The rain was cool against my skin. With each pellet came a tiny splash of relief to the heat radiating from my pores. The blood in my veins is scorching hot with resentment, guilt and sorrow. The rain helps to distract me from the sound of other people’s cries, simply closing my eyes isn’t enough. I need some distraction to keep my composure. Real men never cry, no matter the situation. That’s what my father told me, when he said it to me I was twelve years old.
I remember months before that I asked if he would teach me to fight like him but he flat out refused, saying no one had taught him to fight, he learned on his own. My father constantly reminded me of the time he entered a small time boxing match in his hometown when he was just nineteen and won, self-taught. He won six consecutive matches after but quit when my mom got pregnant with me. And so as my Dad put it, he “man’d up” got married; they got jobs and moved to a different town to raise me. Five years later my mother passed away and so my father got a second job, taking on all the duty in raising me.
My father never let a year pass without reminding me of the sacrifice he made to take care of me. Said no one had ever seen a kid fight the way he did especially without a trainer and had he had the chance he probably would’ve been a world champ. Over time I began to secretly watch him practice on the punching bag in his room. It was thrilling to watch, he was incredible. The quickest jabs I’ve seen moved in a blur through the air. He bobbed and weaved as if it were some kind of choreographed dance. His hooks were filled with so much power I was sure he would rip the bag from the ceiling with each blow. When he wasn’t home I started to practice on it myself, mimicking everything my father did. After months of relentless practice, my arms grew stronger and faster. I felt ready, ready to show him.
When he arrived from work one late summer afternoon I somehow mustered up the courage and told him I’d taught myself to fight. One corner of his mouth twisted into a smile and he asked me to show him. Instantly I charged at him, rapidly punching at his stomach. My arms never felt so strong and I just knew he was impressed. I kept going at him, my body was charged with adrenaline, it felt so powerful; lethal even. Then I decided to go for an uppercut, I turned my body sideways leaned forward and felt the strength of my shoulder as it carried my arm up towards the sky. But suddenly everything in my body went limp as a jolt of staggering pain pounded the left side of my face. In a flash, the blood vessels around my eye felt as if they’d exploded through my skin. My eyeball felt as if it melted in the socket. I hit the floor hard, my flesh was burning, seconds later I exhaled and tears bust out my eyes along with my breath. I shuddered through the pain as I came to realize what happened. My father struck with a most unforgiving blow. That’s when my father said those all too familiar words, “Real men don’t cry". However, in that moment I couldn’t stop myself from crying. I sobbed along to the beat of my throbbing eye. My father walked out of the room leaving me to it and that was the last time I cried.
For nine years my father tested me and time and time again I took the pain like a man, never letting a single tear drop. Until finally one summer, the last summer, my uppercut rang true. Unfortunately, my victory was short lived as the very next day my father put my things outside and said since I thought I was such a man it was time for me to go. I didn’t ask him any questions, I just left. I didn’t know how to live on my own but I knew if I asked my father he’d just tell me, no one taught him. So I left without looking back. It’s been 36 years since then, for 36 years I was real man, on my own. For 36 years I’ve worked hard, I got married and had my own son and made it a point to teach him everything I know in spite of my father.
Only now, well...now, my fathers coffin is being lowered into the ground and I can’t stand the sight. For 36 years I’ve proved to him I was a man. But for 36 years I’ve never realized how much I missed this man. I look back down at my right hand watching the cool rain hit the back of my knuckles. I stare as the liquid trails down my skin, I stare until my hand becomes blurred. I shut my eyes closed just as I feel hot droplets splash across the backside of my hand.