Fathers and Sons
by K. Mason
I was born a poor boy in a small town in west Pennsylvania. At first, I grew up thinking a disintegrating house with a ladybug infestation problem was normal. For me, it was.
I remember my dad telling me never to go into the cellar. To this day, I can't say why that was exactly, but I can only imagine the unspeakable dangers that dank room contained. I remember how curiosity would push me to press my face against the ancient carpet just to peer threw small cracks in the floor every time my father quested down into the darkness.
The door to the cellar wasn't locked; it didn't need to be. Me and my brother knew enough to listen to my father when he told us to do something. One particular family gathering at my grandparents comes to mind. My brother and I were rough-housing at the table, and all my father had to do was tap his plate with his fork and we became angels (this enraged my aunt, whose anti-punishment parenting ruined her son's mind; but that's another story).
My father didn't scare me and my brother all that much: we loved and respected him, so we obeyed him. Simple as that. One of my most cherished childhood memories is when my dad would sing to me while giving me my bath. He'd sing Chim-Chim Cheroo or, one of my favorites, One Little, Two Little, Three Little Mason Boys. When I went to preschool and my teacher began to sing One Little, Two Little, Three Little Indians, I remember standing up and protesting "That's not the way it goes! It's 'one little, two little, three little Mason boys!'" My teacher had to have a talk with my father about that one. That wasn't quite as bad as when Adam told his teacher our father was black, though. That was interesting. . . .
When I started grade school everything was different. I was beginning to think that my life wasn't quite normal. It wasn't until my parents split up though that I understood how truly strange my life had been. It was then that my respect for my father diminished as he slowly and steadily grew distant from me. He hadn't had a real paying job for years, and he wasn't providing for us. Our child support checks were pathetic, and eventually he was forced to get a job. Yes forced; forced against his will.
About five years later, around Christmastime, I learned that my father's father had passed away. As I sat next to him in the funeral parlor, he mildly looked me over.
"You look good, son," he said softly.
It was then that I found the courage to look him in the eye and tell him what I really thought of him. "You were a good father, Dad. I've always wanted to tell you that." Through it all, I considered this to be true.
He grinned at me, a solemn look in his eye, and he gripped my shoulder firmly. "You were a good son," he whispered.
Later on that evening, I saw my father approach the casket. He gently set his hand on his father's shoulder and gazed at him for a long moment. He shut his eyes, and for a moment he became that man who sung songs to me in the shower, the one I used to think was black, the one I loved and respected. But when he opened his eyes again and stepped back, that man disappeared, and I don't suspect I'll see him again.