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Creative Yammerings

Daddy's Lesson


1990, I am 16


On a random afternoon I am home washing dishes. Daddy walks into the kitchen. I don't look up allowing my focus to remain on task. He stops to my left, faces me, and stands there waiting for me to turn my attention toward him. I turn. He stands relaxed, his eyes meet mine. At his side he holds his 357 revolver.


I look him over. He wants to frolic in my confusion and potential fear. I know this about father so cheat him of it. Calmly turn my attention back to the dishes and matter-factly inquire about his ongoings as if he is a child holding a toy.


He recognizes my dismissal, the absence of concern annoys him. He snaps out of his flat stance and without any conversation Daddy's lesson begins.


He tells me to dry my hands. I do so. He then turns the butt of the gun and gives it to me. I accept. I accept without fear, question, or confusion. I wrap my full hand around the wooden handle with a conviction of ownership because that's what a man would do.


He tells me "point at the wall and fire". I ask for basic clarity “shoot the wall?” He repeats me with a mild mocking inflection “yeah,,,, shoot-the-wall.” He stands back and watches.


Damn, this , “thing” is heavy. I always forget how heavy it is until holding it and every time I think to myself “damn, this, thing is heavy”.


It is a cannon of a weapon, a “man’s” gun. I fired it once years ago...


It is 1986, I am 12 years old.


My family is visiting extended family in Hartsville South Carolina. In the south, Daddy has more freedom to carry and use guns. He has his big gun with him.


I watch him shoot it at random target practice. I admire how brave he is for being able to harness that noise. The gun fire is soooo loud it secretly scares me and If I could choose I never want to hear it fire again. I’m sit under Daddy because I want him to think I’m interested and I want to be interested but I’m not. I just have this undying longing for his interest.


I don’t let on about my fear or admiration, just present. He looks over to me with hopeful assumption that I want to fire his gun because he wants me to fire his gun. When offered I hope he's joking but in his eyes I can see his pleasent offer is actually a soft demand wrapped in an ill fitting disguise of sharing.


I willingly take the gun and pretend to be brave, pretend I've been waiting for a chance. I pretend in hopes to please my father, that if I can drape myself with this ill fitting disguise of being brave for just a single trigger pull I'll earn from him some of the same genre of admiration I have for him. I want my father to know I will become a man, and this is a man's activity.


As Daddy hands me the gun he rattles off instructions about aiming, having a tight grip, and pulling the trigger. All of it bounces off my head, far too nervous about being tossed into the deep end of this scenario. The butterflies in my gut rage and tickle up a nervous smile that feels uncomfortably propped on my face, a smile that I try to disguise as excitement.


As the full weight of this weapon rest in my hand for the first time it feels,,, insanely heavy. So heavy I don't understand how it can be a practical weapon. On TV people run with, drop, and throw these things around but nothing about this monstrosity of metal remotely lends itself to be handled with anything but respect and care. I feel I should whisper in its presence to avoid upsetting the resting power.


Daddy tells me to shoot a target at the base of a tree that rests about 12 feet away. I struggle to lift the weapon with a straight arm as instructed. The top of the guns nods heavily left to right as I rebalance it into something not even close to steady.


I squeeze my eyes closed squinting with my right staring down the nodding barrel. The pending noise on the other side of a trigger pull is terrifying. I want to close both eyes to hide behind the thin skin of lids. To just pull the trigger to dechamber myself from my father’s attention graduating into something he respects.


I aim, I squeeze. The trigger doesn’t move, it doesn't budge, locked in place. I assume something is wrong and look at my father with confusion. He immediately dismisses my look and tells me to try again.


Lifting the gun to the tree again I squeeze harder and the hammer shivers out of its seated place, floats for a second, my finger gives way to the stress, and the hammer sinks back into the gun.


The trigger feels as if it’s asking me “are you sure this is what you want to do???” My silent emotional answer screams “NO!!!” Nothing about this feels as if it's designed with me in mind.


Daddy rushes his words with a pointed frustration. "Commit-and-pull-harder!"


The soft demands have abandoned the pleasantries and mirage of choice. The glaring truth throwing back its bothersome disguise jabs that pointed frustration in my back to get on with it.


Its then that I recognize that I lack something in the way of needed masculinity because it's so hard yet he speaks to me as if it should be easy. It's not easy, it's hard, all of it is hard and scary. I want to just give it back to him but Daddy's disappointment scares me far more than the noise of this weapon.


I commit and squeeze harder, no longer caring to aim for a perfect shot, I just point in the general direction to get it over with. I pull with all the strength in my finger and the hammer pivots out of the gun at a healthy distance. There is a sense of accomplishment that the trigger is mo.....


BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!


...


... the power..........


...


... the noise


...


Its not like anything I could even imagine. The closeness of the explosion and my introduction to true recoil leaves my marrow saucened. Something must have gone terribly wrong because the blast is so abrasive, so ugly I just couldn't fathom that someone would willfully involve themselves with such danger, let alone fire it multiple times in one standing.


When opening my eyes or when my senses came back to presence I half expect a squirting stump of twisted flesh and bone where my hand once lived. The explosion left my hand, my entire arm, and chest numb along with a deafening ringing in my head that silenced the world. It was a senseless unmitigated rage of hatred with a recoil of power that nearly spun the gun backwards out of my hand.


The blunt edge of that noise punched through me, it felt like a kick of some sort, like getting hit hard from the inside.


In that very moment I came to understand that firing a weapon was literally setting off an explosion. The weight of the gun, the "monstrosity of metal" contained the explosion and pushed all of its frustrated intentions out into a focused direction. The explosion that I sat off was plenty fine blowing my hand away, the gun stopped it.


I am baffled by the power and what it means for my relationship with masculinity. Through some miracle, maybe even a mild state of shock I am stricken with awe. The better sense of me wants to drop this device of death to the sandy earth and yelp away with my green masculinity tucked between my legs.


My father immediately says something but I can't hear him over the ringing. I'm also blown into an emotional silence, a calm confusion trying to wrap my head around what exactly did I just experience. Why did my father expose me to that? I thought "I am just a chilWhat it meant to my being,


I lower the barrel of the gun to the ground and happily turn the butt to my father. Any feelings of this weapon being impractical are now infinitely worse.


The commotion of it all branded into my being a respect that will ring through my f-ears forever. No part of me ever wants to fire Daddy's gun again. Nothing about it feels safe or gives me a sense of power. In fact, that one gun shot churned up more fragilities that now glimmers on the surface of my gut. I don't feel more manly, I don't feel a sense of accomplishment, I feel the blast burned away my disguise and exposed my fragilities, a blast of clarity to myself as being more child than man. I feel like the line of masculinity in the sand was kicked clear and redrawn at an impossible reach.


and..... *back to the kitchen*


... here I am, just a few short years later. Gun in hand ready to fire, still chasing Daddy's approval, and again choosing to suppress grounded fears for his acceptance.


I lift the black heavy metal to the wall and with assured confidence I fully commit to my intention and yank the trigger back. I snatch through the recalled difficulty, I snatch to own it with prejudice. I SNATCH with a subtle hatred of a weak yesterme. I am loaded with over-compensation to make up for a shivering hammer. My hammer will never shiver again. I snatch back to take the respect my father owes me, he will recognize I am a man!!!!


The hammer blurs out of its seat immediately slamming back with….


“click......”


Uneventful.


.....a whisper of nothing.


I expected more, well, expected something but not in the way of an explosion. In the emotional fine print of my brave trigger snatch I was certain of the impotence of this challenge. Nothing in me even prepared for an explosion or recoil. Although Daddy is a smidge crazy he ain’t no gadamn fool. Regardless of my assumptions about the gun being empty, I am happy for any victory lap I can achieve to please this gatekeeper of masculinity.


I listen, follow directions, trusted and did what was expected without question, I am brave, I fully committed, my hammer didn’t shiver, I am strong, I am a man, a son that he can be proud of.


I direct the barrel to the floor and turn the gun's butt toward him. I stand with a chest bloated with pride. I return this hunk of conquered fear with indifference coupled with a half-cocked smile to say “that was easy.”


Even before a complete hand-off, Daddy begins with this prepared judgmental talk. His tone is aggressive because in tote he still carries his earlier annoyance for feeling belittled.


Essentially, he says “do this” followed up with “why did you do that?!?!?” to “don’t do what I told you!!!!” Going on with a list of what-ifs and how I should never trust anyone.


For clarity, this is not a gun-safety lesson. In all his talk he never explains what I should have done. The gun and this whole performance of "lesson" was nothing more than a prop to attack trust, to attack people, it was a human-safety lesson “Never trust anyone, ever, not even me.”


Teaching me basic gun safety would be a great lesson and we could've skipped this dumb-ass exercise and just talked BUT Daddy’s lessons need to have texture and an abstract depth. His paths of lessons are littered with landmines and empty voids. He dresses up the mundane and skips the needed remedials because the big colorful lesson is the only lesson that matters to him. Muted lesson don't saucen marrow or ring ears.


I recognize that he needs this talk more for himself, a validation that his genre of teachable moments and life-approach has purpose and place. He takes pride that he is able to stain his lessons on to a life.


Standing silent, waiting for the talk to end, the lesson was heard in the first sentence. I'm now waiting for a dismissal of my attention, waiting for him to feel his spike of lesson is driven deep enough in my chest for to remain, waiting to be abandoned in silence. Soon and yet again I’ll have to make space for disappointment in myself that is born out of his disappointment in me. Yet another reminder that I’m not good enough, never good enough. A perpetual failure even when I succeed.


I listen, not shocked in the least. I know this story, been here far too many times not to recognize the huff and puff of my personal wolf at my door. He's here to blow my house down again and again and....


He means well but it rarely feels that way. He teaches too many lessons by way of pain, the lessons stick but never in a good way. His lesson leave lesions and the worse ones hide beneath my skin, to many lesions of lessons that never heal and rub raw beneath the shifting fabric of life.


On and on he talks at me as if I'm foolish for not considering his long list of what-ifs, as if I'm foolish for trusting him, as if I'm foolish for not knowing things I don't know.


With not even a resemblance of a recap or wind down he kinda turns and walks away. I stand in place. I watch his back far longer than I need to. I stand and watch him walk until he turns and vanishes into his bedroom.


Something is, weird,,,, on my insides. I can't explain what I feel because it's a new feeling. There is some kind of organic contemplation that is sprouting and taking root in my consciousness. I don't understand why I watched him but it's what I needed to do, like I really NEEDED to watch him.


I pull myself back to reality and in a half-stunned state make my way back to the sink of dishes with this contemplation lacing the air above my head. I probe the confusion and interrogate why every positive prideful feeling that bloated my chest still,,,,,,,,, remains. It's weird, I almost feel crazy because I'm so unbothered, numb.


My pride didn’t pop and deflate as it normally does. I unknowingly still held a dismissive smile. For the first time, I don't feel bad, I have no regrets, not a single one.


Before his lesson-prop was tucked back in whatever nook it normally lives a voice from within promised myself and the universe with a complete booming conviction “I will be a far more loving, compassionate, balanced, and understanding human/father/teacher/friend/leader to my children than you can ever be for/to me."


This organic thought is by far the most electric empowering thing that has ever moved through my young reality, my first blood oath to myself.


I find some form of sanctuary in the thought of me out-parenting him. Satisfaction in KNOWING that my eventual children will respect and love and appreciate me in ways I will never love or respect or appreciate him. From my murky reality appeared an oasis of needed far flung retribution. There was some safe space that came to life in knowing that the genre love that didn't get from him on the front end I would cultivate and raise in my own.


I knew he was wrong, even with his lesson having merit his approach made him wrong. In understanding he was wrong I gain some budding faculty over my individuality. For the first time, I consider that this man no longer holds the limitations on what I would and wouldn't become. Moreover, this discovered chink in his armor gave me access to question other places he may be wrong or wrong in ways that does not fit the me I want to be.


At 16 years old for the first time I feel sorry for my father. I feel sorry that he lives a life as a guarded war-ready island. At 16, I understand his ways are not ideal. At 16 I stand in one place and happily release him to his victory strut with me no longer swept into his undertow.


I watched him walk away making peace with the understanding I have to now travel my own path absent of him as a leader. In that moment he no longer represented the light at the end of manhood's tunnel but was demoted to the surrounding dark space I have to travel through to get to the end, to reach myself.


In South Carolina, I experienced an explosion of madness of death, destruction, and confusion. The uneventful kitchen-“click” triggered a beautiful silent mushroom cloud of life, the start of self acceptance, and clarity.


Daddy's lesson lessoned but not in the ways he hoped.

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