“But with all this said, wine was given to gladden the heart of man (Ps. 104:15), and one of the duties a father has is that of teaching his son to drink.” -Douglas Wilson, “Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants
It was the day after Christmas and Darryl was still filled with that feeling you get when you’ve drank three cups of black coffee to help stay awake to study for a big exam. This had been a Christmas that he’d only heard about or seen in cheesy movies that seem to play on a loop this time of year. He’d wanted to pinch himself throughout the day because his mind found it hard to believe that this was his life now.
The only thing that would have made the day complete was if his father had been there. Hondo had invited him to come along but he’d begged off with some lame excuse about a holiday curfew. Darryl knew the truth; his father was angry at Hondo and he’d seen that look in his father’s eyes before. The man demanded loyalty, and in his eyes, Hondo had not been loyal when it counted.
Now here he was, standing on the corner three blocks away from home in a sketchy part of town waiting on his father to meet him for lunch. They’d agreed on tacos at Alfredo’s taco shop a familiar hangout for Leroy and his gang friends back in the day.
Home of Hondo Harrelson – Afternoon –
Hondo stared out the front window at nothing in particular. He was deep in thought; worry was more like it. He knew the day would come when Leroy would be released from prison but at least Darryl would have been a grown man on his own and able to make choices without being influenced by a career criminal like his father. Hondo knew that Darryl still ached for his father’s acceptance and it was that ache that had landed the young man in prison until Hondo was able to rescue him.
Hondo had fallen into the role as parent and father easier than anyone had expected. With it came a raging case of worry and responsibility. Leroy had asked Hondo to look after his son and to show him things that he’d never be able to show him. Even from behind prison gates, Leroy still scrutinized Hondo’s intentions with his son and now that he was out, Hondo worried that this old childhood friend would undo all the good that Darryl had worked so hard to achieve.
“What’s got you staring off into space.”
Hondo turned to see his father entering the room. The senior Harrelson already knew the answer and it was the same thing that had caused Hondo to worry ever since Leroy had been released.
“Hey Pops. I’m just…”
“Yeah, I know. You’re worried about Darryl. You think Leroy is going to pull him back to that street life, don’t you?”
“Pops, I’m just hoping that I’ve done enough and taught him enough that he won’t want to go back to that life.”
“That’s every father’s dream, Hondo.” Pops stared at his son for a moment before continuing.
“Even us fathers who weren’t very good at being fathers, want our sons to be better than us; do better than we did.”
“I don’t know, it’s like Leroy wants Darryl out there in those streets doing the things that got him in trouble in the first place!”
“Hondo, you are a reminder to Leroy of everything that he did wrong with his life and with his son’s life. Don’t you think that at the end of the day, Leroy wants what’s best for Darryl?”
“Honestly, I don’t know.”
“Of course, he does; he just doesn’t want him to be better because of you.”
Alfredo’s Taco Shop –
“So, how was Christmas, son?”
“It was great, Dad…I just wish you could have been there.”
“Yeah well, you know how it is at these court mandated halfway houses…”
“Really? It’s hard to believe that they wouldn’t give you a little time away to be with family.”
“Family? What family? You all the family I got and you ain’t got nothing except what Hondo and his people give you!”
Darryl’s spirits dropped as he finished off his taco. His father was angry; he didn’t know what to say to him that wouldn’t make him angry. They’d never been close, not like he wanted to be.
“I’m just saying…”
“I know what you’re saying, Darryl but it’s not that easy.”
“Dad, Hondo is your friend.”
“A friend doesn’t leave a friend hanging; Hondo left me hanging! If he had his way, I’d still be in prison.”
There was that anger again and it wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. Darryl watched as his father finished his food.
“So how long are you going to be mad at Hondo?”
“Who are you, Hondo’s goodwill ambassador?”
“I just want you guys to be good. Hondo’s been good to me and he’s treated me like…”
“Like what? Like a son?”
“I just mean that Hondo is a good person and he’s a good friend.”
“Let me tell you something; You are my son, and your loyalties lie with me!”
“Hondo has filled your head with nonsense! Open your eyes son, because these streets are going to eat you alive!”
“I’m trying to get off these streets, Dad! There’s nothing in these streets for me! I want something better for myself and for my son!”
“Better! Better?” Leroy chuckled bitterly. “Yeah okay, son I hear you. Just don’t start thinking you’re better than your old man. Don’t forget where you came from!”
Home of Charice Harrelson – Evening –
Charice pulled yesterday’s leftovers from the refrigerator and set them on the counter; Daniel was coming over and he had already hinted that he wanted a repeat of yesterday’s Christmas dinner. She’d enjoyed having the men in her life over for dinner but if someone had told her that one of those men would be her ex-husband, she wouldn’t have believed them. Life and old age had a way of playing funny games on a person.
The doorbell rang and she knew exactly who it was. It was amazing how prompt he could be when a home cooked meal was involved. She smiled as she opened the door and let him in. Daniel kissed her lightly on the cheek as he passed her into the house.
“Thanks for inviting me over.”
“Uh…you invited yourself over, old man.” She joked. “But you’re welcome.”
Daniel smiled and took a seat at the dining table while she made their plates.
“Everything still smells so good. I tell you Charice, you are one of the best cooks I know.”
“Why thank you!” Charice chuckled, placing a plate in front of him and one across from him for herself. “I love to cook; always have.”
She watched him place his napkin on his lap and begin surveying the amazing plate. There was something troubling him; she’d heard it in his voice when he called earlier.
“So, what’s going with you?”
Daniel looked up feigning innocence; pretending not to know that she was on to him.
“You don’t want me here? You could have just said so.”
“Oh hush, old man. You know what I’m talking about. I know when something’s bothering you.”
Daniel set his fork down and exhaled searching for a way to begin talking about their son.
“I’m worried about Hondo.”
She raised her eyebrows at the man sitting across from her. How odd she thought that after thirty years, now he wanted to discuss their son.
“What about Hondo?”
“It’s this beef he has with Leroy; he’s afraid that Darryl is going to get caught in the middle.”
“Darryl is a good boy; he was a good boy even before Hondo came into his life, he just lost his way but who wouldn’t with parents like his. Poor child, his own mother didn’t want him around. She chose an abusive boyfriend over him! The fact that he’s still alive is nothing but a miracle. Nothing but a miracle!”
“I realized something earlier today when Hondo and I were talking.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“There’s nothing I can say to him; I abandoned you and my children over thirty years ago. I left and never looked back!”
“Hondo loves you in spite of all of that.”
“I left! Who was supposed to teach him how to be a man? That’s what fathers do! They teach their boys to be men! Damn it, I was a fool then and I’m a fool now…there’s nothing I can say to my son; nothing!”
Charice watched the torment and the emotions on his face. She’d spent over thirty years hurting and hating him for leaving them to fend for themselves. She’d spent nights; too many to remember, crying over him and because of him. There were times when she didn’t think they would make it and times when she’d run out of reasons for her son’s father being gone. There were times now that she was angry at herself for forgiving him and allowing him back in her life. She was afraid to say it out loud but there was still a place in her heart that felt something for him…even now after all this time.
“Sometimes even in our absence, we teach our children lessons about life.” She began. “We teach them lessons about what to become and what not to become. If there is any consolation in all of this is, you taught your son something even in your absence and even in the pain and disappointment you caused by not being there.”
Daniel shook his head acknowledging her words. The words stung but he knew that the truth stung, and that truth never cared about showing up sugar-coated and easy to swallow. Daniel’s truth greeted him each day and moment by moment it whispered in his ears that in spite of his crimes of neglect, he’d been given a second chance with his son and even with Charice. It was a chance that he didn’t deserve and in that knowledge of being unworthy, perhaps that truth was the biggest punishment of all.
“Boys do not long for fathers who will usher them through the gauntlet of psychological disconnect. They long for fathers who have themselves survived intact. Boys do not ache for their father’s masculinity. They ache for their fathers’ hearts.” -T. Real