Growing up, Sort of

"There's nothing that a man likes to hear so much, as his own name. Now just think about that for a second." Bill Senior's eyebrows went up and his head tilted to the side as he said this. He was passing a couple pearls of wisdom on to his son and he was using all of the powers of persuasion he could muster. "You should try to remember that, son. That is the truth."

He squints and nods a few times to reinforce the point. His son, Bill Junior, who's 8 years old now, looks back at him and tries to adopt the same serious look on his own face, to show that he's listening and taking all this seriously.

Bill Junior is taking it seriously, he just doesn't know what it means and he's afraid to say so. While the contents of the "conversation" are new, the pattern is not.

Big Bill is trying to save his son from the hard-knocks that come from growing up in the depression, working a bunch of back-breaking jobs that pay little, joining the army and fighting in World War II and then coming back to try to have a family, gain a little education to better himself and give his children the advantages he never had. Bill Senior thinks that if Junior can just pay attention and learn some important points from the old man, he'll be miles ahead of the crowd and avoid some of the pitfalls that Senior had to slog through.

The only thing Bill Junior has heard about his father's history have been the very high parts and, of course, the very lowest parts. He sees his father in the mold of the Horace Greeley self-made man. Big Bill had a toxic relationship with his own father Hans-Albert who he described as an ignorant German teamster who showed affection by beating him and his brother regularly with parts of his horses' leather harness.

He never failed to remind Bill Junior that he had never beat him with a leather strap. and Bill Junior was always careful to thank his father for that. It still didn't help him understand much of what his father told him. To Bill Junior, not being able to understand his father's lessons felt like he was actively disobeying him, or at least failing him in some fundamental way.

As the lesson ended, Bill Senior, once again, locked eyes with Little Bill and paused. This was part of the "always look a man in the eyes" lesson from a couple weeks ago, and Bill Junior was careful to not look away before his father did, just like shaking hands.

Then, just as the sun comes out from behind the clouds, his father smiled and rubbed him roughly on the top of his head, saying, "Good Boy", just like he did with the "Buddy", their Irish Setter mix. Bill Junior smiled back enthusiastically for the same reason Buddy did.

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