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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Daddy Shovels Snow

I have a friend; I'll call the friend "Bob," but I'm not going to reveal anything about Bob to you here, not even his/her real gender. I'll use "he" as a pseudonymous pronoun.

Bob is an adult. Old enough to have gray hair. Old enough to remember the Kennedy Assassination. Old enough to know better.

Bob's parent is still living. This parent is old enough to remember horse-drawn carriages, outhouses, to have lived in a world where there had not yet been a world war of any enumeration.

Bob helps financially. Bob does household repairs and helps with medical needs.

Every time Bob sees his parent, Bob cries. Real, pendulous, fluid, tears.

"You are garbage. You are a liar. You are worthless. You have done nothing but let me down. You have accomplished nothing. You never will accomplish anything. You are doomed. Your life is crap": Imagine hearing all that from a parent who has been saying all that for over half a century, who will never stop, who will never see any worth in you, and who will be dead sooner rather than later.

That's what it is like for Bob.

He won't stop helping this parent, ever.


I was an abused kid. I mention it a lot but I don't often go into details. Anything I've said about the topic in public, civilian settings (outside of Twelve Step meetings shared with other formerly abused kids) is a tip of the iceberg.

There is so much no one will ever hear.

After today, if anyone reads this blog post, there is one thing readers will know.

I loved my dad. I was and am very proud of his service during World War II. He saw combat in the Philippines and New Guinea. American GIs like him saved the world.

My dad was very handsome. He had pitch black hair. To this day I find blonds just about asexual. Shiny black hair against pearly pale skin is my undoing.

My dad was a working man and he never got fat. He was active till the end.

My dad was very dutiful about the things he was dutiful about.

When it snowed, my dad shoveled, early and often. He was a thousand percent reliable in a snowstorm. He was a demon shoveler.

He never used any equipment other than a snow shovel and his own muscles.

Daddy would shovel not just the front walk and the driveways. He would shovel any potential pathway we might take. I used to put out food for birds. Daddy would make sure a path was clear for me to do that. Our yard ended up looking like a snow maze.

I never touched a snow shovel. It was never suggested to me that I should do so. Shoveling snow was Daddy's job. I kept the kitchen full of homemade cookies. He liked them, and said so.


I left home. People I am related to did not show much of any interest in keeping in touch with me via telephone or print media. Years of silence.

My natal home is near New York City. New York is covered in international news. I could be living in a tiny, medieval hamlet high in the Himalaya. I could be living in sweltering jungle in Africa. I could be in a café discussing leftist politics in Berkeley, California. When a snowstorm hit the New York City area, it made the news that made its way to me.

In fact I just now received an email from Liron, living in Israel. She is watching coverage of the snowstorm hitting the New York City area today, Thursday, February 13, 2014. She is worried about me. Come to Israel, she says; life in Israel presents some potential hazards, she admits, but we don't have snowstorms like that!

Anyway … back to Africa, or Nepal, or Berkeley, or Indiana.

I could be hundreds or thousands of miles away from New Jersey, and news of the latest severe snowstorm to hit the NYC area would reach me.

And I would instantaneously return. I would smell it, first. That unique smell of a kitchen with laundry hanging on the line above the dinner table. That unique scent of snow drying off of cotton and wool clothing suspended in a small, densely populated room. That unique winter scent combined with a bit of tangy cabbage and lusty, salty, fatty ham. Some potatoes, always. I would hear the banging of snow-encrusted shoes against a welcome mat and a shovel scrapping across a gravel sidewalk. I would feel the artificially heated air, hear the baseboard heaters kicking on. And I would look out the window and see Daddy shoveling snow.

Now, an adult myself, hundreds or thousands of miles away, I would feel a new thing – one of those feelings that informs you that you are no longer a child, but are an adult, now. One of those feelings that hits you so hard with time that you suddenly realize that ten percent of all life at all times – at least ten percent of all love, of each sex act, of every birthday party, christening or wedding, ten percent of every pop song, ten percent of every cupcake – whether we are conscious of it or not, is utter terror, despair, and the unknown. "I am worried about Daddy."

I am worried about Daddy. I want to protect him from time. I want to go out there and take the shovel from his hands and take on this snow myself. He's so dutiful. He's always the first on the block to start shoveling. His sense of duty will not allow him to realize he is aging and this snow is a big snow, quite dangerous. The weatherman keeps issuing warnings. "Lift with your leg not with your back. Stop if you get winded." Daddy will pretend it's foreign talk and that he is a simple peasant who does not understand, to whom these rules of torque and spines and weight and time do not apply. Of course he understands. English has been his primary language since he was eleven years old and they killed his father.

Oh, Daddy.

And then I'd remember. I'm hundreds or thousands of miles away. By the time I got there, the snow will all have melted. And they don't want me there, anyway.

How could anyone who didn't live through my childhood understand.

I think of this every time it snows. Every time. Every last damn fucking time it snows I think of this. And I cry.

Love you Daddy.

Father and Son Shoveling Snow. Wyeth 


  1. My dad was a hard worker too. He complained a lot, but never stopped working. As kids all of us learned to be the same way. Nobody, but nobody lazed around at our house. Daddy hated the cold and shoveled and said a lot of words in Polish I didn't understand--I'm sure we weren't supposed to. But I do remember the laundry drying in the house. It was a million years ago.

  2. Lovely. Bittersweet and lump in my throat sad, but lovely.

  3. Now you just made me cry! You're a special person in the very most special way. To elevate yourself above the abuse, and still love your Daddy - and anyone reading this needs to keep their opinions to themselves about what I am writing because you don't know me like Danusha does - I am not saying abuse in any way should be written off, it just that she still loves her Daddy with al of his faults. Every "Daddy" wants a daughter like you. I could only hope that my daughters will have half of the (good) memories as I take on 68 this year, and years to come. [no abuse happened in my family, but sometimes children will take us for granted anyway]
    My Dad was Irish tough love and I didn't understand it. I thought he didn't like me. I only learned through others how proud he was of me; and proud of my art. He never told me to my face. In the 1980s, as a successful fine artist with a family in the City, my best friend Paul who visited me in SF, told me he had just stopped by and saw my Mum and Dad. I said, "I don't relate to my Dad, he doesn't like me. He said, "What do you mean? That's not true Rus, he talks about you all the time, he thinks really highly of you!" I wasn't too sure of that.
    After he died, going through his things, I discovered he had made a Notebook with clippings of all my shows and awards- things I didn't even have, long ago forgotten about- there they were in this notebook. He never showed it to me.
    Luckily, I had made it clear to him by the early 1990s, how much I loved him, and that I respected him, and we would always hug when we met from the early 90s until 1997 when he died.

  4. Your post reminds me of my father in law, an immigrant Punjabi farmer, who worked full tine in a lumber mill his entire adult life. He worked two jobs and rarely saw his kids. Life was very hard for a Sikh farmer from tropical Punjab in snow bound interior British Columbia. He was personally responsible for 4 younger brothers, their wives and children all dependent upon him for help and advice because he was the oldest male..

    During middle age, he started his own green house business so that he would have something to do after he put in his 30 years in the mill. He did retire with a great pension and he was able to run the greenhouse for about 2 year. He returned to Punjab and began building his own home where his children and grandchildren would be at home in their ancestral village. When he came to visit us in the United States he would cut brush, fix our tractor, feed the chickens, build stuff. Despite our best efforts he would not stop working.

    He died at the age of 67 a true patriarch who put everyone else above himself and when need be, his own health and welfare. He was not always pleasant and there were some relationships that were forever strained. He was always respectful to me but I know that he would have preferred his son to have an arranged marriage. It took him a long time to accept what he could not change. I always admired his courage, his fortitude and his sense of duty. I may not have completely understood it, but I admired it. He was a great man in so many ways; it sounds like your father was too. In my humble opinion, all human beings display greatness in some way even if what they offer is not valued by the larger society. The description you've given of your father in this post is one of a man that is an asset to his community and his family. He works hard, is highly reliable, and even takes the time to provide paths for those tasks and those people or tasks that normally would not be considered. You describe a man who was strong and reliable at the same time emotionally immature and vulnerable. He was a product of his time and circumstance, as we all are. I enjoyed meeting your father this morning!

  5. This is maybe some of the best writing I've read on the internet ever. It's raw, replete with wounds and hurt but covered in love. Remarkable. Grace.