Chapter 85: The Tiger at 2:00 a.m.

I think I knew my father best at 2:00 o’clock in the morning…

In our house, when I came in from a night on the town in my Teens and early twenties, I had to pass through the downstairs den on my way to my bedroom.

The den was his Den. I guess what is now called a “man cave.” He would sit down there and play records, watch TV and drink. Mainly drink…

He was in remission from the cancer he thought he had beat that ultimately killed him in his mid ’50’s. He was dying and may or may not have known it…

I would come home from a night of trying to escape my own demons and trying to find my own way and hope I could just safely reach my bed without encountering him. I was always so relieved when I could go to bed without running in to him, but more often, I had to share a late night chat. I wish those chats had been kinder, gentler and more understanding on both parts. But mostly, they were an endurance test that I seldom won….

Late night/early morning conversations after one has had a few drinks take two routes; either people say things they don’t mean and you can laugh it off in the morning or they say things they really mean, but normally wouldn’t say, that cut to the core and are hard to forgive or forget. And it’s not always easy to tell the difference…

It took me a lot of years to understand and forgive some of those conversations, but I will never forget any of them….

Especially now, when I realize how much like my Father I am and the lessons I learned at 2:00 am….

He expected people to do what was expected. One did ones duty. Period. He always did. Few saw the price he paid to do that or the anger he had for doing it. But at those 2:00 am meetings, I saw it all….

I saw a man who struggled between being happy with what he had and anger at what he never had….

I saw a man who was a victim of a time and a place who would never see himself as a victim…

I saw a man who wanted to fight, fight hard, but didn’t know the enemy to whom to direct his anger…

At 2:00 in the morning, after numerous glasses of bourbon or cans of Budweiser, it’s hard to be precise and to hit the intended targets. Targets are hazy and moving on their own volition. They won’t stand still for you. Therefore, your attack is scattered and often results in collateral damages.

His anger was a shot gun blast. Fire from a semi-automatic weapon that hit random targets. And occasionally from a stiletto welding with just the right amount of momentarily perfect insight and direction…

We had a love/hate relationship on both sides. He hated me for my youth, my freedom and potential to make my own way. He hated me for having the chance to not make his mistakes. He hated me for asking too many questions and not just accepting the status quo. I hated him for his power to make me feel insecure and to make me hate and doubt myself when his attacks hit their targets.

But, once I realized the power of his weapons and my own potential to weld them, I vowed never to use them myself. I am proud to say, I have mostly kept that vow.

I now understand his anger and I’m glad I’ve mostly avoided it myself. I know I am happier than he ever was.

There is nothing more desperate than a caged animal in pain. I learned that lesson well.

But at 20 or 22, it still hurt to have to face the tiger…

To hear him rage over what he had missed…to hear him rage over the places he would never see or go. To hear him rage over the trap of having to be a good provider who couldn’t provide for his own needs…To hear him resent those he felt he had to protect. To watch him throw himself at the bars of his cage, knowing he couldn’t escape, but determined to hurt those who captured him if they came close enough…

To see him realize how trapped he was- by love, by family, by the time and place. To somehow know that time was running out and he would miss so much he wanted to see….

I sat there,sipped my own drink, and heard him rage- saying things I won’t repeat. Things that cut to the core. I saw him rage against who he had become and spread that rage against those he saw as trapping him in a time and place he didn’t want to be in. I saw him rage at not knowing what to want…

Part of me is glad I’m the only one who saw and heard it all. It’s something, as a man of fiftysometing, I can now understand. I don’t think my Mother or sister ever would have….

I took the blows. He somehow knew I was strong enough to take them and somehow learn from them. That wasn’t intentional, it was instinctual. I guess it was a man thing…

I didn’t make the same mistakes he had made. I learned from his lessons without even knowing they were lessons or what I was learning. Over time, I somehow knew what to accept and what to discard. Maybe that was his unknown intent….

And, over the years, I’ve learned how much like him I am. And I’m so grateful, now, that I had those 2:00 in the morning conversations and learned those tough, subliminal lessons that let me avoid his mistakes and make my own.

Those lessons took me to college, to a successful career, to London, to Paris, to South Africa, to Mexico, to Toronto, to New York and so many places he never went. They made me strong enough to truly know myself…

But I still fear the tiger at 2:00 am….

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7 Responses to Chapter 85: The Tiger at 2:00 a.m.

  1. dara lamberson says:

    touching description of the relationship you two had, Scott. I think most of us have childhood memories that are similar…yet different. I love your style of describing it and admire you for trying to understand him instead of just being angry with him. We all have our demons and what a great place the world would be if we remember that and try to be more compassionate with each other.

  2. Vanita says:

    …powerful & breathtaking. V

  3. auntlily says:

    Compassionate and not bitter,a lesser soul could not written or felt such empathy.

  4. Van says:

    I dreaded running into the tiger at any hour…I remember the looks and how I felt he blamed me for the fun we all had, but I realized early that he was being a parent…a good parent in his own way. Loved the blog and happy that everything seems to finally be making sense. I really cherish the “good ole days” and all our times together! I think we all learned a lot from Herman!

  5. As always, Scott, this impressive chapter is full of penetrating psychological insight and compassion. I admired your writing as much on this my second reading as I did during the first. Keep up the fine work.

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