Looking back at my childhood, seeing my father from this fifty years ago perspective, I see that he only perpetrated two acts of cruelty against me.
No, he never struck me. Well, once, he said in his later years, and he said that was one thing he really regretted—I, in all honesty, do not remember him ever striking me, and I told him so.
Of course, I got my fair share of deserved spankings for I was a borderline kleptomaniac (if not full-blown) and would steal anything that was not well nailed or screwed down. Spankings, then, were to be expected, and, as I said, well-deserved.
And no, that was not cruel; necessary persuasion would be the words.
But he committed two, in my book, acts of cruelty against me. Not that they left scars or anything, but they were cruel nonetheless (as I said, in my book—tongue not too far from cheek).
This first act of paternal cruelty was at the completion of my driver’s test for my Swedish driver’s license. This was, as I recall, in 1967. It was winter. Icy driving conditions. I had been practice driving with my dad, and I think he taught me well. Also, I had a knack for the car thing, it came natural to me. I felt pretty confident about it.
So, I and the traffic inspector took off, and I saw my dad in the rear-view mirror looking our way. No way of telling what he was thinking. Twenty or so minutes later, after some parallel parking and driving hither and yon we returned and I parked the car near the curb.
My father was waiting for us. After I stopped, he leaned against the passenger side of the car and the inspector rolled down the window. My father was grinning, a strange grin, a “so how bad was it?” grin.
“He passed,” said the inspector.
And here follows Fatherly Cruelty Number One: My father was genuinely surprised. Not an I’m-happy-for-you surprise, no not at all. Shocked, would be more like it. How one earth could I possibly? It simply did not find footing in his realm of the possible. His honest reaction was the utter opposite, the 180 degrees opposite, of a vote of confidence for his son. And that, I think, was cruel.
As for Fatherly Cruelty Number Two: This took place a few years earlier. My father was working at his desk on some business or design problem (he was an engineer by trade), and he had two slide rules out, or maybe even three. Interesting, amazing things, slide rules, magical even.
Yes, I counted them, three. Two more than he actually needed went my logic. So I said, “Could I have one?”
“A slide rule.”
“But you have three.”
“Listen, he said looking up at me, not happy to be disturbed, “even if I had a thousand slide rules, I would never give you one.”
At issue here was not his potential loss; at issue was my potential gain. And therein lies the cruelty.
These cruel instances aside, he really was a great dad.
Yes, I'm actually a lucky guy.