Describe Your Father in One Sentence

by | Mar 31, 2022 | Creative Nonfiction


My old man was one of those guys whose outer shell, like the stiff jacket of a beetle, was hard and inflexible but whose insides were jelly, according to my mother, who recounted a time when they were first married and he cried over a cute little Looney Tunes car that met a bad end in a junkyard, which endeared him to her, she told me, and put a more pleasant color on a lot of the things he would come to do that ought to have earned him a night on the sofa at the very least, an outcome I never remember happening after I became conscious enough to know what was going on around me in that place, a small home with too many people in it, six all told, where my two brothers and I shared a room and our baby sister got a whole room to herself, unfairly, I thought, but we were told, She’s a girl and she gets special treatment, though it wasn’t lost on me that Mom didn’t seem to get special treatment, not really, even though she was a girl too, and instead it was the old man who got all the frills, a plush recliner to sit in after work with his martini as he glanced up from a newspaper at the TV news and relit his pipe—he smoked a pipe at the ripe age of thirty—frills that included sitting at the head of the table in the tiny kitchen, that included sleeping in on Saturdays, that included staying out with his buddies on any given night of the week, coming home with complex odors clinging to him, and spending a good twenty minutes in the bathroom letting out a tankful of beer piss as Mom, in her quilted aqua robe, hair rolled in curlers, ignored the obvious infractions because, I started piecing together, she was used to it and he had famously declared and had proved many times that he would win any conflict between them because of who he was and what he was prepared to do to win, a way of being in the world that even I could see at that young age flew in the face of everything they were trying to teach me in Sunday school, the love-thy-neighbor notions that were supposed to make life better for everyone, but I could also see that the old man had a spring in his step and a jocular lilt to his voice and he made people laugh and they seemed to like him, so it wasn’t all adding up at the end of the day, though I definitely wasn’t developing in his image, with cockiness and confidence and a get-out-of-my-way vee in the brow, since I saw in Mom the destructive effects, when the old man wasn’t home, that he had on her, the pensive sadness, the weariness, and it was only after he left us that it all came out in her, all the pain of those years, and rendered her face a melting mask of grief, so much so that I felt guilty as the years went on, trying to forge a relationship with him, some father/son foundation that we might be able to build on to get to know each other better, even if I felt like I knew him pretty well, as far as it goes, hoping he’d want to see who I was becoming, all the way up to that Christmas, twenty-five years on, when he and his second wife started crapping on Mom when the old issues came up again after much holiday drinking, but this time I couldn’t abide it anymore and told my wife we’re leaving, and we got up to leave, packing in a mad rush, and the last thing I said to him in the dark in front of the house as he cried while I hugged him around the neck, noticing that he was shorter than me now, after all these years, a smaller man in more ways than one, was we’ll get through this, and at the time I meant it, not imagining that he would soon grow back his rigid beetle shell and stiffen up against my understandable demands and, to his mind, win this round the way he had always won, by pushing past the brink, risking the loss of someone dear, which he did—he lost me—and that was the last I ever saw of him, the small weeping man who knew what was happening long before I figured it out, waiting for something real from him well past the day he died.

Photo by Daniel Panev, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author


Kevin Brennan is the author of seven novels, including Parts Unknown (William Morrow/HarperCollins), Yesterday Road, and, coming in Spring ’22, The Prospect. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Berkeley Fiction Review, Mid-American Review, Twin Pies, Sledgehammer, Atlas and Alice, LEON Literary Review, MoonPark Review, Misfit Magazine, and others. A Best Microfiction 2022 nominee, he’s also the editor of The Disappointed Housewife, a literary magazine for writers of offbeat and idiosyncratic fiction, poetry, and essays. Kevin lives with his wife in California’s Sierra foothills.

Books by Kevin Brennan

Kevin Brennan