I once saw that adage in a list of inspirational quotes. I wasn’t inspired much by it because I had planned on sleeping in the following Sunday. It occurred to me that maybe others would react differently to it; but, when my son told me, after a day at the zoo, that he was tired and I answered, “You can rest when you’re dead”, his reaction was pretty much the same as mine, only with more existential horror mixed in.
It occurred to me that I would’ve reacted the same way as a child… in fact, I did. I grew up on a small farm and nothing brought more terror to my young heart than my father saying, “We’re going to build a [any structure] tomorrow”. It meant a full day of following ambiguous orders from a guy who really didn’t know how to build anything. The paradox is, we always ended the day with something built… and it stayed up. This was baffling because my father always seemed confused and frustrated. Years later, I realized that my father didn’t build stables and fences and pig pens… he swore them into existence.
My dad had two magical powers: Punching people and swearing. I couldn’t tell you which he was better at because he’d reached a master-level with either. What the other kids saw on old westerns over the weekend, I saw after my father’s softball game on the naval base. I never knew what started the fights but they seemed far too emotional to be entirely about softball. Years of foster homes, homelessness, the navy and boxing had inspired my dad to see any problem as something that could be punched away.
As for swearing, he did it effortlessly and with great amicability. My dad didn’t get mad around the house very often. His swearing was mostly casual and loving. He had happy swear words and angry swear words. He called me “shit-ass” until the day I walked up to him when we had company and called him the same thing. He spanked us maybe three times our entire lives… later told me that he regretted all those times. He was a tough guy who basically followed the dictates of a ninety-eight pound asthmatic woman.
My mother was the lion tamer. If she thought a particular course was best, she methodically worked my father towards it, regardless of the roaring and baring of teeth. By the time she was finished, I’d imagine he even thought it was his idea. She was sanity… my father’s lifeline. He managed to understand that on some level until Alzheimer’s took his mind and he ceased to recognize the old her… and would go driving looking for the young her. My mother had him at his best and his worst. When she finally put him in a home, he really didn’t know where he was… didn’t seem to care.
I saw him one last time, two weeks before he died. The afternoon before I was to fly out of Lubbock, my mother got a phone call that someone had punched my father and he’d punched the guy right back. Then, they apologized to each other and gone about their business. This was my father in a nutshell.
He passed just last year. It’s still something I’m working through. Foster homes to Vietnam War to PTSD to Alzheimer’s. Maybe there was a point to it all.
I’ll let you know when I find it.