My Ol’ Man
I was the oldest of four brothers. The closest one trailed five years behind and the rest followed like ducklings. One after another, in a nice little row, as though I proved my folks were fit for child rearing. This was only half true.
I wanted my thirteenth birthday like a dog in heat. My sibling spies relayed to me that dad had built a bike in the barn and was painting it wagon red. My heart beat between hope and dread.
The morning of my birthday I wiped sleep from my eyes, staggering to the well for the day’s water. The red bike leaned against the white porch post, two large bags slung over the handlebars, dozens of newspapers on the ground.
“Happy birthday, Bobby,” my mom said from behind.
I felt cheated.
“He means well,” she added like an afterthought.
I nodded thanks and continued on with what I’d come to do. When I returned, my dad had folded newspapers, wrapped rubber bands around them, and stuffed them in the bags. The way the papers were wedged so tight reminded me of incubating wasps in a nest, more workers sleeping in a mud bed.
That’s the way it was with dad. You got nothing for nothing. No frills either. I delivered papers for five years. My old man said he wasn’t surprised I wanted to go to college, instead of working the farm. Said it would be mine one day, if I wanted it. But like that red bike, there were strings attached. If I wanted to marry, I’d have to build a house on the farm. If I wanted children, they’d have to run these fields like I had. I wanted to raise them differently; it couldn’t happen there.
My dad took me for a long, quiet ride on my eighteenth birthday. Said he had some things in the trunk and that I should say goodbye to mom and the boys. We drove until we reached the Texas oil fields and stopped at a small motel where the only place around was a coffee shop gas station. My old man bought me dinner, saying I could order anything. I ate medium-rare steak in guilty silence as he drank a cup of coffee, reading the paper, absentmindedly doodling on a crossword.
It was a long, quiet walk back to the motel room, and my old man just slipped off his boots and lay on one of the beds before passing out. I showered and read from my Sherwood Anderson collection before dozing off.
When I awoke, the sun was bleeding through the curtains. My father was gone. I opened the curtains and looked at the empty space where my dad’s car had been parked. In the background, the oil fields sprawled across the horizon like an empire. I’d felt conquered.
A note with a fifty-dollar bill was taped to the door. My father’s shaky hand wrote, “Happy Birthday. Visit some time. Oil fields pay well. Good luck. Dad.”
JOHN YOUNG lives in California. His work has been published in numerous places including The Chiron Review, Edifice Wrecked, Flashquake, FlashShot, Heavy Glow, Laughter Loaf, Lunarosity, Mytholog, The Pedestal Magazine, Susurrus, The Shine Journal and Versal. Contact him here: If you would like to read more about his writing and other projects, please visit: JOHN YOUNG, writer.
As my father has aged and needed my help to survive in his old age, I have learned tidbits about his childhood and come to a partially better
understanding of the angry man who dominated my childhood. It's too bad he never felt moved to share his childhood with me until he began to see his own life wind down. He had it harder than I ever would have imagined.