From Vol. 9: “Invasion of the Dad” by Nicholas Grider

The dad arrived, as dads are known to do, in a large red SUV that was partly covered in mud and made a confident exit from the vehicle, stepping down from the driver’s seat onto the blacktop in dark brown shoes dwelling somewhere between “sensible” and “noticeably expensive,” and the dad was dressed as if he worked in an office with high ceilings and handled interfaces more often than he handled paper or low tools such as the broomsticks he gave us so that we could fight each other in the alleys in order to discover and hone our sense of valor and the stealth by which it might be won (we did not actually fight each other), and there was a pause as he waited for us to welcome him into our home, which we did reluctantly because we thought this might be the kind of thing like with missionaries and other salespeople, the “sooner in, sooner out” rule, but the dad was not here to sell us a vacuum or a belief system, he said; the dad said he had arrived because this seemed like a good home so he decided it would be his home and he would “assume responsibility” and make us make him proud and tell us what to do and what not to do and sometimes but not always tell us why, and unlike our mom, who was not amused but was biting her non-lipstick’d lower lip, he told us he wouldn’t even make us wear coats outside while fighting each other with sticks unless it were snowing because we were young and had good American metabolisms and were naturally athletic, though the word he used was “fit,” and the dad told us he would teach us about how when you were older like he was older you’d have to get up earlier than God every morning and run four miles a day down the carefully-curated streets of your subdivision in order to stay fit because being fit was the key to everything, it gave you a competitive edge, and our mom interjected at this point something to the effect of don’t you think you’re maybe laying it on a little thick, to which he said no ma’am, we live in the Second Age of Cartoons and as such we needed to learn the hard way how to be many different kinds of strong regardless of our ages or races or genders, though we should be white men like him, because toughness was always a virtue as long as it was intentional and sophisticated like the fastest kind of fast engine, one as-yet-unyoked to whatever enviable vehicle it might drive, though the dad, now pushing past us and making his way into our living room and taking off his dusty, corduroy-collared barn coat and handing it to our mom (who flung it on a couch with disdain), said that he knew many things, and knowing about engines and motors was one of those things, and Tommy said but engines and motors are two things, and the invading dad said hey kid nobody likes a wiseass, watch your mouth or I’m going to take your inheritance and blow it on hookers in Vegas, which I might do anyway, but if you’re lucky I’ll at least teach you about the importance of having both a girl and a side chick, and our mom told the dad I think it’s time for you to leave now, you didn’t work out the first few times, and the dad said no, fathers knew best, and he left that declaration hanging as if for us to guess what it was, if not everything, he knew best about, maybe even that he knew what was good for us better than we did even though Tommy and I were already in our early twenties and did not mourn for lack of a father figure, especially one seemingly too young to be our actual biological dad, one we’d heard of in our mom’s vague musings about the present being a disappointing improvement upon the past that sounded like folktales lacking closure, and the dad had a seat on the couch and kicked off his shoes and asked our mom why Tommy and I weren’t out fighting each other in the alleys like we should be or sexting our side chicks, and our mom informed him he was not to speak of side chicks again and that this was a suburb, we didn’t really have alleys, much less the kind you learn how to fight in the way she had learned how to fight when she was a kid in what she just referred to only as the Southern Canyons but which we thought maybe was a grim and hot portion of the metro Dallas/Fort Worth area, and the dad told our mom she would live out her days smothered by a big wet rug of regret if she let us grow up to be the kind of pussies who worked unpaid internships and expressed interest in fashion even if just for the purpose of getting laid, though he said he approved of getting laid, but that it was only Christian in spirit if it were done through sheer magnetism, and that kids our age should be able to walk around shirtless and filthy and still garner the interest of any and all local nice girls and side chicks, though of course branding and marketing was an eventual thing because marrying up, as he put it, was one of the keys to having to put up with a smaller amount of bullshit in love and life and politics, and the dad then told our mom to “beer” him and she laughed and told him no, it was time he left, he had come in on a quiet, sunny Saturday with his hard sell but none of us were interested or in need of any variety of dad, even a useful one, which he was not, that in fact there were some ways in which the invasions of dads we kept having to fend off from the uncluttered rooms of our comfortable home was turning us off on the very idea, and the dad declared that to be nonsense and declared a cold brew to be desirable and obedience to his wise and carefully-considered commands to also be desirable and our mom then gave us the eyelid-flash look that was the signal and we prepared ourselves, out of the line of sight of the invading dad, who relaxed on the couch and rubbed his feet and talked about how he was an impressive junior architect who was also the captain of a rugby team of regional import and that even though he seldom had occasion to do so, he knew how to speak both Yiddish and Portuguese, sometimes at the same time, and he knew the ways of the world and would teach us those ways and that nothing was as essential as having a dad enter your life and organize it for you so that you could stride onward into your frictionless victories confidently and bend the soft world to your will, meaning his will, because he already had his plans for us written up in bullet-point form and now was as good a time as any to let us know what he had in store for us now that we had welcomed him into a home he’d need to make some adjustments to, he said, and he interrupted himself, neatly folded piece of paper in his thin, blond-haired hand, to tell our mother she should keep in mind that he was a man’s man and he could forgive her this time if she lacked the foresight to have a frosty pale ale in the fridge and that a scotch and soda would do, that he liked his drinks as stiff as a homeless man’s dick in January, and at this we laughed to indicate we were paying attention and seemed to care but we knew that our mom has actually gone instead to fetch the blowtorch from the pantry between the dining room and kitchen, and that very soon it would be our cue, when she returned, for me to throw the heavy wire-mesh netting over the invading dad at the same time Tommy doused this latest dad with kerosene while mom made her swift approach with the blowtorch, because, we had discovered, disposing of an invading dad’s remnants was easier when he was at least partly incinerated, considering how, some balmy springs like this, dads would arrive in droves, two or three a day, each one eager to insert himself into the narrative he had written for us, and as for me, clutching the net, I was glad that at least this dad was obvious from the start and we never got to the point like with one dad who invaded when I was a teenager who kept wrestling me to the floor and telling me I should stop calling myself Timothy, that he’d decided my name was Bruce, and where the fuck was the beard he’d told me to start growing, and then he’d spit on me and laugh and spit on me and laugh, and that was the first or second dad, back when we were more easily deceived, a very insidious dad, a dad who at times almost managed to persuade us that we couldn’t live without him, but as you get older you start to learn more about something I had learned about in biology class, about different kinds of ecological coexistence, and that there was a difference between parasitism and mutualism, and at this point I was explaining this to the new dad and he was simply shaking his head in shame that I was wasting my time wanting to be a doctor when doctors didn’t make nearly as much money as they used to and I’d have to throw away my youth touching old people instead of chasing skirt, as he put it, but when he turned to tell me a couple of other mistakes I was probably making with my life he saw that I was holding the net and became alarmed, saying no don’t get me wrong, not everything is your fault, kid, if you want to ease into this, before I start blaming everything on you I can blame a lot of stuff on black people and Muslims and transwomen, who angered the dad in particular because they were alluring and natural and real in a way the dad felt God didn’t want them to be, because although I was a disappointment I was still salvageable, but during his turn he’d lost notice of our mom sneaking back in with the blowtorch, but when she yelled “now!” we converged upon the invading dad and only a few short screams later he was no more, so other than the annoyance of finding a place to stow what was left of him until the neighborhood waste removal crew could arrive, we all felt relieved we’d gotten it over with quickly, saving both ourselves and others from the invading dad, and, as our mom always told us after we had to fend off yet another dad (some were smart and agile enough to flee), the thing to remember was that not all men were like this, that Tommy and I were not like this because she had raised us not to be cartoons, even though it was the Second Age of Cartoons, and then she joked that if we got any better at it, the three of us should go into a dad-disposal business of our own, and by this point Tommy had extinguished the fire and we knew we’d avoided a dangerous turn in our lives but that life didn’t and doesn’t have to be like that, and then we played “rock, paper, scissors” over whose job it would be to push the latest dad’s SUV into the ravine, and it ended up falling to me, but I didn’t mind because I was feeling restless anyway and I always take a certain satisfaction in watching them fall, tumbling away like everything else in life that, despite people telling you over and over how important it was and how it was worth any cost, you didn’t actually need.

Nicholas Grider is the author of the story collection Misadventure (A Strange Object, 2014) and his work can be found has appeared in The Collagist, Conjunctions, Guernica, and elsewhere, most recently Okay Donkey and Vol. 1 Brooklyn.

Image: cars.com

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