In part 4 of the Moustache Club’s Father’s Day Fiction Special, Oliver Bateman tells the story of a father whose life plan has gone awry.
This is a sad story, in our opinion. Maybe not sad in the scheme of things or in the long run, but for now it’s painful to retell. You need to bear with us, though, because it contains a valuable lesson.
Let us start with the man: Attorney John Buxton was, inter alia, a good father. Ceteris paribus, he probably ranked among the best parents of his day. He meant well in everything he did, is what we’re trying to convey here.
Attorney John Buxton’s own childhood was the sort of disasterpiece/clusterfuck hybrid for which words are unable to do justice. His father, who was very a bad father indeed, taught a master class in the fine art of physical and emotional abuse. But it appeared to end happily ever after, because Attorney John Buxton went to school and made something of himself.
And yet, in the course of making something of himself, Attorney John Buxton never quite came to terms with the fact that he was every bit as beastly and rotten and emotionally threadbare as his bad father had been. It’s not as though he had a choice, however, not when man’s inhumanity to man was daily witnessed, internalized, and incorporated into the filaments that heated and made incandescent his soul and so forth &c.
Attorney John Buxton could glance, for instance, at a woman or man or child or dog or cat or mailbox or kitchen sink or tub of pudding, and thereafter conjure up the ne plus ultra of debased images possible under that specific set of circumstances.
Yet he never thought this the least bit unusual—surely everyone else labored against the same malefic impulses, given that we’re all human—and so busied himself with the benevolent orthopraxy that would allow him to climb the social ladder and keep up with the Joneses.
These were goals that mattered a great deal to Attorney John Buxton’s wife, an empty vessel into which he poured all of his surplus value. This wife, who had neither dealt with hardship in her own life nor cared about her husband’s sob story of a childhood, occupied herself with a vicious cycle of acquisition and disappointment—one that, alas and alack, failed to cushion the blow of showing her age and gaining a few pounds in all the wrong places.
When he was at home with his sweet little daughter, Attorney John Buxton sanctified the rule of reason that distinguished his reign as paterfamilias from his bad father’s, which had been characterized by fiats backed by threats from someone who is not the habit of obedience.
He assisted her with her homework, taught her to distinguish right from wrong, and ensured that all of her esteem needs were met. She was never hit or molested or deceived or made to live in a house without power or running water.
And so of course, when the sweet little daughter turned eighteen, it all went to hell in a handbasket.
Attorney John Buxton’s wife—whose own needs were material rather than conjugal—determined that the imminent departure of the sweet little daughter from the household meant the time was right for separation and the accompanying generous, community property regime-abetted divorce settlement.
“I stayed in this loveless marriage for my daughter,” Attorney John Buxton’s wife told her friends, who thereafter regarded her as a self-abnegating figure on a par with Saint Sebastian.
The sweet little daughter had, under her father’s watchful eye, secured a scholarship to an elite university. But this proved a bridge too far, for sustained higher education would interfere with her burgeoning smack habit. When pressed, she explained to her father that she needed to find herself.
And, as he sank into an alcoholic despond, Attorney John Buxton arrived at the realization that he was responsible for all of this.
He had, in his zeal to improve himself, failed to face up to the facts.
His love, or what passed for his love, was of the same quality as his own bad father’s monstrous hate—without the accompanying sincerity.
Which is the big joke here, the joke that makes this a tragedy akin to Coriolanus or the story of that silly girl who got voted off “American Idol” two shows too soon: Attorney John Buxton never quite figured out that whether it’s too much or too little, it’s never enough.
That was pretty much it for him, come to think.
Read the other installments in this series:
Part 1, “Thirty Years of Marriage“
Part 2, “Their Second Honeymoon“
Part 3, “The Good Father”