SueAnn has proven to be quite the reader – an hour or so of reading and the e-mail: questions and comments which should only become more interesting as things really start to heat up. Yesterday she read Rage and wondered of her brother, a gentle child I gather, who in his late teens developed his own anger and rage. A vignette appeared – his children inadvertently locked out of the house, a cold night, and a discussion: hypothermia or wake Dad? As I read it another vignette came to mind, one that has heretofore escaped these pages.
Must be close to a decade ago now and we decided that the little ones – maybe nine years old – needed to go camping. A new tent, some other equipment and it is time for a test run – one night in a campground not far from home. My boys are with me along with their cousin – three healthy teenagers to join our quest. Now my boys are not much for camping but there is not really much discussion. We – they – are going camping and I suppose one could add and they will like it.
Now we are seven, a bit much for even our beautiful new Eureka tent so a second tent is somewhere found – Carrie, the young ones and me in our tent and the boys, lucky them, get their own tent. The weather had a chance of rain, but everyone knows the weather man is always wrong. Anyway, what better way to test the new tent?
Night falls, we curl up in our sleeping bags and yes, the rains come. And come. And come. Oh yes, the winds join the party. Our tent is beautiful, rain tarp taut, tent lightly swaying in the wind. Nice and dry. At some point – maybe 11 PM, one son comes over. Their tent is not faring as well, there is some leaking. It is late, we are camping. I assure him it will be fine and anyway there is not much to be done. An hour passes and he is back. Their tent is faring poorly, something about a water condition.
He suggests they could sleep in the car – a nice Suburban with plenty of space. All they need is the car keys. We are there to camp, spread out in our sleeping bags, being real men, not wimps huddled in the car. My tent is fine; how bad can theirs really be. Character building, what a Dad does for his sons. He goes back to the tent, I go back to sleep, the car keys sitting idly in some pocket.
Dawn breaks, the rain has let up and I go to see how my little men, real men have fared. They are wet. The tent is wet. The sleeping bags are wet. I suspect the sleeping bags stayed wet for a period measured not in hours but in weeks. Even I can see the evidence, the evidence of terrible judgment, of child rearing gone horribly awry.
There are many family stories – every family has them – but there is not much humor in this, not even with years to recover. I have apologized, they have accepted, but it happened and it never had to. So I read of this other man and for a moment thought poorly of him but then realized that I actually thought poorly of myself.
The question of course is where does all this come from – the rage, the controlling, the veneer of fear. (Veneer is such a nice word, a thin layer of bad hiding my internal good. I could, should, change the word but it shall stay as a reminder of the depth of my delusions.) To say it comes from the repressed gayness feels way too easy, life is much more complex than that. But then there is the “new” Dad, the calmer model. There are the comments of friends of my new found calmness. I would like to tell them, tell them all, that I was always calm; they just weren’t looking hard enough. But as a good friend says, when three people tell you are drunk it is time to lie down.