I’ll tell you why my father is a good man and to this day I will never think differently. My father is a good man because he could have lost it. He could have beaten the shit out of me and been forgiven by God and everybody else. He is a good man because now, even after all these years, I haven’t forgotten.
It was summer. I had been swimming by myself all afternoon. I was waterlogged and a bit bored when I saw him step outside to have a smoke. Like any man, after a hard day’s work, my father had a ritual when he got home. This ritual consisted of popping open a cold beer, turning on the sprinklers in the backyard, and relaxing in the late afternoon sun.
I’ll tell you why my father is a good man, why my father belongs in the hall of fame for good men. Because honest-to-God, I didn’t have bad intentions. The whole plan was innocent from the start. Up until the last moment, I honestly needed his help. And to this day, all I can tell you is that I don’t know what made me do it.
There was a float I had dragged into the pool—a large one with drink holders and all that. I liked to surf on it. I liked to put the dog on it and swim around him like a shark. I liked to ride on it like it was my own ship. But that afternoon, I had other plans. I wanted to use it for a slide. I wanted to set it on the bond beam and slide down it into the pool. I needed help because I couldn’t hold it and go down it at the same time. And this is why my father is a good man. Because he was gonna do it for me. Anything to please his only son. Anything to make his boy happy.
For months, I had dreamt about having my own slide. And now I found a temporary solution. It was simple. All he had to do was secure the back of the float while I slid down. My father had offered to help. Out of the kindness of his heart, my old man was gonna climb up there and hold the float. And let me tell you, he isn’t the most coordinated man. He has never been one to play a sport. He is clumsy. He has trouble with his legs. But he was gonna help.
I pulled the float out of the water and climbed the steps to the bond beam. My father followed me, curious as to what I wanted from him. But I had it all mapped out. I would position the float over the edge of the bond beam like a slide, and as long as he kept the top steady, the plan would work. My father had agreed to do this. As tired as he was, as much as he wanted to rest, he had agreed to it. Dressed in his work clothes, cigarette still dangling in his mouth, trying to relax after a hard day’s work, he had agreed. And to this day, all I can tell you is my intentions were good. To this day, all I can tell you is the plan was for him to hold the float and for me to slide down into the pool’s deep end. Honest.
By this time, the float was positioned on the wet concrete at the top of the bond beam. Following my directions, he set his beer down and grabbed the top end of it.
Then something inside of me snapped.
I saw him positioned there, his feet spread apart on each end, his back bent with his hands gripping the center of the float, and I pushed him.
The next thing I knew, he was in the pool, his pockets filling with water, his pack of cigarettes ruined, all the money in his wallet soaking wet. I pushed my father into the pool in his dry-cleaned shirt, his slacks, his expensive shoes, his prescription glasses.
And I watched as he swam to the side, cursing under his breath, the hair he usually combed over his bald spot swinging down into his face. And I ran. I ran into the house, afraid of what he might do, realizing I had made one hell of a big mistake, feeling guilty, wishing only I could take it back. And I hid. I hid the best I could—first behind the closet door, then in the bathroom. As I heard footsteps coming up the stairs and my mother’s voice screaming my name, I knew he was somewhere, recovering, waiting for his chance. I knew this was it. I had pushed my father too far. The father who was three times my size. The father who had only tried to help me.
And I cried. Partly from fear, partly from shame. Until my mom found me and sent me to my room without dinner, telling me the next few weeks were gonna be pretty lonely. And I cried even harder, either out of guilt or that the next few weeks were gonna be pretty lonely—I don’t quite remember.
But I do remember the next time I saw him, he was dry. His hair was out of his face. He had a fresh pack of cigarettes. His pants were clean and his glasses once again rested comfortably across his face.
And to this day, all I can tell you is that my father is a good man. Because at that moment, he could have lost it. He could’ve beaten the shit out of me and God and everybody else would’ve forgiven him. He could’ve belted me pretty good. Instead, he just grinned, placed his hand on my shoulder, and promised to send me to military school if I ever did that again.
Previously published by Silver Birch Press.
Photo: Getty Images