One day I was eight and Dad didn’t come home.
Mum told us he was working late, but his bed wasn’t slept in. They had separate beds by that time, Mum and Dad.
Walking home from school that next day, Mum told us Dad had been beaten up. He hadn’t come home because he was in hospital.
We weren’t allowed to go and see him so we knew it was bad, and he stayed at the hospital for a week. Mum went to visit and she said he was OK, but I didn’t know quite how to feel. Dad was strong, like a rock, with his hands shaped like hammers. He shouldn’t get beat, he should beat, so it seemed.
At last he came home, while we were at school, and in the evening we were each allowed a few minutes in his room.
A face turned purple.
Mottled and bubbled and lumpen, one eye closed like a boxer’s.
An ogre, a brute, a fairytale monster.
Underneath was my Dad.
Still strong, with hard hands, and black, wavy hair.
He sat up in bed, beneath the bobbly green blanket, toenails curling black, peeping out.
I felt secure as he pulled me onto his knee, and he told me
“Are you scared to look at me, son? I’m your Dad.”
And I wasn’t scared, it was just strange.
“Don’t you worry, Paulie, don’t you worry”, he told me. “Did your mother tell you what happened?”
I nodded yes, but he saw me, unsure, and he knew me. He went on and spoke words Mum hadn’t. They each tried to protect me, my parents, in different ways. He felt he was protecting me now.
He’d been attacked by men with hammers. They’d bludgeoned him in ambush as he’d walked after work through an alley, a bag stuffed full of cash-in-hand under-arm. He’d fought fiercely, dragging the fight into the street, crashed through a cafe window trying to hold onto the money, but hammers are harder than hands.
My eyes widened and I curled into him, Old Spice and cigarette-scented, as he told me the moral of his story.
“There are only two people who could’ve known, son, that I’d be walking at that time in that place, with that money in that bag. One of them set me up. I’m going to find out who. And he’ll be sorry, you’ll see.”
And I felt good because everything was right with the world again. There was nothing my Dad couldn’t fix.