I can’t remember the year, but one summer in my early teens, my father left his longtime job selling auto parts at my grandfather’s (his father-in-law) shop out on the south side of Cheyenne. This was after my grandfather had passed away, so the business was in flux, and my dad saw the opportunity to leave and see what else he wanted to do. You wouldn’t guess that he was exploring or testing anything though. My father basically relaxed for 3 months. That summer, whenever anyone asked him what he was up to, he’d wryly smile—sporting a walrus mustache at this time, mind you—and state, “I’m temporarily retired.”
He didn’t put a shirt on for 12 weeks, unless specifically told to. He’d stand outside at night, smoking, watching flames bounce in barrels of burning trash. He shot prairie dogs from the front porch with a modified BB gun (he fit it with a pretty legit scope). He offered me beers late at night, and I always refused. We’d both stay up late trying to catch moths and get them out of the house.
At the time, this was fairly confusing to me. My dad and I always had gotten along, despite a range of political and idealogical clashes. I had interests that he didn’t quite understand though, and I was never quite able to fully grasp the lessons he wanted to impart unto me. That summer, however, we both lazily mulled about the house. We shared space almost as roommates rather than father and son. He was a different person without a job. His conversation flowed from memories and anecdotes, to weird, imaginative thoughts, like how he once described his belief in a higher power, but that that higher power could be immature, or not a being of absolute good. “What if this is some kid’s science experiment?” he asked me late one night.
He never asked these questions when he worked at the shop. He only spoke about his work day, in elaborate detail though. They were excruciating non-stories, spun all night. He would pick up where he left off during commercial breaks.
The vending machine eating quarters. The salvage yard being “just too damn hot”. His stressful searches for the right parts.
Without a job, he had live in a different world, one not occupied with daily occurrences and characters he could bore you to death with, but one of contemplation (or the appearance of contemplation) and exploratory thoughts. He told me about when he smoked pot. He talked to me about why he was thankful he didn’t have to go to Vietnam. He told me about the time my mother threw logs at his head because she was scared he was going to hit her, like her previous husband. “Can you believe that? Why would I ever hit her? It was crazy. I had to be 10 feet away from her. Luckily she calmed down, but it was scary Dylan.”
Now that I’m not working full-time, I’m thinking more. I’m living in that world he was living in, though obviously less well stocked with characters, and with a lot less immediate responsibility—I don’t have a family or mortgage—but I’m sharing that time to reflect. The time to explore what has happened. Taking that, and looking at what I want to do with my time.
My dad would probably never say that’s what was going on. Like he told everyone, he was just taking a break. A brief retirement. But I saw that change. That difference in interaction, and I can relate to that right now. I’ve been sequestering myself, and in a lot of ways, staring into the flames. Just looking at something outside of my control for a bit, and trying to make sense of it, and realizing I can’t. Again, doubt that’s what my dad was thinking, but if we’re anything alike, he very well could have. It feels well timed to connect these dots with Father’s Day approaching. To my dad, a guy who taught me more while saying less than anyone in my life.