How Dad Sabotaged My Career
Dad took the family to bars for dinner, because of the happy hour deals. When my siblings and I were older, he nostalgically pointed out corner nooks of his favorite hangouts where he used to set me on the bar in an infant seat where he could reach back from the table to bounce me between hot wings and swigs. Dad thought bars received a bad rap and could be family places if people like us could just overcome their prejudice.
His choice of haunts could be misleading if you didn’t know him. Dad was just cheap and he liked to drink after suing people all day for personal injuries. He was the only one in his family to complete college, achieve substantial wealth and he wanted to keep it that way. At the bar I would amuse the other customers by sloppily sucking the foam off the heads of German beer, a favorite of Dad’s.
I’m not kidding about Dad’s sabotage, although he didn’t tell me until later. I thought he was just toughening me up. He said, “You could never be the man your old man is.” He had worked his way out of low to middle middle class family using his hatred of the upper class as motivation. Since he had spawned the catalyst of his ambition, I couldn’t blame him for using what was right at hand for competition. I just wish I had known that I was in it.
When I started to show some talent at sports he coached me up. I ran in the morning before breakfast. For self-discipline he gave me a mouthful of water and he wanted to see me spit it out when I returned. One year I grew four inches and started playing basketball. I lifted weights to get stronger and he told me that pumping iron would ruin my jump shot. It would make me muscle bound and with that he imitated an ape walk including what he judged were apt facial expressions.
When a few of my friends were taking classes for the SAT, I mentioned this to Dad. He explained to my buddy I had used as prep tester exhibit A, that the SAT measures intelligence and you can’t study for that. Dad told me that it didn’t matter where you went to college. “You think when I got some asshole in court and I’m ready to pinch their head off they ask me what school I went to? Am I going to give them an Ivy League or a State School fucking? Trust me it doesn’t come up.”
All his advice made sense to me but it was also completely wrong. It was designed to crush me like a corporation that employed one of his clients with detrimental office furniture ergonomics and psychic abrasives from the unrelenting noise of the ventilation system. “There is nothing wrong with being average,” he would remind me when I revealed to him my fear of failure. “Average is the majority party. If you people could get your shit together, you’d run the country. Restaurants love your demographic. Chains will give you free food to find out if the rest of the country will eat it.”
He further consoled me, “That next generation doing better than the previous generation is logically flawed. If my Dad, your Grandfather was an astronaut, where would I be? I’d have to be a movie star and then where would you be? Vocations have to top out somewhere. Your kid will be grateful it was me.”
I finished college with a liberal arts degree, because it would teach me to “meet any challenge.” They can always train you on the job.” I owed $93,000 that was deferred because of my online paralegal course that was taking me deeper into debt so that I could have a skill. I signed up for the course after Dad refused me a loan. He said “It’s amazing to me that a person born with your advantages can find yourself in this situation. First world problems to be sure, that don’t deserve me bailing you out like I’m the IMF.”
I was taking an afternoon nap, one of the perks of unemployment when my Dad burst in my bedroom door wearing his golf clothes and carrying a flag. He was drunk after a golf outing. I looked up at my invader as Dad tried to plant the flag emblazoned with the country club coat of arms into the chintzy carpet. He laughed maniacally and leaned the flag that wouldn’t stick into the floor against my closet door. As he left Dad said, “I win.” I replied, “Yes, you did,” in a calm voice to try and demonstrate a shred of self-possession, but he wasn’t fooled and just smirked.
About the author:
Paul Handley’s Short fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Owen Wister Review, Treehouse, Gone Lawn, The Legendary, Ostrich Review and Gargoyle Magazine. Cartoons are in Hobart and Forge.