He had an old-fashioned, black pen-and-ink pen in his left hand, and he was sketching on an artist’s pad. I was about five, I think, and was trying to do the same thing with a black crayon.
We were at a park outside our hotel near Rochester, New York, where my dad was from; my mother, sister, and brother had gone down the street to a drug store. I had my own little artist’s sketchbook as well, although I think the pages were lined.
“I’m going to give my picture to grandma,” I said.
“She’ll like that,” he said.
I was fourteen years old; my sister and brother were grown by then, and had left home. I was reading on my bed, when I heard my mom, who had been down the hall giving my dad hell about something, suddenly give a screech. I heard the front door bang open and I tore out of my room to see what was going on. I could see them through the hall window.
There was my mom, standing out in the yard, looking back at my dad, who was standing in the doorway. They were just looking at each other. She looked wary.
I knew right away what had happened. He had been laying down on the couch, not feeling well, and had shot up off the couch to respond to her. She, who grew up in a home racked by domestic violence, hadn’t stuck around to see what his intentions were; she ran out at the first sign of sudden movement.
He hadn’t hurt her. But for a moment, she thought he might. And he was really angry.
He stepped back from the door and she came back inside.
“What happened today?” I asked at dinner that night. “I saw you out the hall window.”
“We had an argument,” my mom said.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
They looked at each other. I guess I wasn’t supposed to have noticed, let alone started asking questions about it.
“No,” my father said slowly. “But it will be. Sometimes couples argue.”
Now they were looking worried. They always saw me as the oversensitive type who couldn’t deal with the realities of life. I changed the subject.
“Dad, I’m supposed to a sketch of a tree for school. Could you help me after dinner?”
“Yes,” he said, relieved for the change of subject.
I was in college by this time, back home visiting for one day. My mom and I were talking about this and that.
“Your father and I have been going to counseling,” she said.
“How’s that going?”
“Turns out that your father has been depressed for something like twenty years.”
I thought “You’re just now realizing that?”, but I said, “Oh, wow. Um… what other things have you all learned?”
“Ways to understand and appreciate each other better. You know how difficult your father can be to communicate with.”
“And apparently, I can be hard to please at times.”
“I had never noticed.”
She laughed. “Yes you have.”
“Okay, I have. So it’s… helping? Maybe?”
“We think so.”
We moved on to other subjects.
“I got together a few things you can take with you back to school”, she said.
They were on a chair by the telephone in the front hall. There was a jacket I had been looking for, a couple of books my friend Andy had returned, and one of my father’s old sketchbooks.
“He was throwing these out, and I told him you kids my like to keep them. Here.”
I thumbed through the pages. There was the clean, simple sketch of the Rochester park. I remembered being out there with him with my crayon, drawing my crummy picture.
“Thanks,” I said.
“We knew you owed a lot, on your medical bills,” he said, “but we never dreamed you’d go out and put them all on credit cards.”
I was in my mid-twenties, and I had been very ill. Very, very ill.
He said, “I cashed in a life insurance policy we had on me, and I’m going to lend you the money to help get square.”
He produced a very neatly drawn loan amortization schedule, in his almost calligraphic print. “You will pay me on the 15th of every month, until this is paid off.” In the sum borrowed, and with payments I could afford, it would stretch on for years and years.
“Thank you,” I said. “I will, I promise.”
“Credit, and family, are things that can be drawn upon, when needed, but — you have to be careful.”
My mom was sitting at the table with us, looking fondly at my dad. He got up and left the room to go back to work in his shop.
“Your dad loves you,” she said.
“I know,” I said. “I know you both do. And I’m grateful, I really am. Now that I can work again, I should be able to pay you back.”
Five years later, at my first wedding, he waived the remaining payments as a wedding gift. I still had his carefully penned loan amortization schedule.
That was twenty-five years ago. My dad died, a little over ten years ago.
The other morning, I was picking up various items to take out to recycling. Among them was a crayon drawing by my eldest grandson, who is four years old. I took it out of the items for recycling and put it up in my room.
“What is this?” my wife asked. “Why is this up?”
“Because it’s hand-drawn,” I said.
She brushed her hand lovingly over my hair before leaving the room.