||[Jun. 14th, 2007|12:13 pm]
Bad Ass Dads
Last night, after a long walk to the library, my wife starfish12 and I put the kids to bed. We watched a little Top Chef, relaxed with brains off, and then she went to bed. Meanwhile I went out to the garage to put in some time on my car.|
By the way, if you haven't been reading my buildup journal, the_black_ship, now is a great time to start . . .
During my time in the garage, I really worked my ass off. I got dirty, grimy, greasey, oily, even covered in penetrative lubricant. Wrenching, grinding, pulling, breaking free bolts and breaking tools. Cutting, bleeding, pouring sweat. When it was over, I reached for my bottle of pumice soap, and thought of my Grandpa Schalter.
Joe Schalter was a man honed to an edge--no bullshit, no compromises. Yoda would have loved this man--there was only do or do not, there was no try. He did everything the right way, and had nothing but contempt for those who didn't. He owned his own glass shop, sold gas out of the two pumps in the driveway, and with his wife ran a motel. A self-made man, a bit of a black sheep, and owner of a mind like steel trap, right up until the end. A decorated veteran (infantryman in Germany), member of the Order of the Purple Heart, and a professional musician. What? Yes, my grandpa was a gigging pianist, organist, and keyboardist for jazz and polka groups for most of his life.
Unfortunately, he was not exactly a natural father. He was exacting and unrelenting. He was not loving, and certainly not demostratively so. My father says he only saw him kiss his wife once in his entire life. My mom says they "babyproofed" the house by following my toddler-aged dad around and slapping his hand whenever he touched anything he shouldn't touch.
But all that was long in the past when I knew him. He didn't exactly soften with age, but he was always kind and friendly to me, and I was constantly in awe of a man who could seemingly do anything. One of my strongest memories of the old house (slash-glass-shop-slash-gas-station-slash-motel) was the half bathroom by the garage. It was a dirty, grimy mess . . . but it had pumice soap. I remember it was usually "Lava" brand soap, presumably a shout-out to pumice's igneous origins. But like most pumice soap, it was a bizarre off-white/off-blue color, reeked of orange citrus, and was grimy and nasty. It existed specifically for cutting through the oil and grease that builds up on your hands whenever you work on a vehicle or machine, though I didn't know that when I was 3/4/5/6/etc. I just remember scrubbing my hands with that stuff, feeling the little particles sandblast my skin, and then rinsing it off. The end result wasn't "clean" like Softsoap--I wouldn't be up for eating finger-lickin' BBQ ribs after a pumice-soap scouring--but it was a different kind of clean. Like your hands have been stripped bare and can breathe again, even though there were still little gritty bits between your fingers where the towel couldn't reach. And of course, the lingering smell of concentrated citrus juice, the acid that works hand in hand with the pumice to cut the grease and grime, like a half a grove's worth of oranges just sluiced out of the ceiling and trapped you in the bathroom.
After I'd scrubbed with pumice soap and wiped dry with a shop rag (I've since learned you don't use the stuff with water), I went into the house and checked on my sleeping family and the clock. Wife asleep, son asleep, daughter is asleep (but in our bed, not hers, must have had a bad dream), and the clock--ouch, 12:48, later than I meant to stay up. I went to the kitchen and got a glass of water. Afterwards, I heard my daughter fuss. As I went into the bedroom as she was saying:
"I . . . I . . . I need my Daddy!"
Of course, I immediately picked her up and cradled her in my arms. She fought to cuddle up to me as quickly as possible, and as I walked her out into the living room she rooted against my arm. I started walking laps with her like that, thinking about grinding it out in the garage by myself, in a world of sweat and blood and isolation, and then loving my family in the living room, swimming in love and tenderness and attachment. I again felt, as strongly as ever, that there is no contradiction between manliness and fatherhood. There is no emasculation in child-rearing. As my sweet little pre-pre-school, cherubic little daughter found comfort in my sweaty, bloody, dirty arms, I felt more satisfied as a man than I ever could have before I had a family. Just as she nodded off to sleep, my daughter whispered:
Daddy, I . . . I need an orange . . .
. . . and I cried.