Dad and I had never been close; fear of his impatience and anger made me keep a safe distance. As I grew up the gulf between us widened and neither of us knew how to bridge it.
One Sunday in June of 1959 we were on our way home from church. I was driving, Mom was on the passenger side and Dad between us. Dad began berating me about some little thing that grew bigger and bigger as he spoke. His voice grew louder and his hands waved in agitation. Suddenly he was trying to wrest control of the steering wheel away from me. Then we were driving in the ditch, Dad shouting in incoherent rage. I broke his grip, pushed him away from the wheel, steered the truck back onto the highway and made it the rest of the way home.
Dad continued his tirade as we walked into the house. In the kitchen he grabbed a piece of firewood and began shouting that he was going to teach me a lesson I wouldn’t forget. A series of thoughts flashed through my mind: “I am 17, Dad is 67; I am as big as he is; I am as strong as he is; I can yell as loud as he can.” I reached down and picked up another piece of firewood, brandished it at him and bellowed back “I dare you to try it.”
Dad’s arm slowly went down, he put the wood back in the box beside the stove. “Next time I will teach you the lesson you need to learn.” I put my piece of wood back and went for a walk.
When I came back into the house Mom had dinner on the table and we all sat down. Dad said a prayer and we ate in strained silence.
I never knew what would trigger Dad’s anger and I doubt he did either. This was the first time he had completely lost control of himself and become violent. When I stood up to him, we knew we had each crossed a line and our relationship would never be the same.
My father was not an evil man. He meant well, but by the time his only child came along when he was 50 he didn’t have a clue how to teach me to be the son he wanted. All I ever wanted was a Dad who would love me and let me talk to him without fear.