From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen.
For three days those lyrics were stuck in my head. They come from an old Cat Stevens song called Father and Son. I checked the lyrics, they have nothing to do with why I the tune kept going round and round in my brain. No, I hadn't heard the song on an old oldies station. Sure I knew the song, I liked Cat Stevens back before he found his own fundamental way to the divine.
And I wasn't hearing the whole song, at times not even the music, just those eleven words. Was I silenced as a child - absolutely not. I, we were all encouraged to be vocal. I also learned early to watch, listen and observe before I acted or spoke.
I had two older brothers and growing up I got to observe them getting into all sorts of trouble. My oft learned lesson was - well don't do that or at least don't do it that way. I was always a good student of staying out of trouble. Which brings me to today's story, which has nothing to do with those lyrics.
I suppose I was about nine or ten; it was a Sunday afternoon, I came downstairs heading for the bathroom. I know it was a Sunday afternoon because my father was home. He was never home during the week, he was always at the pharmacy, which was only half a mile away but he was never actually home, except on Sunday afternoons. He was sitting in his chair with the Sunday Detroit Times unfurled in his hands.
As I passed the kitchen, my mother came out and said something to me; I have no idea what she said but I am reminded of a cartoon character who opens her mouth and some off key trombone notes come out - you know just noize. It probably began: "Timothy, why didn't you do this" or "Have you done that." It was mean, she was being a nag and I didn't deserve it. I don't know if my parents were having a little tiff or if she was just looking for a target to bitch at. But I was in the line of fire.
Problem was, without thinking I said: "Don't you snap at me! I got all A's on my report card."
Now, nothing wrong with that response but the way I said it - it came out way too sassy. We did not use that tone with adults. Talking back to adults was a mortal sin in our house. I wanted to swallow the words as soon as they came out. My content was fine. My delivery, however, had just turned this into a potential shit storm for me and all I had been doing was just walking by.
There was a long moment of silence, a long moment. Then my father brought the two sides of his paper together, turned the edge of the next page and open it up again and kept on reading without saying a word. My mother stared at him, turned with the loudest silence I had ever heard and headed back into the kitchen.
As it turned out I had invoked the magic words - good grades and not just good grades - perfect grades. All three of us knew my mother was just bitching to bitch, but she had picked the wrong target and my father was not going to take the bait and deflect her foul mood onto me. I was just passing through on the way to the bathroom.
So maybe there is a little something there from the Cat Stevens' song. The lyrics tell a story of a father giving advice to his son; advice the son is not going to take. Well I heard my father's unspoken advice that day; I heard it and I remembered it.
If you're doing your job and getting it right, don't take shit from anyone that isn't yours to begin with. I didn't and I don't. Thanks Dad.