Perhaps it was influenced by the copious celebratory wine I've been having since returning from Too Far Away , or I just wanted to reassure my son about his reality, but I felt the need to tell a toddler who I was putting down to bed for the night the story of my father and I. I'm fairly certain that it wasn't precisely a topic that he entirely understood, but I just foggily decided it was time.
Me: "I want to tell you about my daddy. His name was Manuel. He would hit me."
Toddlesworth: " He hit you with sword?"
Me: "No, Toddles, he hit me with his hands and his belt.
Toddlesworth: "He hands and bell?"
Me: "Yes, that's right. But because I know what that's like, I will Never hit you. Do you understand?"
This must have struck Toddlesworth as especially significant, because the next few mornings, as he was waking up, we had the same conversation, with him initiating.
A few days later, we were in my office together, watching Justice League Unlimited, in which Superman was fighting the monster Doomsday in an active volcano. Watching for a few minutes quietly, Toddlesworth looked up at me and said "Manuel hit you like that?" I was struck to significant silence for a few seconds, then said "Well, more or less, yes."
In all fairness, my father, and our relationship has more nuance that I gave him and or it credit for as a child and or young adult. My father was a combat decorated marine who served 3 tours of duty in Viet Nam. He ate slept and bled United States Marine Corps and the Red White and Blue. He was a relapsed Catholic. He required obedience from his children and did not hesitate to use his hands to acquire it. He suffered from PTSD, and it could in an instant become his entire personality. Sometimes, sadly, anyone could become The Enemy. In short, he did, in fact, hurt me.
As a kid and a young adult, I felt nothing but rage of my own and disgust towards him, with a side of embarrassment. This was a hurtful person who on top of that could only seem to get minimum wage jobs, which he would work 3 of to pay the bills. I never wanted anyone to know my dad delivered pizzas as a 60+ year old.
As a more mature adult, perhaps since his death in 2009, most of my negativity towards him has softened or dissapeared alltogether. He was a man trapped by many chains he couldn't even see, and his decisions were the product of these ingrained factors. He was a product of a cycle of violence, and even so he'd moved past some of it. His father was physically abusive to his mother: but he would never in a zillion years have hit my mother. Whoever he may have been before Viet Nam, much of that was pressed out of him during that conflict. Also, as an adult working on raising a family of my own, I now feel a deep, misty eyed respect for a man with limited skills willing to work himself nearly death so that his family didn't go without: every pizza delivered by him was a promise that I could do something better.
I'm not sure if it's just me projecting my desires on Toddlesworth, but he viewed the situation much like I did as a child, comic book metaphors included. I felt I lived with an unstoppable monster than couldn't be reasoned with when I was young. Before having a child was ever a possibility, I vowed that it would be different if ever I had one. I feel what I'd call and unavoidable surge of my emotions talking it over with Toddlesworth. To him, it seems, I am the protector; standing in between the monster and the innocents. There are many goals I have yet to accomplish with my life, but for this moment, I couldn't imagine feeling more accomplished or complete.