A Man Enough

Anne Rieman in The Morning News:

Decline-patriarchMy father always fixed his own cars. He burned off suspicious moles he found on his body with acid he bought at Home Depot. He believed anyone who wasn’t family was a swindler. He speaks in a voice so low it’s hard to hear him, but there was always something angry and anxious about it that made cops reflexively touch their guns when he was pulled over. My sister once split her knee open on a rock and rather than take her to the hospital, my father stabilized her leg with a laminated placemat and wooden paint stirrers. She still has a little pink scar like a kiss in the middle of her kneecap. I didn’t see a doctor until college or go to the dentist until I was an adult because even after I left home, I saw needing help as weakness.

When I was a teenager and we moved, finally, delightfully, to a big box of a house in need of repair, my father set out to remodel it back to its original pre-war Craftsman splendor. He drew up sketches of the house that outlined rooms and balconies and a two-car garage. I believed he would build it and lived in that hope for years, but when I left for college all he had finished was two pillars for the porch. They stand, ruins of a dream, in the scattered lawn of the backyard. To my father, there has never been anything that couldn’t be learned from a book and done at home far better and more honestly than by a scam artist getting rich off your vulnerability. This is what I learned and still struggle not to believe—that all men are islands, that the highest form of success is not wealth and acclaim or the satisfaction of a life well lived, but simply not needing anything.

More here.