One theme in “Light in Darkest Days” is the relationship between fathers and sons. After his dad comes to visit him in prison, Tim is sure his dad is the best in the world. Tim reminisces about his childhood and his father in a part of the book that mirrors a very real childhood memory of my own. It’s in pieces like this that I, as an author, say, “yes, parts of this story are real.” A big high five to dads, and especially to my dad.
January 16, 2011
When I was growing up we had things in the backyard that made me feel small. There were railroad ties in the far end of the yard, three levels of them, leading up to woods and neighbors beyond that who had loud parties and who my mother said, “Were probably not the church-going type.”
In my memory, the steps up to the fun yard behind us were tall and monstrous, the first step too high for me to climb or reach. I would look up and try to climb up, my blue tennis shoe scraping the wood and slipping off the way soft shoes do, round and wide around my child foot. I would grunt and pull, trying to scale the wall. I would pretend I was a soldier, trying to escape from the enemy, and I’d wear a bike helmet and strap a plastic rifle over my shoulder with a shoe string. I would duck down, and then rise up and shoot towards the trees, the only thing between me and the non-church going heathens. I was going to save them and climb up the monstrous steps to their atheist camp.
We also had a silver galvanized pool, where in my memory, the water was always up to my chin, year after year, like I never grew, with the sides burning hot to the touch in July. I’d play in it with my brother and sister, Mitch usually being carried or on the shoulders of me or my sister. We’d walk around in circles making a whirlpool and tell each other we’d die if we went to the middle. We’d hold my brother out and torture him saying we’d drop him into the abyss. My sister would get right behind me, having an easier time moving through the water, shouting, “Faster, Tim, faster, make it pull us, hurry, hurry.” I’d run in the water, in the way you really cannot run in water.
We’d ask my dad join us when he came out to trim a hedge or start the BBQ grill. We’d say, “We need a grown-up in here to see how fast we can make it go, let’s ask dad.” We’d then start the, “You ask him, no you ask him, it’s your idea.” We’d watch him go in and out of the sliding glass door, bringing the newspaper, then the charcoal, then lighting, it, then coming back out to check on it, then bringing the meat, then putting the lid on, then taking it off. Each time I’d say to myself, “The next time he comes out I’m going to ask him. If he looks at me, I’ll ask him. If he comes out with chicken, then I’ll ask him. If he comes out and can’t find the lighter, then you ask him.”
I’d finally call to him, “Dad, you should get in.” My sister and brother would stop, immobilized, and stop breathing, the water would stop turning, and our eyes would open wide despite the sun. My dad would say, “What the Hell” and run toward us taking off his shirt and throwing it to the ground. He’d climb into the pool and tackle us, bringing down all three of us into the water, throwing us into the air, and then walking just like us, making the best and biggest whirlpool ever, the kind of church-going people made at the bottom of the army hill.
I want to tell him what a difference it made that he got in that pool. I want to tell him I was afraid to ask, but I had no reason to be afraid. I want to tell him I am grateful to him for giving me boyhood, for giving me the vision of him running and taking off his shirt. I want to tell him he is a good father, even though he has a murderer for a son.