“It is a wise father that knows his own child” — William Shakespeare
My father was never good at dealing with teenage broken hearts. Like many men, he would try to say something helpful (“Well, I never liked him much anyway, Rainey”) that ultimately wasn’t.
He invariably stormed off to the garden, understanding there are situations you can’t win. When I was a little kid, I’d traipse after him. We could talk and not talk, and everything that was bugging me could be resolved by stringing up runner beans or suckering tomatoes. Those days disappeared when I needed them the most, when I was sorting through the boys, then men, who couldn’t compare to him, and he no longer knew how to talk to me about it.
My mother was a fan of any nice-looking boy who complimented her cooking. My father and I both thought this was a pretty weak rating system. He always took to the rough-around-the-edges guys, the ones who acted the same way whether my mother was in the room or not. The ones like him.
Dad couldn’t do anything right when it came to the young men we brought home. He would ask after one in the presence of another or he would reveal something embarrassing from our childhoods too often or too soon. My mother was his filter, unless of course it was one of my father’s favoured Rebels instead of one of her Nice Young Men. The Rebels never got an assist from Mom.
Dad worked at Dofasco, a supervisor of men of various ages. We never heard much about any of them, and rarely asked. When I was 17, I was flipping through my father’s wallet and discovered he’d been toting around my Grade 9 school photo. I was 12 years old that year, and I looked 12.
“Why do you have this?” I demanded.
“What? It’s a picture of you,” he replied. “There’s a really nice kid at work I think you would like, and he asked to see a picture of you.”
My world made a huge popping sound. Alfred Sommerfeld Matchmaking Services had set up shop.
“How could you? Are you crazy?” I wailed, and ran from the room.
“Oh ferchristsakes, why is she crying now?” I heard him ask my mother.
I begged him to stay out of my love life, such as it was. My mother had beaten me to the message, and he steamed out to the garden to find solace in the garlic patch. I decided that interest in, approval of, or even noticing whom I dated left his radar.
As you get older the stakes get a little higher. I pulled into the driveway one night after a date, and immediately behind us another set of headlights boxed the car in. The current was about to meet the ex, and not in a good way. I sucked in my breath, terrified.
I hopped out of the car at the same time as the ex. He was raging, and I had no clue how to handle the situation. Before I could say a word we both heard a calm, deep voice.
“Get in your car, lad. Go home.”
My father was sitting in the dark on the front porch. The street light glinted dramatically off the barrel of his always-unloaded rifle, propped by his chair. To this day I have no idea how he knew, and it was his only Clint Eastwood moment that I ever witnessed. The ex left with a nod to my Dad, and my Dad went in the house with a nod to me.
When I thought he’d given up, he still had my back.