For this story, I need you to do me a favor. Picture Tony Soprano. Not James Gandolfini. I mean Tony Soprano, the character. Remember how fucking scary he could be, and how quickly he went from casual laughing and joking around to (sometimes literal) murderous rampage on people? Now picture him being 6’5″ 1the photo in the header of this story was taken the year this story takes place. My dad’s on his knees in that photo, and he’s still ...continue. Tony Soprano (like Gandolfini) was barely 6 feet tall, so imagine a few inches taller. And in better shape. And not nearly as notorious — so you really don’t see him coming. He’s just some tall, stocky dude, but the decorum of society dictates he probably won’t pummel you. But, you’re mostly just hoping he doesn’t.
That’s basically my dad.
Best I can figure it from talks with him on a podcast we used to do, and from private conversations, my dad was the guy the mob would send to your door to bust some kneecaps — or at least threaten to do so 2he never confirmed nor denied any busting of kneecaps, but he did confirm being the guy the mob would send to “make sure people paid off their ...continue. When he spoke about his childhood, he said he was the biggest guy in his age group. I remember him telling me about this movie theatre he used to frequent that had a special red chair in the middle of the theatre and “that was my seat” he would say. I asked “what if someone sat in your seat?”, but he told me “they always got out when I came in”. At the time, I didn’t really understand that. As a grown adult, I now pretty much figure … well, he was probably something of a bully. But adults don’t admit they were bullies, so he just refers to the respect he got and not how he got it.
As you might imagine, a father like that in the mid-80s who’s not afraid to use some force to punish his son is a scary fucking sight. That said, most of the time he was really fun to be around and he was hilarious. I get a lot of my humor, especially socially, from him. I always thought it was hilarious when he got fake-angry, so it’s something I use a lot — putting on a funny voice and acting like the world’s gone crazy. I’m not being facetious here. I could tell when he was doing the “what is all this?!” voice as a joke, versus when he was actually angry about something. When he did that, we all laughed, and I still laugh just thinking about it.
When he actually was angry, however… watch the fuck out. He never laid a hand on my sister, so if he got angry with her, he’d watch me like a hawk. One time, when my sister told him to “just fuck off”, I happened to be walking through the hall and he asked if I lost my house key again. When I couldn’t remember where my house key had gone — but I knew I didn’t lose it — he yelled and followed me to my room to look for it, trashing my room in an attempt to find it. When my acoustic guitar was thrown around and smashed in front of me, I looked up through my tears to see the thumbtack I’d put into the wall and hung my key on 3I now own 3 guitars — 2 acoustic, one electric Gibson Les Paul — and I can barely play the first few chords of Come As You Are. I was ...continue. I pointed to it and said “see? there it is! I told you I didn’t lose it”, his response was “well… clean this shit up!”. To this day, if you asked me “where’s your keys?” I can produce them for you in seconds, and I feel a great deal of anxiety when I have to valet and I’m walking around without my keys for a few hours. Psychiatrists would have a field day with this blog, I’m sure.
In 4th grade, my mother was finally teaching full-time and had her own classes. On Parent-Teacher Conference night that year, my mom had to pull double-duty as Teacher to Parents and then Parent to Teachers since my sister went to the same school in which my mom was teaching. For the first time in our family, my father had to go to PTC night in her stead. He didn’t know how it worked, or that he wasn’t actually supposed to bring me to the proceedings. I tried to tell him it was Parent-Teacher and not Parent-Student-Teacher, but he thought I was just trying to get out of it so I could stay home and play on my computer.
So, there I was, walking into my school with my dad. Every parent that passed us thought I must be trouble to have been personally requested to come along to PTC night. I still wonder how many of them took notes : “well, that kid’s not hanging out with MY kid!“. When we finally walked into my teacher’s classroom, she kindly explained to my dad that the students aren’t supposed to be here on this night. Before I could utter a single “see? I told you so!”, my dad turned and said “wait outside”.
While standing in the hallway, I really had to pee. So, I walked to the bathroom and relieved myself. On my walk back, I ran into a teacher I didn’t know.
Teacher : what are you doing here?
Me : I’m here with my dad, for Parent-Teacher Conferences
Teacher : say that again
Me : I’m here with my…
Teacher : (cutting me off) No, no. What’s tonight called?
Me : Parent-Teacher Con..
Teacher : (cutting me off) Yes. Parent. Teacher. You’re not a parent, or a teacher. Why are you here?
Me : My dad…
Teacher : (cutting me off) Where is your dad?
Me : He’s with my teacher
Teacher : Why are you here? Why are you snooping around these halls?
Me : I wasn’t snooping, I was..
Teacher : (cutting me off again) You aren’t supposed to be here. Where is your father?
He was very stern. And angry. And yelling at me to find my father. It was like he didn’t believe me. I ran back to my teacher’s room. He ran after me, yelling “young man, stop!”, “you get BACK here!”, things like that. When I reached my teacher’s room, I stood outside and said “my father’s inside here. I was told to wait here”. He said “yes, let’s have a talk with your father”, still grilling me on where my father was. I stayed put, knowing this motherfucker couldn’t possibly do worse than what my dad would do if I wasn’t there by the time he came back out.
My dad emerged a minute later to see his son crying and an angry teacher standing over him. He said “why are you crying?”, and I said “he’s telling me I can’t be here”. My dad looked up to see this teacher who fully thought “yeah, I’ll explain the rules” and began to do just that. My dad interrupted him with “did you… make my son cry?”. The teacher, thinking surely this guy’s not going to do anything crazy, said “I told your son that he is not allowed to be here for Parent Teacher Conferences….” and didn’t even get to finish the sentence before my father lifted him off his feet by his collar, slammed him against the wall, and held him about a foot or two off the ground.
I’d never seen such fear in another adult before.
He said “How dare you speak to my son that way. Look at him. LOOK AT HIM”. The teacher looked at me, and my father said “You are never to speak to my son like that again, do you understand? If I so much as hear that you looked at him wrong, I will come back here and pull your goddamn head right off your body”.
He let the teacher down slowly, pointed to the end of the hall, and the teacher walked off. Probably confused as fuck.
From that day forth, every time I saw that teacher, he’d wave to me, ask me how I was doing, escort me between classes, and always asked me to “tell your dad I said hello… he’s a great guy. LOVE that guy. So funny!”.
I’m not saying what my dad did was right, I’m just saying I never feared other adults after that. I knew if I so much as “pointed at the bad man”, they’d be shitting themselves a few minutes later. I don’t have any kids, and I likely never will, but I admire that level of making a kid feel safe. Then again, I’m a fucked up person. Which is why I don’t have kids.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↩||the photo in the header of this story was taken the year this story takes place. My dad’s on his knees in that photo, and he’s still taller than 10 year old me|
|2.||↩||he never confirmed nor denied any busting of kneecaps, but he did confirm being the guy the mob would send to “make sure people paid off their debts”|
|3.||↩||I now own 3 guitars — 2 acoustic, one electric Gibson Les Paul — and I can barely play the first few chords of Come As You Are. I was pretty good for a 9 year old, though, if I’d have only stuck with it.|