First, I want to say I am sincerely sorry to anyone who took their time to read anything I have written and/or published here. I apologize for not putting out any material within the last few months. I have been busy getting a new career, moving to a new apartment, and all sorts of other personal madness. If there is anyone who takes the time to work through my material I apologize for leaving you hanging and wondering.
Second, I will be working—key word working—on having a few pieces out soon. I currently do not have my laptop, so I won’t be able to finish my Baptism series yet. And I also apologize for not having that done… It is my great mistake to have not done so yet. Certainly so because I fully intend to turn it into a much larger piece connecting to mental health whenever that may or may not happen… We shall see.
I do intend on still working on my Dad’s stories (one of which is contained in this very post) and hopefully publishing articles on material that I think is theologically interesting. (However between my fellow writers… there is not much left. I have very prolific compatriots here on this website.)
With all of that said, let me get back into a groove and hopefully that groove will not end abruptly.
As with the other stories of my Dad’s life, my intention is to show a portrait of us all, but also a portrait of childlike faith throughout the life of who is essentially an every-man, a product of his time, his parents, and the world around him. My goal is to not to sugar coat his experiences. My Dad is far from perfect and in many ways was a poor role model to me in several ways, but I will address those specifics in a future piece.
Today’s piece is a story of contrast—what could be considered by some to be toxic masculinity—and love in the face of a cruel life. I have spent several months writing this piece in my head, and one of the reasons for my prolonged break is this piece is core to a lot of the future pieces I will write about my Dad, and I want to do the piece justice. I have debated if I wanted to write it in the style I have written before—a pseudo-script style—or if I wanted to write it in a more traditional style. With that said, I have decided to write in a more traditional style. I hope this works…
I will also add that I think it is important to read my previous entries in my Dad’s saga, the last one especially.
Larry had finished with his chores early and was hiding in the field with Coke, sharing a few apples stolen from the neighbor’s tree, as was usual, when they both heard their father calling them home.
“What time is it Coke?” Larry asked.
Coke looked down at his old pocket watch given to him by their grandfather, “Its 3:30. Wonder why father is calling us in.”
“We better go then,” Larry said picking himself up from the dirt, crunching into the last apple before discarding the core onto the ground. The two ran through the field and entered their back yard. Standing close to where they exited was their father, holding a pair of crudely fashioned boxing gloves.
“I am going to teach you boys how to be men today! Now here, I made you both a pair of gloves. Now Larry, come on over and let me help you try ‘em on. Coke, I showed you how to put them on before,” their father said handing Coke his pair. Larry stepped up and stood before his father, who for the first time in Larry’s memory smiled and leaned down to his height.
“Now give me your hand.” Their father said. Larry extended his arm expecting to feel his father’s usual firm and impatient grip. Instead, his father took his arm, almost lovingly, and pulled the course leather glove onto Larry’s hand.
“When I was your age, my Daddy taught boxing to me. The old stuff. Queensberry. But it’s something we shared between workin’ and starvin’.” Their father said, again with an oddly uncharacteristic smile.
For a normal kid, that smile is one of love, a father’s love for his own kids. But for Larry it was odd. Unusual. Upsetting. His father only smiled that way when listening to radio programs or drinking with his brothers. But even amidst his discomfort and suspicion, Larry felt a warmth he had never felt between his father and himself.
“Now,” his father spoke, pulling Larry from his thoughts “When you strap on gloves, you gotta make sure the cords are tight. And if we were wrapping separately, you will wanna make sure your wraps are flush, and mind your wrists well. But we ain’t gonna worry about that now. We want your wrists to go a bit, makes the bones stronger.”
Their father turned and looked at Coke who was still tightening his gloves.
“See, now your brother has practiced. But even on your own you gotta know how to tighten and keep ‘em on your hands.” Their father said pulling the strings taut. “Now you are ready.”
Larry took a moment and absorbed the scene. He could have sworn he was dreaming.
“Now boys. When you go to fight, no kicking, no hugging. You are gonna fight for three minutes. That’s one round. We are doin’ two. You gotta get up on your own. We don’t have any ropes by, as you see, I got some rocks spread out, that’s the ring. Twenty-four feet. Take a knee, you are down. Again, get up on your own. Ain’t points. You gotta give up or knock out. That’s a Willis rule. Understand?”
Larry looked at his father and nodded. Coke followed.
“Well then,” Their father said pulling out his own pocket watch. “Start!”
Coke was on Larry before he could react. A series of blows slammed into Larry’s face and gut, knocking the younger boy to the ground. Larry laid for a moment, a few seconds, before getting to his knee. Rubbing his glove to his lip, he saw a glob of crimson spread across the tanned leather. He turned and saw his father nod and rose to his feet. But before he could even look, a flurry of haymakers smashed into his face knocking him to the dirt again. But again, Larry stood up. And then suddenly, his father’s voice boomed. “That’s one round!”
Larry looked over in disbelief. Had that really been three minutes? He looked over at Coke, who was as brash as he could be. If arrogance was a temperature, Coke would have been the surface of the sun. Larry turned, his face grimly disappointed, and looked to his father and approached.
“What’s wrong boy?”
“You haven’t lost. You have one more round.”
“He is older and bigger.”
Their father paused, smiled again and let out a brief chuckle, and took a piece of cloth from his overalls and patted at Larry’s lip, cleaning up the wound and clearing the blood from his gloves. Larry was sure his father had been kidnapped and replaced. Who was this man?
“That doesn’t mean anything, Larry.” His father said, smiling again. “I beat your Uncles all the time. And beat my own Uncles while I was at it. What matters in fighting is in here,” His father then pointed to Larry’s heart. “And you showed heart. You kept getting up. Always keep getting up. Even in the last round. You get up and go out swinging. Now get back in there and knock your brother out. Give me one more round.”
Larry had never lost a fight in his life. Across in the opposing corner was a man almost a foot taller than him, and built like a brick wall. It was like nothing he threw at him worked. And Larry was—for the first time since childhood—unsure. The Marines around the ring cheered and hollered. They didn’t care who won; they just wanted to see more blood. And Larry had given them more than enough of that. His nose was nearly split in half, his eyes busted, and his lips torn. He wiped his mouth with his glove, and the crimson stains were all too familiar.
Ding. Ding. Ding. The bell for the last round rung. One more round. One more chance.
Larry stood to his feet, his body aching and sore. His opponent was already in the center of the ring. Larry put his hands up and met him there. Despite his guard, the big Marine’s fist smashed into Larry’s face, sending him nearly a foot across the ring. His legs buckled and he fell to a knee, his vision swirling and squirming before him. His knee gave out and he hit the mat.
“Always keep getting up!” A voice boomed within the sound chamber of his mind. His father’s voice. “Even in the last round! Get up!”
Larry awoke. The Marines hooping and yelling for more. The referee checked on him as he stood to his feet.
“You okay? Private Willis, are you okay?”
“Yeah. I am good. One more round.”
Larry opened his glove box and checked the tournament medal he had kept there for years. It was the third time he had checked. It was his little ritual. The car was cold. Or maybe it wasn’t the car. Maybe it was…
“God. Please. You are the Creator of all things. The Creator and Redeemer of my soul. Please. I know you can heal him. Just answer this prayer. Please, Lord.”
Larry’s concentration was broken by a tap on the window.
“Hey, Mister. Are you okay?” A security guard for the hospital asked. Larry rolled down the window.
“Yeah. Just thinking.”
“Okay. Just wanted to make sure. Saw you come in an hour ago. Wanted to check.”
“Yeah. I am getting out now. My Dad’s sick.”
“I am sorry to hear that, buddy. My condolences.”
Larry exited the car as the security guard walked back to his gate booth. Heading into the hospital, Larry walked straight past the information desk and into the elevator. It was a walk he had taken before, but he had never gone all the way up. He pushed the 4th floor button and the elevator began its climb. This was the farthest he had gone in as much as a month since his Dad had been in here. The door opened to a ding. A pair of twenty-somethings stood waiting to get into the elevator.
“Sir, is this your stop?” the male of the two asked.
Larry snapped out of his head space. “Oh. Yeah. The elevator is all yours.” Larry finished with a smile.
The couple squeezed past Larry as he exited. He paused again. The ding of the descending elevator broke the pause and he headed to his father’s room. Entering the room, Larry saw that his father was asleep. Before Larry was a man who had worked from the age of five, a man whose life had been even harder than his own. Hands that were once as hard as steel, covered in calluses and turned to leather by the sun, now were soft, sickly moist and pale. Lungs that could power a bellow and command a squad of men, now struggled and muttered with raspy gasps. A face that had been chiseled and roughly handsome, now was bloated, unnaturally full.
After a while of observing, Larry pulled up a chair and sat by his father’s bedside and placed his hands on his fathers.
“Lord. Please. Make him well. I beg you. Just make him well. Despite all his anger, his abuse, the dark of the coal bin, please. Don’t take my Daddy from me. Please. Make him well. All I want is for him to say…”
“Hey Larry…” His Daddy said softly, the sharp and powerful tone of his voice lost to illness. “Son… I love you…”
Larry fought back tears. He knew his Daddy would not appreciate such a “girly” display.
“I love you too, Dad.”
His Daddy smiled ever so slightly, seeing Larry nearly cry.
“Don’t be soft, son. It’s okay. One more round.”
“Yeah Dad. One more round.”
Larry raged! Raged against the security guards who held him!
“You sons of bitches! You killed him!”
The doctors at the station chuckled a bit, some looked concerned, but the majority apathetic. The head doctor smugly stepped forward.
“Mr. Willis, we did not kill your father. Old age killed him. He just could not keep fighting anymore. His lungs could not withstand the pneumonia.”
“He didn’t come in here for pneumonia! He came in here for heart issues! And you killed him!” Larry broke free of the guards, punching one unconscious with a single hook. The other he threw into the wall. Charging the head doctor, Larry slammed him into the station counter.
“You should have kept him safe! Checked his lungs! Something! You should have done something! You killed my Daddy!”
The head doctor, despite his circumstance, smiled. This confidence was caused by the arrival of the police officers who had now entered through the hallway doors.
“Listen, Mr. Willis, there was and is nothing we could or can do. Your father caught pneumonia because his immune system was weak and it was his time. Now, if you do not take your hands off me, I am sure the police officers behind you would gladly use equal force to that which you have displayed against my staff to remove you.”
Larry loosened his grip on the doctor. But his face remained contorted.
“You are a piece of shit. And you are going to hell,” Larry said, spitting on the doctor’s shoes before turning to leave.
“I will make sure to say hey to your… Daddy for you, then,” the doctor whispered to the snicker of his coworkers. In a split second, Larry lunged at the doctor again, but a police baton stopped him dead in his tracks.
One more round.
Larry sat on his couch, phone in hand. On the other line was his son, Brad, who was crying on the other line.
“Dad! You have to stop drinking. God doesn’t want you to keep doing this to yourself! You have to stop. I can’t keep coming over and seeing you like that. You have to stop, or you won’t see me anymore, Dad.”
“I am not an alcoholic, Brad…” Larry was drunk already but was trying hard to fake it, his words ever so slightly slurred. “I promise.”
“Your promises do not mean anything, Dad. I can tell you are drunk. I can always tell. You try to hide it but you can’t! I realize today is a bad day for you. But Dad. You can’t keep doing this.”
“Brad… I am not…”
“Yes you are! You have to fight this! You are stronger than this! You gave up smoking on your own! You have to fight it! Is it worth losing me? ‘Cause I may be your son, but I don’t have to see you anymore!”
“No… it’s not… you are right… it’s not worth it. I will fight it! For you.” Larry said.
“Good! Now one more round!”