“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
It’s such an exciting time right now.
I don’t really know how to put this into words, but I need to put it somewhere, so here is where it will be.
My life changed several weeks ago.
I’m not talking about the loss to Mike, a loss that seems so secondary to my purpose anymore. But something happened just afterward.
Something snapped, my eyes opened. I found hope inside that I didn’t have before. Before, I was powerless to stop it. Now, I have the chance to take the power back for myself.
I am a proud father.
I loved her, instantly. Of course, most parents love their children instantly. But I mention it here because I still find it a remarkable thing. Where was that love before? Where did you acquire it from? The way it is suddenly there, total and complete, as sudden as grief, but in reverse, is one of the wonders of being human.
And it goes even deeper than that.
I would kill for my daughter.
I would rip the flesh off a man’s bones to protect her.
I will do what I have to do without a second thought.
To be the father of a growing daughter is to understand something evoking a terrible beauty. Nothing can make one so happily exhilarated or so frightened; it’s a solid lesson in the limitations of self to realize that your heart is running around inside someone else’s body. It also makes me quite astonishingly calm at the thought of death: I know whom I would die to protect and I also understand that nobody but a lugubrious serf can possibly wish for a father who never goes away.
For most of the last six months, I was facing the fact that she had devolved into a mindless sort of madness, child-like in her simplicity, but vicious and precise in her movements. I watched her scrawl out missives on the walls of a house in Chicago. I witnessed her, with my own eyes, nearly killing a solid dozen people, maybe more, and I thought, if this is what she’s become, then I’ll be here to guide her somehow. No matter what she had become, she’s still my child, my responsibility.
No one else’s.
But it wasn’t true, was it?
Apparently, it was all in my head.
The scribblings were my own. The violence, I found, was caused by me. I was tricked, you see, into some sort of broken reality, tricked by something I don’t understand even now. But I understand something else.
Much of life, fatherhood included, is the story of knowledge acquired too late: if only I’d known then what I know now, how much smarter, abler, stronger I would have been. But nothing really prepares you for this, for the swells of emotion that roll through your chest like the rumble of boulders tumbling downhill, nor for the all-enveloping labor of it, the sheer mulish endurance you need for the six or seven hundred discrete tasks that have to be done each and every day. The only way we really learn is by figuring it out as we go along, and even then it changes on us every day, so we’re always improvising, which is a fancy way of saying that we’re doing things we technically don’t know how to do.
Sooner or later, you will discover which kind of father you are, and at that moment you will, with perfect horror, recognize the type. You are the kind of father who fakes it, who yells, who measures his child with great accuracy, but only against the one who came before, who evades the uncomfortable and glosses over the painful and pads the historic records of her sorrows and accomplishments alike. You are the kind who teases and deceives and toys with his child and subjects them to displays of rich and manifold sarcasm when, as is always the case, sarcasm is the last thing they need.
You are the kind of father who pretends knowledge he doesn’t possess, and imposes information with implacable gratuitousness, and teaches lessons at the moment when none can be absorbed, and is right, and has always been right and always will be right until the end of time, and never more than immediately after he has been wrong. And when your daughter’s mind betrays her, and her sky flickers in the distance with a lighted possible future, you clear your throat and stroke your chin, and tell her to go ask her mother. You can’t help it – you’re a walking cliche’.
But she’s back now. And she’s coming home.
One way or another, she’s coming home.
I know she’s looking forward to seeing me again.
I know she can’t wait to catch up on everything that’s been going on, to hear my stories, and I hear hers. And I know… that she’s ready to continue her training.
Lindsay can’t guide her.
That was a mistake.
Only I can guide her to be the person she’s meant to be. I saw the vision, you see. I saw what she could become, what she will become. I’ll see to it. She’ll be everything I was and more. I can’t trust this to anyone else. I must do it myself.
What are fathers for?
“Childhood should be carefree, playing in the sun; not living a nightmare in the darkness of the soul.”
– Dave Pelzer
A television screen flickers to life.
Set just off-center against the wall opposite the door, a dresser is there, the TV propped up on top. On the screen, playing with a soft glow, the movie “Wall-E”.
In the middle of the room, remote control in his hand, Dan Ryan looks at it, watches, and the light of it reflects in his eyes.
If Cecilia is coming home, and she is coming home, she needs to be in comfortable surroundings. He looked to his right, looked down at a queen-sized bed, made up with pink bedding, a pink duvet, lighter pink pillowcases, and a teddy bear, lounging front and center between two pillows.
He had sent Phyllis home for the rest of the week. He had other work for her to do, more preparations to make, while he made things right here.
Looking at the screen, he listened to the old song “La Vie en Rose” playing in the movie. He watched, not following the plot, not paying any attention to anything, but listening, and he tilted his head to the side slightly.
He looked around again, at the TV, at the pink bedding, at her posters, rehung on the walls, and felt something like hatred, or disgust, the sort of pit in your gut that arises organically out of a loathing you can’t control.
“This will not work.”
He turned back toward the dresser and approached it. In a sudden movement, he grabbed the television, and ripped it from atop the platform, and flung it across the room. Cables ripped from the wall, leaving holes in the plaster where the coaxial connection plate had been fully separated from it.
Turning away he went through the door to the room, disappearing for a moment, but moments later the sound of his footfalls heralded his return, this time holding a seven-inch kitchen knife in one hand. With it, he proceeded to angrily stab at the bed, making gashes near the head, toward the foot, in other places with no obvious pattern.
A half-used can of paint from the painting of one of the walls was next to the wall, and he picked it up. He calmly walked the room, pouring a dark red paint out onto the floor.
His breathing rate steadily increased as he proceeded, and finally, satisfied, he stopped, looking down, where now on the wooden floor were the words “WELCOME HOME CECILIA” in messy red paint.
The past didn’t matter.
There is only her future.
She’ll understand. She always did.
“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”
– Benjamin Franklin
This has been simply a wonderful week, Sutler.
I don’t know how your week has been going, but mine has been going splendidly. This is an important week, because this week, for me, will be all about family. It’s so important to form lasting bonds and memories with your children, Sutler.
I still don’t really know who was your actual father. Shane? Max? Someone else? I don’t think it really matters. Regardless, the matter of family is the very essence of who you are. It can’t be escaped. No matter what you do, who you look like, what you say, you are a Kael, and you are a Best, and because of that, you have been genetically charmed in this business. Doors open for you where they are slammed in others’ faces. You get a nice cushy job with a nice cushy salary above and beyond your wrestling income.
It’s a pretty fucking great gig, bud, and I’m here for it. I’m totally in favor of doing whatever you have to do in life to get ahead. Winners don’t stop and smell the flowers. They steamroll ahead and take what they want, and cast aside anyone who doesn’t adhere to the same vision.
We are all products of operant conditioning. By daring to think outside the box, you’ll be judged. Stay the course. Heightened cognizance is meaningful only when freely sought out and discovered. Not when it is incrementally spoon-fed to you throughout your lifetime. It’s only after you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone that you begin to change, grow and transform.
I had to take some time away for nearly a month recently. Fighting your family, your grandfather, your uncle, it takes a toll. To refuse to admit it makes one a fool, and I’m no fool.
And why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.
We do not get to choose how we start out in life. We do not get to choose the day we are born or the family we are born into, what we are named at birth, what country we are born in, and we do not get to choose our ancestry. All these things are predetermined by a higher power. By the time you are old enough to start making decisions for yourself, a lot of things in your life are already in place. It’s important, therefore, that you focus on the future, the only thing that you can change.
I’m unpredictable, I never know where I’m going until I get there, I’m so random, I’m always growing, learning, changing, I’m never the same person twice. But one thing you can be sure of about me; is I will always do exactly what I want to do.
What I want to do is impart this wisdom to someone else. Has anyone tried to be that for you, Sutler? Were you raised, molded, guided, taught, or were you thrown in the river to sink or swim, anchored by a name that both draws attention and yet drags you down further?
Now, you’ve been cast in the role of supporting player to your grandfather’s petty issues with me. He’s a strong, proud man, but I’m afraid not much of a physical match for the likes of me. That’s where you come in. You, like Arthur Pleasant before you, are meant to be an obstacle thrown in my path to keep me too busy to bother with slapping grandpappy around for a little while.
It’s a pretty rude thing to do, of course.
It’s rude to you, I mean, not to me. I don’t care either way. I like you well enough, but I don’t mind knocking you around a ring again if necessary. We did this once before of course. The cage wasn’t kind to you in the end, but I thought you handled yourself admirably. I treated you with the respect you deserved, like you were a seasoned vet, and not a young, promising rookie.
You’re only a few years older than my own child. Did you know that? Yeah, I’m getting up there. I’ve become exceedingly aware that I have many fewer years in this business ahead of me than I do behind me.
So I must be resigned to being a clock that measures the passage of time, now out of order, now repaired, and whose mechanism generates despair and love as soon as its maker sets it going. I grew used to the idea that every man relives ancient torments, which are all the more profound because they grow comic with repetition. That human existence should repeat itself, well and good, but that it should repeat itself like a hackneyed tune, or a record a drunkard keeps playing as he feeds coins into the jukebox….
But there’s hope for her, as there is for you.
I hate to point out the obvious, but here there’s this tiny bird that’s been trying to get through a huge bulletproof glass wall. A totally impossible situation. You tell me it’s been here every day pecking away persistently for ten minutes. Well, today the glass came down.
Today, I have a sound mind and a clear purpose.
As I look to join her again, I see that our destination is the same. However, the rationale for that destination is entirely different. Her rationale is the fact that this destination is her calling, while my calling is to get her to her destination.
I’ll do for her what your own father should have done for you.
Let me say no more. Words do no justice to the hidden meaning. Everything immediately becomes slightly different when it is expressed in words, a little bit distorted, a little foolish. It is perfectly fine with me that what for one man is precious wisdom for another sounds like foolery.
And who knows what happens this week. Just because I knocked you out once doesn’t mean it will definitely happen again. I can say that I have grown increasingly confident, that’s what has made this week so wonderful. Anything can happen; anything. Or nothing. Who can say? The world, monstrous, is made that way, and in the end, it consumes us all. Who am I, administered or no, to have the audacity to survive it?
I’ll make the most of my time, and I’ll help you if you like. I’ll pretend I’m Max for just a beat and give you the guidance you needed but never received.
That’s what fathers are for.