It’s something that inevitably happens to unsuspecting young people. One morning when looking at their visage in the bathroom mirror and wondering, “Hey, what’s up with those ears?” an epiphany like a bolt of white-hot lightning hits them striking terror and fear. They are turning into their parents. And like the motions of wind, tides, sun and moon, they know this is unstoppable: they are inescapably trapped by this titanic force of nature.
The metamorphosis of slowly becoming my father had occurred to me and I might have totally succumbed to this new reality and laid about, numb, waiting for the irreversible and tragic transformation to complete itself if not for a singular event. I love, admire and respect my father. It is obvious from our common ancestry and heritage we have plenty in common; love of family, music, respect for nature, the natural order of things and apathy towards narrow and shallow people. But until this moment, I had not really looked deep enough to see the differences that we had; the characteristics that would define me as an individual.
I was visiting my father in stepmother for the weekend at their house in Denver. Dad had been having trouble getting his crotchety old pick up started and decided he and I would fix it. I am sure that anyone who has lived in or near rural areas or has ever fancied themselves a “farmer” or “rancher”, regardless of their actual vocation, are very familiar with the ubiquitous crotchety old truck. To me the fact that it wasn’t running was a win. If it doesn’t run, you don’t have to drive it to a point too far away from your house to walk and have it break down. But that wasn’t the way Dad saw it so out we went to revive the old rust bucket.
Dad had diagnosed the problem as having to do with the battery so first order of business was to raise the hood and locate the offending piece. For the inexperienced among you, one of the traits of the crotchety old truck is that the hood has to weigh at least half of the total gross vehicle weight. (I have decided that they build them this way so on the chance you meet up with a wandering tap dancing troop, they will have a stage to perform on.) In addition, the springs that were installed to counter act this tonnage must be gone or at best, rendered totally worthless.
So it would take both of us heaving and grunting to get the hood open. As I quivered under the mass of the hood holding it in place, Dad picked up an old broomstick that he kept handy for just this purpose and wedged in place so we could proceed with the operation.
One characteristic I am certain that my father has passed on to me is the transparent uncertainty about which cable you approach first when removing a car battery. (Is it the red or the black? I am still not sure). With a moment of hesitation, one hand resting on the metal frame of the truck, Dad pondered the choice. Settling on his victim, he reached in and grabbed one of the wires to remove it from the battery. With the unmistakable sound of a completed electrical circuit, sparks flying, Dad recoiled from the offending shock he had received and in the process, slammed his head, smashing his cowboy hat, into the trucks bulkhead of a hood.
He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts and moved to extricate himself from the engine bay of the truck. Unfortunately, in the process, his left elbow deftly knocked the supporting broomstick from its place, causing the hood to come crashing down upon him. There he was, trapped, lower body hanging out from the truck like some nightmare scene from Jaws.
This blow would have killed a lesser man. My father, however, being a very substantial human and with his experiences being knocked around both the football field and the farm, was well equipped to easily survive the blow.
With my adrenaline pumping, summoning all my strength, I was able to get the hood lifted from my fathers back and help him find his balance. As he turned to me, his face as red with anger as I think I had ever seen, he removed his cowboy hat, skillfully punched it back into shape and placed it on his head. He then took a deep breath.
Like the person standing at the base of an erupting volcano, I stood, frozen, the whiff of ozone and smoke in the air, braced for the blast knowing it would be the most spectacular thing I had ever seen, and probably my last. I was going to be the sole witness to something I don’t think any one has ever seen before. My father was actually going to swear and from the look on his face, it was going to be one for the ages.
As I steadied my self in preparation for the explosion, I noticed the red slowly fading from his face and his grip on the offending broomstick begin to ease. Then, looking me right in the eye, in a low, calm voice and annunciating clearly, every letter, he said “Horse Apples!”.
That’s when it hit me. I am NOT going to turn into my father! In fact, unlike me, who can curse with the easy flare of verse from the tongue of the bard, I have never heard him swear. I am not sure if this is because of his incredible discipline in front of me or he has some anti swearing syndrome. What ever it is, it’s something he seemed incapable of. Though some may perceive this as character flaw in me, I see it as a marker, a delineation that defines me as me and keeps me just far enough removed from my father to be different.
Recently I have read about research that shows how swearing can reduce ones perception of pain. So to continue to exert my independence, celebrate my difference and because I believe in science, I want to say: