I thought it might be a good idea to get back to fathers for a while. Good dads, bad dads. Absent dads, doting dads. Fearsome dads, loving dads... We all had them. Dads, I mean. Some good, some not so good. For most of us, they had an enormous influence on our lives, whether as role models or, in some cases, the cause of great pain or aversion. I've heard some horror stories, some inspiring stories, some stories of lasting love or lasting anger.
If you have a father story to add to my collection, I'd love to receive it.
For the moment, here's one I found particularly moving. It's a complex story, combining not only the memory of a strong father brought to tears, but also a boy's relationship to his dog--and the larger theme of death. The feeling of guilt, too, plays a role... My thanks to Stuart Balcomb, the musician and composer, for submitting it.
by Stuart Balcomb
My parents bought a Doberman Pinscher puppy when I was in first grade. It was the first family dog for my younger sister and me, so “Lady” was quite a big deal for both of us. My dad had her ears clipped and tail bobbed (as was the custom) and took her to obedience school. We lived in a rural area in the North Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, amidst pastureland next to the Rio Grande, which was the perfect place to have a dog.
Lady was a sweetheart, and we loved to romp with her whenever we could. As she grew to a full-size, majestic Doberman, she became a fierce protector of us all. She kept her sweet disposition, but woe to anyone who dared enter the yard unannounced.
The area where we lived became an incorporated village, and my father served as sheriff and fire chief. I once rode shotgun in the firetruck to a brushfire in a field, and was with dad when he stopped someone for a broken tail light. He sometimes patrolled the Village on foot, with Lady on a leash, so one can imagine the air of command that a black Doberman added to the authority of a Smith & Wesson and a badge.
One day my father was standing on the patio, looking across the large field that separated us from the main road. He saw a car speed by, and then suddenly swerve as it disappeared from view behind trees at the edge of the property. Something told him that all was not right. He ordered me to stay put and took off running down the long driveway to the road. After awhile my father came into view, carrying Lady’s lifeless body upside down by her legs. I didn't know what to think, then realized that she had been hit by the car. I became frightened, and the sight of blood running from her nose was horrifying to me—it was my first experience with death. And what made it worse was my father crying as he carried his dog. I had never, nor have since, seen my father cry. Those two new elements, death and parental grief, made for a very terrifying moment.
I cannot remember if my father blamed me for leaving the gate open. That part of my memory is gone, but something deep inside thinks maybe he did. It most certainly could have been me. I really don’t know, but that didn’t lessen the tremendous guilt I felt.