As far back as I could remember my father was a violent and temperamental man. He would come home each night from the shipyards and expect food to be on the table when he arrived; he and mother had an uncommunicated agreement. I dreaded it when mother had run out of food to cook or if she was at one of her friends' houses. Father would arrive home starving only to find no food ready on the table, and become roused and start yelling. But this was not what I dreaded. He would promptly leave the house to find some other place to eat. Strangely enough, he always managed to end up in the pub at the end of the road. He would return home polluted and "visit" our room (I and my two siblings slept in the same room, you see). If I had had a bad day I would have started crying when he came into my room. He would start to yell at me and slap me to make me stop crying.
"C'mon, boy," he'd say, "Stop yer bawling! Real men don't cry. Don't make me disappointed of you. 'Cause that's what yer doing. C'mon. Real men don't cry. Stop it now or so God help me, I'll..."
In the meantime my siblings would be pretending to be sleeping. I knew they were pretending because I'd do the same thing when father came in to hit my brother or sister. On the nights when I didn't cry, father would just sit at the foot of my bed and ramble on drunkly about his life as a child, the day he had, and his opinions on life.
"Well, you see, son, you're damn lucky to have such a safe life. When I was young, when I was young, I had to work in those shipyards, those very ones that I work at now. And when I wasn't doing that I was trying to sell fruit at the side of the road to keep my family alive. And if I didn't bring home enough money at the end of the day my pappa would give me a good lickin', because he wanted to learn to me that we need money to live on, and I wasn't doing my share of the money-makin'. So he'd whip me good, but I didn't cry, because as my pop told me, real men don't cry. And I didn't want to shame my pop. You got it easy, boy. If you'da fouled up then like you foul up now, you would've got beat bad. You'd've learnt to respect your elders. That's yer problem, boy: You don't respect me. You don't give a good Goddamn about me! And I know. I know you don't respect me. You little pissants kept me in that shipyard for all these years! If y'all didn't come along I'd've probably been high up in a bank by now. You don't deserve this attention that I give ya all the time. And don't you start crying, boy. Don't you start, boy. What, do you want to get beat up at school like some sissy boy 'cause you were blubbering? Real men don't cry, boy. Real men don't...You disappoint me, you know. You're a real disappointment."
I hated his talks more than I did his straight beatings. Because there was always that dread during that conversation, that anticipation of the point when he would just get fed up of talking and start hitting me. Later in my life I would try to rationalize my father's actions. "It was the Fifties; people hit their children." It wasn't of any comfort whatsoever. As soon as I was old enough, I left the house to escape my father. I didn't see him until mother's funeral, and I hadn't spoken with him since. That is, until I was notified that he had cancer.
As I approached his gaunt little face on his death-bed, all the memories of my childhood swarmed around me. I remarked at how the stubble on his face looked just like that old stubble each night he woke me up. Although this time the stubble is still on his face for physical reasons, not chemical. Father and I would talk for awhile and he would say "I'm sorry, son. For everything, I'm sorry. I love you, son." I was silent. On my final visit with him, he would again say "I'm sorry, son. Oh, God I'm so sorry." He then started crying; a quiet, gasping cry. I wanted to cry, too; God knows I did. I tried forcing myself to cry, but I couldn't. Real men don't cry.