Monday, June 14, 2010

Tough Hombre: A Father's Day Story

Five of us sat in the doctor's waiting room. To my right, a woman handed her little son a truck she'd selected from a toy box in the corner. The boy sat on the floor while he carefully examined the underside of the truck. With a cautious, pudgy finger he turned one wheel and studied the truck's rotating axle.

I opened my book, taking advantage of the wait to get in a little reading.

"That boy's going to be a mechanic," boomed the man sitting across from me.

Startled, all eyes darted his way. He was a large man, sixtyish with big square hands, a prominent nose, and a full head of curly, silver hair. He wore blue denim work clothes with "Len" embroidered on his shirt pocket, and heavy, black shoes. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, strong hands folded, watching the boy.

The mother nodded. "His dad's a mechanic and when he's home, the boy never leaves his side."

"I know what you mean," the big man said. "I've been a mechanic all my life. My four sons all are mechanical, but none do it for a living.

"Watching him, it takes me back." He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands on his round stomach. He radiated strength.

"When the boys were in their teens our place looked like an auto wrecking yard. At one time we had no fewer than six cars—my wife and I each had a car and each of our sons had one. Of course, there was usually another car or two—one getting fixed up to sell, or they were working on a friend's. And our house is right in the middle of a city block! My poor wife. She took such pride in her yard. But with all those cars, there was no hope. Our backyard was always a mess with cars parked on the lawn, parts strewn about.”

I lowered my book, captivated by the big man’s story.

"Well, what can you do? Kids, especially boys, need cars. They all had jobs and earned the money for their own cars and insurance. I was proud they could work on 'em themselves.

"You pay a price with kids," he said, nodding, remembering.

"Finally, one by one they left and took their cars with them. All but Nick, the youngest, he stayed on. I hate to say it, but it got irritating, having him still at home. Here he was, twenty-four, a college graduate and a C.P.A. and still living with Mom and Pop! My wife did all his laundry, still cleaned up after him. I'd complain to her, but she wasn't anxious for him to leave. He was her youngest and you know how mothers are.... Anyway, with only one at home, she'd fixed up her yard. She was happy."

He looked at each of us. He had our undivided attention. Even the little boy didn't move, but clutched the truck and listened to the big man's rumbling voice.

I will just die, I thought, if the nurse calls me and I can't hear the rest of this story.

"One night Nick didn’t show up for dinner. As usual, no call to his mother saying he would be late. When he did come home, he switched on the TV and plunked down in front of it. My wife scurried out to the kitchen, heated up his dinner, and brought it to him on a tray.

"For some reason, I went into orbit. `That's it!,' I yelled. `This is plain ridiculous. Nick, in one month you're on your own. You get your own apartment. Do you hear me?'"

The man leaned forward again, easing his back.

"If there's anything that infuriates me, it's that five-mile stare a kid gets when they think you're being absurd. All of them had better sense than to say it to me, but they would get that look in their eye.

"`Do you hear me?'

"`Sure Dad, I hear you.'

He shook his head and sighed. "Well, after two weeks I didn't see anything that looked like progress so I approached him again.

"`Nick, have you found an apartment, another place to live?'

"`No, were you serious?'

"`You bet I'm serious. Now you've got two weeks.'

"The day came and I was ready to throw all his stuff in the front yard. But a couple of his friends came with a van and helped him move in with them.

"I noticed he took with him some odds and ends of our furniture and I started to protest, but my wife stopped me. She had given him that stuff to get started, she said.

"He didn't say a word to me. At one point on moving day my wife went into his room and they talked, but he didn't say anything to me.

"For months.

"Then one day I heard my wife on the phone. `I want you to come on Father's Day. Your brothers are coming and I want you here, too. No excuses. Yes, you can bring a friend.'

"`He still living with those friends?' I asked her after she'd hung up.

"`No,' she said, `he borrowed $4,000 from me for a down payment on a house, a little fixer. He's paying me back $200 a month.'

"I fumed about that but figured at least he's doing something for himself. If he'd asked me for the money I probably couldn't have turned him down, either."

Oh, please, please don't call me now, I thought. I've got to hear the end of this.

"Father's Day came and my other three sons, their wives or whoever, and my three grandkids from the oldest two, arrived. I tried not to notice that Nick wasn't there, but my wife kept going to the dining room window. She was getting really steamed.

"Just as we were ready to eat, Nick came, with a girl, a nice girl. He kissed his mother and introduced his girlfriend to the family. We're sort of a noisy bunch and there was a lot of confusion. We sat around the table and with all the commotion I'd hardly noticed that Nick and I hadn't really spoken.

"Dinner was over and we were about to leave the table when Nick got up and came over to me.

"`Dad,' he said, `for a long time I really hated your guts for kicking me out. You are one tough hombre. But I want to thank you. It's the best thing you could have done for me. I really like my place, my home. I wouldn't have it if you hadn't kicked me out.'

"`I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day,' he said, and kissed me." The man tapped the spot on his forehead. "Right there. It had been years since one of my boys kissed me.

"I looked around the dinner table to see if the others had heard. Except for the grandkids, who didn't know what was going on, there wasn't a dry eye in the place."

"That's a wonderful story," I said, blinking. "Thanks for telling us."

He shrugged, a little embarrassed. "Sure."

"Leonard?," the nurse called.

The big man stood, nodded to us, and fell into step behind the nurse.


Lani Schonberg said...

Wow. What a wonderful Father's Day story. Thank you for sharing it this week!

Anonymous said...

What a sweet tear-jerker! Every father's day, I miss my dad. I appreciate you for writing this!

Linda Yezak

Eunice Boeve said...

A great story. Loved it! And how true that sometimes parenting means getting tough, that we can hold back others by never saying, no, and it's often good to step outside our comfort zone.