My mother found out what kind of a man my father was on her wedding night. This was before the sex. They were in their compartment on a train, headed for their honeymoon, and my mother dropped the toothpaste cap down the sink drain. My father had a temper tantrum worthy of a 2-year-old. My mother thought she had to put up with it.
There have been many times I wish she’d told him a toothpaste cap is just a thing, and not worth getting upset over. Instead she was afraid of him and she taught her children to fear him.
I think the worst outcome of my father’s unbridled irresponsible outrages and outbreaks of violence was that for years I thought that was the way adults should behave. I longed for the day when I could get away with temper tantrums, sarcasm and insult, like he did.
In high school, I found I could get away with sarcasm during classroom debates. Oddly, sarcastic remarks got me some admirers who thought I was smart. People often perceive my father as smart. This was weird. I was doing something I resented when it was done to me – and I was being rewarded. The motto: I’m smart. I’m right. Things should be done the way I want is not how I want to live.
My father divorced my mother, after 28 years, and married an even more compliant and worshipful woman. That marriage lasted 5 years. Then he married a woman who laughed at him when he yelled because she’d bought the wrong brand of cereal.
He didn’t continue yelling. He got himself something else to eat.
This was a revelation – my father could get himself a meal. My father did not yell back when he was put in his place. My father wasn’t really a two-year-old. And most exciting of all – I no longer had to be afraid of him.
If only my mother had laughed at him when he became angry about that toothpaste cap. All those years I spent fearing a man who could be defeated by laughter.