the circular runner

anger: a father, a son, and a war-pipe

In life, observations, Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 9:49 am


Yesterday I was driving down a street in SF.  It was one of those beautiful, sunny yet crisp summer days we get a lot here.  I was running a little late, but I’d called the person I was meeting, so I didn’t feel pressed.  Then a woman, an older woman, driving an SUV was pulling out of a spot without looking.  I honked as I passed.  She yelled something at me as if I were the one at fault.  And my reaction?  My reaction was to yell back and give her the finger.

Some things to think about while the image of me yelling and cursing out an old woman settle in:  was I the one at fault?  did I try to squeeze by on the side instead of let her pass?  I’m sure that if she’s thought about the incident at all since, she would answer these questions differently than I have.  And to boot, if she is a certain type of older person, she may be nostalgic for days past when men did not curse out older women, let alone let the bird fly.

No doubt, I can kind of see her point–kind of.  Though I’m a little ashamed of my reaction, there is something else here worth saying.  I was shaken not because I almost got in an accident, but because my reaction was so…so reminiscent of my childhood when my father would yell at some person on the road for doing something he thought was idiotic.  My dad, let it be said, was no ogre, and though he could get mad at times, he wasn’t a hot head.  But there were moments when he’d get mad and even as a child, I would wonder why.  I sensed that there was something else.  It couldn’t just be the idiot on the road, just like I sense that the woman yesterday was not really the cause of my less-than-gentlemanly reaction.

So let me backtrack for a moment.  My father came to the US in the 60s.  MLK was shot within a year of his arrival.  At the time, my father worked for a Spanish food company–not Goya, but a similar line, and for the most part, he had to drive all over northern New Jersey dropping off orders to the various little corner markets and bodegas that lined the streets of the growing Latino neighborhoods.  Not very different from the way things are now, these Latino areas ran up against African-American neighborhoods.  The two communities didn’t much mix, but on the day MLK was shot, things changed.  My father, unaware of what had happened, probably unable to understand the radio if he’d had it on, which knowing him, he did not since he likes to drive in quiet, was driving in Patterson, NJ when a group of angry young black men came upon his delivery truck.  No one seeing my father would think he was “white”.  Then the word for him was swarthy.  But he certainly doesn’t look black, either.  And for the group of young men, heart-broken and frustrated by their country, he was white enough.

Obviously, my father got away.  I wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t.  But he wasn’t left unscathed.  For as long as I can remember, my father always had an iron bar at the ready in his car.  I would ask him why, and he would say something like, “you never know when you need to defend yourself.”  At some point along the way, when I was already an adult, he got more spiritual.  And I remember that he got rid of the pipe.  He didn’t think he needed it anymore.  I’m proud of my dad for that, but at the same time, I’ve come to believe that there was something sad about his decision.  It wasn’t that he thought violence begets violence or that God would protect him or that it’s better to go into the world without fear.  About the same time that my father gave up the pipe, he also started giving up on life.  There was no need for the pipe because he stopped caring to defend whatever he thought he was defending before.  I don’t think his anger–the anger I saw at times when I was a child–was good, but it was defensive.  It came out of a fear of losing something.  What that something was, whether it could be defended, these are all worthwhile questions.  In my own way, I know that my own temper tantrum yesterday comes out of the same kind of fear and insecurity.  I’m getting older.  And with age, without even realizing it, comes fear.  Today when I saw that lady pull out of her space, my reaction didn’t arise from her careless driving; it came out of her nonchalance.  She could’ve hit me, she could’ve hurt me, but she didn’t care.  I was just in the way.

I admit this as I admit that I finally understand my father’s anger and his resolution to give up.  My father, immigrant to this country, uber-proud man, struggling to raise a family probably has experienced more injustice than I can imagine.  I know of some stories.  People making him feel stupid, calling him “banana-man” because he was from South America.  (Don’t ask why they called him that.  There are no bananas where my father is from aside from those you buy in the market.)  I know he’s been called a dirty Mexican by many Anglos, and that he’s been being shunned by Mexicans and Central Americans who share and yet do not share his culture.  And then there was the attack in Patterson.  In all these cases, he was not a person, an individual.  Who he was, was ignored.  He felt like no one was listening,  so was it surprising that he should lose his calm now and again and scream and yell?

This doesn’t excuse me.  My own insecurities are different in kind and in depth.  But they are real nonetheless.  News about the tanking economy coupled with my ambition to be something more than an underpaid teacher living in an overly expensive town.  The need to feel as if I can play my part in my marriage and provide while at the same time not doing work that kills my soul.  Do these concerns compare with my dad’s?  I’m not sure.

I do know that as Father’s Day approaches, I think about my relationship with my father.  I know I’ve grown more distant from him over the years, but yesterday I could feel him inside of me.  His anger caused by desperation.  His anger caused by a fear of not mattering are in me.  My father’s response has been to draw inward.  He doesn’t feel the need to protect himself because he has convinced himself not to care about anything including himself.  This, I hope, will not be my answer when I am his age.  Somehow, I need to find a way to care and to let go at the same time, but that is easier said than done.  Much easier.

  1. nice piece, dude. enjoyed it.

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