A Phantom Reprieve

It’s my father’s birthday today.

Instead of writing about monsters, ghouls, goblins, dragons, demons, haunted castles, mansions, or carnivorous insects. Instead of writing about depression, suicide, dead dreams, sick dogs, broken promises, and living memories glued to streetlights and basements. Instead of all these things about myself I could write about, I’ve decided to talk about this uncanny characteristic my father had forged to his being by some celestial creature. It can be as rare as a giant squid gliding up from the abyssal blue like a red umbrella. It can be as rare as those gravitational waves born by feuding black holes, spinning into each other like two dark matter hurricanes. It can be as rare as dropping a gallon of milk, and it bouncing upwards unscathed on the linoleum floor.

My father can do the right thing.

It seems like many people can do the right thing. They have the option, intention, and predisposition to do so, but they chose not to act. Some people can only do the right thing for strangers, but not family or friends. Some people can only do the right thing for family and friends, but not strangers. Our kindness has become so selective in this complex world. I almost feel like we’re all children again picking people to play dodge ball with in gym class. The overall ability to be kind no matter what environment or metal state you’re currently in is rare. To be able to diagnosis the right thing to do on a moral and ethical level no matter what is easiest to you, is an astounding ability.

My father never had a dad growing up. His father abandoned him when he was five years old. Any sort of guidance, encouragement, leadership, confidence, or knowledge he had to earn himself. He didn’t have an armored guard wandering through the forest at night with a single lantern beaming back the beasts. He didn’t have someone to tell him how to handle bullies, friends, and fears.

When his father passed away, he quickly wrote a letter to my dad along with all his siblings. It was a measly attempt to exonerate himself of guilt before being pulled into whatever afterlife realm was stalking his near lifeless body. In my father’s letter, he spelled my dad’s name wrong. It was the final laughable stab from a coward who couldn’t live up to his own indulgences.

Sometimes, in moments where I needed advice, whether it was professional, friendship, or female-related, my father would say to me: “I’m telling you this now because I never had a father to tell me. I didn’t have a father to show me these things.” At times, I would feel guilty about my dad pointing out how there was only silence when he needed voices. He’d gone through enough pain already, how come I couldn’t straighten up?

I don’t feel that way anymore. Now, I just feel admiration, not just for my father but for everyone who has had only themselves to survive the chaotic nature of this world. When you earn something for yourself emotionally, it can never get taken away. Whether its getting over physical or emotional abuse, abandonment, poverty, or any of the nightmarish forces that orbit our existence like a throng of starving sharks, there is strength in being able to survive your own damaged parts.

This makes my father even more powerful in my eyes. So today, I feel obligated to not write a Flash Fiction piece about creatures clawing through a hallway. I feel beholden to not write a nonfiction piece about my struggles with depression. It has been hard for my father to accept that I write about monsters, both in fiction and nonfiction. He prides himself on the job he did as a parent, and he feels like my choices of medium are an indictment on him.

“So, Patrick, you’ve got a book out now, huh?” My friend Troy said. We’re having dinner with my parents. My first book Beware the Ills has just been released. It’s about a guy on an island who’s sole job is to kill anyone who dares land on his shore. He doesn’t know why he’s doing it. He’s good at it. He’s under an almost supernatural compulsion to kill and he can’t figure out why.

“Yes, it just came out,” I said. My dad is sitting at the head of the table. He’s staring at his drink like it’ll tell him what to say.

“Is it full of monsters? Lots of killing, like your other stuff?” Troy said.

“Yeah, kind of, there’s more to it than that of course,” I said.

“Lots of blood?” Troy said.

“Yup, there’s a fair amount of gore,” I said.

My dad starts rubbing his wrinkled forehead like he was trying to tell if it was ripe.

“Always monsters. It’s always monsters with you. I mean, what did I do? Where did I go wrong?” My dad said. He laughs a little bit at the end to diffuse the situation. I can tell he doesn’t understand, and feels guilty for my dark intentions.

My father being responsible for my preference to explore sad things in the world couldn’t be further from the truth. My father has worked hard and nurtured me to be a good person. His sacrifices have allowed me to find these ways to express myself. A good parent knows when to help you succeed, and when to let you fail. My father has done both to perfection. I couldn’t ask for a better father in all the world. He is without a doubt my hero, and someone who I strive to be like everyday.

So, dad, happy birthday! No horrors or repressed sadness. No abominations scouring the sky with pearl masks looking to pull apart a passing jetliner. Just admiration and love for you, dad.

You’ve earned it.


17 thoughts on “A Phantom Reprieve

  1. Pingback: Monday Musings 2/29 – What the Basement Said

  2. Michael B. Fishman

    That was a beautiful essay. Thanks for sharing it and happy birthday to your dad.

    “When you earn something for yourself emotionally, it can never get taken away.” Wise words that I need to remember.


    1. Thank you, I appreciate it. Ill pass on the message. It’s true. Our emotional trials can give us a sense of equity unrivaled by anything in the material world. Thank you so much for reading. Have a wonderful day 🙂


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