, and it worried me that this much younger man was taking on my aging father. (He was old in my fifteen-year-old eyes).
I needn’t have worried. My sister escorted Michael out with a bleeding nose and what look like the start of a black eye. Dad didn’t have a scratch on him; he just brushed himself off, put his shirt back on, winked at me and said:
“That’ll teach him to mess with me. Now, where’s my drink?”
I felt bad for my sister, and even worse for Michael, who was an invited guest, but as time went on – they continued to date- I began to see that this boy was just as my father had described him: up to no good.
That was the thing about my father – he could be totally out of line behaviour- wise, but it was hard to argue with his justifications.
It never occurred to me, as a young woman growing up under his spell, that no matter what the reason, violence is not the answer.
In a string of warped ideologies- a product of growing up in a dysfunctional home – I wouldn’t unlearn this one for years.