The most frightening person in my childhood was my own father. His black intensity thrilled and scared me. He always seemed to carry a dark cloud around. Not that he was verbally mean nor could he ever be physically threatening—he was 4 inches shorter than me—but his presence was always overwhelming.
I was scared of his intense anger.
I had been spanked determinedly with ‘The Belt”—as we called it—and so had my other two siblings at one point or another. That usually had happened when Dad had come home after serving on the Great Lakes for months at a time. It was never undeserved, as far as I can remember; we knew we were going to get it for some transgression or another committed against our mother or sister during his absence, and it usually had to be very serious indeed for Mum not to deal with it herself.
So, anticipation of my father’s arrivals were not necessarily the joyous occasions for which one might hope—for either party in retrospect.
Oh, I do remember that most of the time we were not in for it; that most of the time he brought something nice home for us: a sweetie, a small toy, or a book. Perhaps odd then, or perhaps not surprising at all, that my childhood memories surrounding him—the ones that stuck hard—are the ones involving pain and the felonies that incurred his wrath. Too bad, really.
Dad’s dark passion had no doubt sparked from his own love-starved childhood with bitterly-separated parents, burbled up through the tribulations of the Second World War and then boiled out through the turmoils of emigration. They had hurriedly moved to an anticipated Shangri-la, where Dad had promised—to please his bride—never to go to sea again. Instead he was forced by circumstance to take a job as engineer on the ships plying the Great Lakes. The darkness finally had burst out from the ultimate tragedy of that very bride contracting lung cancer to die at age forty-seven.
He had no chance to be happy.
It left him with no love of his life to be with. It left him with a grown up daughter living with her own family faraway in the interior of BC. It left him with a teen-aged son about to blow his own pressure cooker fueled by hormones and ambition, to soon depart amid tumultuous fisticuffs.
It left him with one sad-eyed little eleven year old that was at first internally mystified by the yo-yo nature of life and by the loss of his beloved Mum, but who would soon condense all those feelings and fear into two single mantras: “Everybody leaves”, and “I don’t care”.