I have been thinking of duality lately. Duality of personality to be specific. When we go about our lives, we act differently in our various roles. How we act at work is often not how we act at home. Yes, we must behave differently due to societal norms and constructs, but I am discussing more on a primal level. An actual personality difference. We see that often in the media when someone goes nuts and kills someone. Many people who knew him say things like “I never would have thought him to do that” but others, perhaps those closest to him or those who saw him in a different role, would say “oh hell yeah, I can see him doing that”.
My biological paternal parent died last week. My father. My dad. My daddy. The man I once looked up to and wanted to be like. The one I would do anything for and often did. The man that had a duality of personality. Kenny Johnson would do anything for anyone that asked. He really and truly would. And he would ask for nothing in return. When we would be working on our farm and had our equipment out, we would go to another farm to help them do the same. It’s what folks did back then. He was well respected. He was prayed for (he did not attend church) but we was respected. He was a hero. A neighbor’s child had an accident and it was the quick thinking of my father that saved her. He worked all day at the glass plant then came home to work the farm. He was not one to be idle. He truly was a good, honest man.
Then there’s the other side. Kenny Johnson had a temper. And he directed it at his kids. No matter what he was really angry at, his kids were easier targets. Which brings me to the hay baler. Anyone who has ever baled hay with a square baler knows what I mean when I say they are the devil’s own nightmare. They need constant care. Constant watching. When they work, they work well. When they don’t, they are a pain in the ass. Spitting out 7 foot bales weighing five pounds or 2 foot bales weighing a hundred. And working in hay is hot, itchy, hard work. Back then, it was done by hand. The tractor pulled the baler which pooped out the bales. Then the tractor was driven with a trailer attached and folks picked up bales and handed to them to whoever was up there who stacked them carefully. It was driven to the barn where it was all unloaded and stacked again. Hot, itchy, hard work. I’ve seen my older brother hit so hard he was knocked off the driver’s seat of the tractor. I’ve been knocked so hard I saw more stars than I already was from the heat. All because the baler broke and dad was mad at it but took it out on us. Instead of teaching my older brother how to better drive the tractor through the field, he was hit. Instead of teaching me how to do whatever it was I did (or did not) wrong that time, I was hit. Same when we were planting tobacco. Or working any field or crop or task or whatever. We weren’t taught. We were beaten until we stumbled onto the right answer. Many nights I worked by the light of the truck, straightening up tobacco plants, my butt getting kicked every other plant, because I was taking too long. They were crooked because of how they were planted. I was being punished because the ground was too wet, too dry, or the planters were not paying attention. When we were out there, we prayed the baler worked. We prayed the tractor kept running. That the truck did. That the spreader did. That the weather holds. That everything goes right and Daddy doesn’t get mad. Please don’t let the baler break. Please don’t let daddy get mad. Please don’t let him take off his belt.
It wasn’t just in the fields that we feared him. It was at home. Dad drank beer. Lots of it. And he wasn’t a mellow drunk. We never knew then what would get him mad. I once spent over an hour looking for his carton of cigarettes that he demanded I look for. I looked everywhere. Couldn’t find them. I was getting the “If you’d looked everywhere, you would have found them so keep looking!” comment from him. Finally, I was standing at the front door, knowing I was about to get berated again, when I turned to tell him I really and truly could not find his damn cigarettes. That’s when I finally found them. He was right, I had not looked everywhere. I had not looked right by his fucking seat, right by his beer cans on the floor. And out of my mouth comes the sarcastic comment I really should have kept in my head. I was knocked out of the living room and into the kitchen where I slid across the floor until I collided with the cabinets. Mom stepped between the two of us and told him to stop. That I was actually right. The cigarettes were right by his hand and that he had driven me to smart off. Dad never hit me again. I think it frightened him a little that he had hit me that hard. And that I had finally stood up to him. Bullies are like that.
[I truly believe I am such a sarcastic person because of all the comments I had to hold in all those years. The “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” crap. There was no way I would have said what I wanted to say so I kept it in.]
I am a lot like my paternal parent. I can’t help but be.
– I have one helluva temper. I have worked hard to keep it under control. I know I have it. I know that demon lurks under my skin. I avoid situations where I know I can lose control of it.
– I like to think I will do anything for anyone. I believe in the pass it forward philosophy. I have been helped out along the way. And in return I have helped out others. I don’t think about what I will get out of it. I know that makes me sound like such a freakin’ good person. I’m not.
– And I can sweat in a snowstorm. When we hung tobacco, we could always tell where Dad was or had been because of the puddles on the ground. Of all his physical attributes, I just had to get that one, didn’t I?
So as folks talked about how great a man he was, I winced. Sure, he was. But that greatness is dwarfed by the damage he caused. Some can say he was only doing what he was taught. That he was raising his kids the way he was raised. To which I say bullshit. If something makes you uncomfortable, you find another way. If it doesn’t, then you continue it. So it didn’t bother him to continue it. And when my younger brother (who left the farm too young to really experience all this, thank you God!) said he hopes he grew up to be just like him, I really winced. No, Kevin, you didn’t grow up to be like him. You grew up to be better. When you had your first child, we prayed you would not be like him. You weren’t. You were better. You talked to Ryan as he had his many, many (many, many) tantrums. You didn’t beat him. Or scare him just by entering the room. You are a real father to both your kids. You did not perpetuate the cycle. Your kids will do anything for you. Not out of fear, but out of love.
Childhood memories are tainted when we look at them as adults. Those memories were formed by that child and still contained by the view of that child. The child in me both loves and hates Kenny Johnson. But both those emotions are overwhelmed by the fear of him. The memories I have of him are almost all coated in that fear of him. Even those that are of love, there is that fear. As an adult, I could have looked him in the eye and confronted him and those fears. I chose not to. I chose instead to protect my Self and never contacted him. I wish I could say “this even is what broke the camel” but there isn’t. It was several events that ended when he said “I won’t let you kids ruin this marriage like you did the first one.” It was his multiple affairs that ruined the first marriage, by the way. But it was his inability to admit fault and his attempt to pass the blame onto me that made me step back and realize he had not changed. That he was not going to hear what I was saying. At any point in all those years since, he could have approached me. He knew how to get in touch with me. Instead, he chose to purge me. I was never brought up in conversation. Family stories were told without me in them. It was as if I had never existed.
I chose to not go to his funeral. It was a big decision for me and I did not make up my mind (for the last time) until the night before. I am Southern. Not going to my own father’s funeral? I am damned to hell for that. But the benefits of going (which were numbered less than three) were not enough. I will head over to The Valley later and pay my respects my own way and without an audience.