I tell this story when I really need to make someone laugh. I hope it works on you.
My last year of seminary was one of my hardest times of my life. I was part time teaching, full time seminary student, dating someone, and my best friend had cancer.
This was also the year I witnessed my father’s atrocity.
I still lived at home with my parents in my old bedroom. It wasn’t a proud time of my life. So I would lie awake, wondering where I’d made a mistake, how I’d ended up still on the same mattress I had when I was 9. I was 25. My friends had moved out, gotten married, had friends over and drank beer without a dirty look from their father standing there in his underwear in the kitchen eating ice cream. Ice cream that he bought, by the way.
Late at night, I would hear this scratching outside my room, my room on the 2nd floor. It sounds liked a dog scratching to get in the house or a axe murderer using a cliche. I was more afraid that it was dog, since mine was buried in the backyard.
I would hear it, night after night. And I let my parents in on his event. I explained that at night, there is a distinct and profound scratching happening outside my room, on the side of the house.
My father knew exactly what it was.
“It’s the tree scratching house. You know, cause the wind is blowing.”
I’ve lived in that house for 25 years. There is no tree that comes close to the house.
I explained this geography to my father, but he insisted it was a tree. So I said, “Fine. Show me.”
We paraded around the house and I pointed out that absolutely nothing would scratch the outside of the house. He then questioned my sanity. Was I sure heard the scratching? Do I know what I’m hearing? Is it the house creaking? Was I stressed at school? Did I want some water?
Fine, I said. I’ll just listen to the scratching. He shrugged his shoulders and walked back into the house.
A couple of weeks later (I hear you scratching, you are real. I hear you.) my girlfriend and I were driving down to meet my parents for the first time. Now, I’ve had my share of scares, surgeries, and stressful situations. This was a new kind of fear. I was willingly bringing someone into my insanity.
My parents are good people, mind you. But my father can be a bit difficult. He’s like if Red from That 70′s show and the dad from Everybody Loves Raymond had a sterner older brother—without the laugh track.
I explained this to my girlfriend. I explained that you have to ignore about 70% of what they say. It can be awkward. My dad loves to swear. He’s a bit racist. He doesn’t know he’s racist. He gets his haircut at a “salon” where they understand black hair. But he uses the “colored” and the “N” word occasionally.
I turned the car ride into this McRae Parent Orientation. My girlfriend was patient and assured me that her parents were weird as well. I sighed. I’d met her parents. They were the Cleavers in comparison.
Just as we are wrapping up the Orientation and I’m handing out evaluation slips, my cell phone rings. It’s my mother. She’s frantic.
“You have to come home quick. The squirrels. …they almost got me.”
The phone cuts off. I can’t get her back on the line and I’m five minutes away from the house. My girlfriend and I try to decode the message, but we can’t seem to understand. The squirrels? The girls? Where was my mother that the squirrels/girls were going to get her? Did she owe them money?
We pull up to the house, and my father is out there with a bucket of suds, in his jean shorts and ratty white T-shirt which means he’s washing the car. My father was the sexton of cleanliness and order on my block. He washed his car every weekend, and convinced his neighbors on both sides to mow the lawn on the same day so it looked even.
I start to get out of the car, along with my girlfriend. My dad is bent over this bucket of suds, and I notice something strange and out of place—there is no car in the driveway to wash.
No answer. He’s about 8 feet from me.
I look over at my girlfriend and she shrugged her shoulders.
I tap on the car horn, and my dad is clearly startled. He turns around and as his hands fly up out of the bucket, and the suds hit my car.
“Dad, what are you DOING?”
He replies, “I’m drowning F-ING squirrels! What does it look like I’m doing?”
I look over to my girlfriend and she is in shock. She doesn’t know whether to laugh or what. Non-verbally, I clearly communicate to her that right in this moment, right now, she can break up with me and I would totally get. A clear break, like a Kit-Kat.
“Dad. This is Lisa.”
My dad instinctively attempts to shake her hand, in which I block and say, “Easy there. We’re going into the house.”
I lead my girlfriend away from the bucket of dead, floating squirrels and my mother is in the kitchen. I introduce her to my mother and my mother tells us how she was in the bedroom next to mine when she opened the closet door to find a 3 ft circle cut out of the closet. She investigated and apparently a mother squirrel had dug into the house, had babies, hoping that my parents would take care of them.
So my dad, did what any lunatic would do: he put on gloves, and drown them all.
When I asked my dad if that was the best course of action, he said:
“What did you want me to do? Raise them and make them T-shirts?”
Strangely enough, I could imagine this.