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Return From the Dark Side III by Just_Me


I fretted and fumed all night. I was so mad I couldn’t see or think. Sleep was impossible. Early the next morning I reached my breaking point. I picked up the phone and dialed the parsonage. "Rev. Langham, this is Paul Harris. I know it’s really early, and I know you’re a busy man, but is there any way I could talk to you?"

I guess he could hear the desperation in my voice. "I’m not that busy today. I don’t have anything to do but write a sermon. How about I put the boat on the truck and we go fishing for a few hours? I can pick you up in about thirty minutes."

"Could we really? I’ll grab my tackle box and rod and reel, and meet you at the gate. Thank you! You’re a lifesaver!"

I paced so much while waiting on him that the grass on the side of the road was trampled by the time he got there.

Rev. Langham said, "It’s good to see you. How ya been?"

I sat for a minute. "I’m still alive."

He grinned. "That’s a good thing."

We didn’t say anything else until we got to the lake. We got out of the truck, and he pointed, "Let’s go sit at that picnic table."

We sat, and he looked at me. "I can see the pain in your eyes. What’s going on?"

At first, I was stoic, and just related cold facts: the drugs, booze and women. I told him about the change in Dad’s appearance and behavior. Then the emotions took over. The dam burst, and the story came flooding out of me. I had to stop talking several times to cry. I talked about the loneliness, the frustration of trying to raise Mike, and how Mikey was the only thing keeping me alive. I cried over the hurt caused by the separation and neglect. I talked about the gnawing guilt I had over Mom’s death. I told him about the fight the night before, and how Dad refused to go to the cemetery with me.

Rev. Langham let me get it all out before he said anything. Once I was done, he said, "Paul, you should’ve called me a long time ago. I might not have been able to change anything Donovan was doing, but I could’ve at least been there for you."

He paused. "Forgive me for saying that. I’m wrong to put the burden on you. I’m the one who should’ve called you, even if Donovan said he didn’t want me to." He looked me in the eyes. "I’m sorry I failed you. There’s no excuse for my behavior."

I didn’t know what to say. "It’s OK, Pastor. I kept thinking I could handle it. I knew you were available though."

He shook his head. "It’s not OK, but thanks for saying that." Then he jumped right into talking about what had happened between Dad and me, "I never thought I’d see the day that Donavan would act like this. I’m not afraid to say I’m ashamed of his behavior. I thought he was a stronger man than he’s been."

He stopped talking for a minute. "I’m sorry I said that. He’s your father, and I shouldn’t be talking about him like that."

"I’m ashamed of him too, and I hate him for what he’s become." I looked down. "Can you help me understand what happened to Dad? I need something that I can use to excuse his behavior."

Rev. Langham looked lost. "There’s no excuse for what Donovan has done, and I refuse to try to excuse him. His behavior is beyond my comprehension." He looked at me. "The only ‘explanation’ I can come up with is the fact that losing your mom really unhinged him. The relationship that he and Marilyn had was very unique. Not many couples love each other like they did. She was his foundation, and now he thinks he has nothing to stand on. Having said that, I still can’t believe how he’s acting." He sounded disgusted when he repeated, "There really is no excuse for it."

Tears crept down my cheeks. "I thought family was supposed to be your foundation. What about me and Mikey? Doesn’t he care about us?"

He sighed. "I know Donavan loves you boys. He’s always been so proud of you." He laughed. "In case you haven’t noticed, most people only talk about themselves. He’s the only man I’ve ever known who talks about his kids and wife more than he talks about himself." He paused. "I always noticed that when we were together."

His eyes seemed to be searching for something. "The only thing I can think of is that his pain is too extreme, and he can’t see past the grief to see what he’s doing to you, or to himself."

Tears streamed down my face. "What can I do? I really want to reach him. I need my father."

He thought for a long time. "I’m not going to lie. Reaching him is going to be a challenge. Honestly, I don’t think he wants to be reached. I think somewhere in the back of his head he knows that if you reach him, he’ll have to deal with his emotions, rather than hide behind drugs and alcohol." He sighed. "Paul, I have no real answer. You’ve tried to talk to him, and he couldn’t hear you through his pain. I have a couple of ideas that might help you reach him, but I don’t think the first one would work. The second one has at least a 50/50 chance of working, but it would require a lot of work and sacrifice on your part."

Hope surged in me. "What are your ideas? I think I would try just about anything to get my Dad back."

"First, I have to say it’s wrong of Donovan to put you in a position where you have to try this, but I don’t see any other options. I think you’re going to have to show him the type of man you need him to be."

I shook my head. "I don’t understand."

He kept talking. "I honestly don’t think you can talk him out of the darkness he’s in. The only way you’re going to lead him out of his darkness is to walk him out, one step at a time…and you’re going to have to lead by example. Act like you want him to act. Be the man he should be."

"If you want him to change the way he looks, wear the type of clothes you want him to wear." He patted his flattop. "If you want him to sport one of these, you get one."

"What makes you think any of that would affect Dad? I could go around buck naked, and he wouldn’t notice. He never looks at me." I shook my head. "As far as the flattop goes, I did get one, and all he did was give me shi…er…crap about it."

"Paul, you know as well as I do when you got your haircut the last time, you were trying to drive your father away. Your motivation is going to affect your actions. He’ll see the difference, and it’ll touch his heart. You watch and see."

"Reverend, you’re crazy if you think I’m going to get another flattop. I’d be the only teen on the planet with one." I shook my head. "I’ve been down that road, and it’s not a pleasant one. For the first time in my life, I actually fit in, and I’m beginning to make some real friends."

He looked me square in the eyes. "I guess you’re going to have to decide if being popular is more important than having a father." He looked sad. "That’s the bad news, and it’s probably an untenable situation for a teen, but unfortunately, that’s the situation you’re in." He stopped talking, and I was trying to think of something to say when he started talking again. "I honestly think Donovan is in such a deep hole that no one but you can help him. The good news is, I believe with all my heart you can do it."

He kept talking. "You may think I’m crazy, but I sincerely believe you getting a flattop would send your father a message. Think about it. What would people say if he looked like a hippy, and you were clean-cut? He’d look like a fool, and he’d eventually recognize it. He’d become ashamed of himself."

I thought for a minute. "We haven’t been out in public together since Mom’s funeral, so there’s no chance of us being seen together for him to feel ashamed. On top of that, I don’t think he’d even notice if I walked in with a flattop. He ignores me completely."

"Oh, believe me, he’ll notice." He patted his head again. "Once you’ve worn one of these, you’ll always notice a man with a flattop, and compare it to your own." He smiled. "Donovan will notice. I guarantee it."

"Even if he notices, and even if he gets his hair cut, he still won’t be my dad."

Rev. Langham chuckled. "Have you ever heard the saying ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step’? I really believe Donavan wants to be himself, he just needs help taking the first step. Be pleasant. Ask him about his day, and keep talking until you find out what he’s thinking."

He continued. "I don’t know if this will make sense to you, but have you ever noticed how much work I do when I visit my parishioners?"

I nodded.

"I’m going to let you in on the secret to my success as a minister. I’ve never converted anyone with the eloquence of my sermons. I show them that I have something they need by fixing leaking roofs and toilets. I show people God’s love by helping them fix fences, dig trenches and move furniture."

"I have a feeling Donovan needs someone to show him he’s loved, in a very real, tangible way."

He rubbed his chin. "I can’t be sure, but I imagine your father associates the clean-cut man he used to be with the pain of losing Marilyn. He’s probably using ‘Distant Disco Donavan’ to run from the pain. He needs you to show him that "Disco Don" isn’t working. You’ve got to prove to him that he can still be that loving man he used to be."

"I’ll think about it. I don’t know if I can do it though. I really hate the man right now."

"Paul, you know the love is still in your heart. It’s just hiding behind the pain." He thought for a bit. "Your bitterness is just feeding his bitterness, and vice versa. One of you has to reach out to the other one, and it seems you’re the only one with the emotional maturity to do it. Give it a try."

Then he kept on talking. "I have to warn you. You might not get immediate results. Donovan is hiding behind a brick wall made entirely of pain. You might have to chisel out a lot of bricks before you get a hole big enough for Donovan to crawl out of, but I can promise you this. It WILL be worth the effort when you get your father back."

I sat there thinking about what he said. "I don’t know, pastor. It seems like a long shot- -at best. What was your other idea?"

He laughed. "I was hoping you wouldn’t catch what I said. My other idea was stupid."

"I still want to know what you thought."

"OK, I’ll tell you, but before I do, I have to tell you that everything in me hopes you decide not to listen to me. I wouldn’t want you to try it, because it could wind up hurting you." He paused. "If you follow this path, I will have failed you, yet again, as a human, and as a man of God."

I grinned. "I get it, you don’t want me to do this. What is it that you don’t want me to do?"

He cleared his throat. "I really hate to say this. As I see it, you only have two options. You either show Donovan the type of man you want him to be, or you show him the type of man he is right now. You’d have to come home drunk and high. You’d have to ignore Mikey. You’d…"

I interrupted him. "I see where you’re going, and you just gave me the reason why I’m not going to go down this path." I laughed. "It might be fun to get drunk all of the time, but I can’t do that to Mikey. I’m all he’s got."

A huge smile spread across Rev. Langham’s face. "Whew! Thank God you said that. I was about to have a panic attack."

Rev. Langham’s next step won him a place in heaven, at least in my books. "Paul, we’re not going to go fishing today."

I was surprised. "We’re not? Why?"

"The first anniversary of a death is extremely hard. You need to go see Marilyn, but I will not let you face that alone. I’m going with you. I’ll leave you and Marilyn alone, but if you need me, all you have to do is call me. I’ll be there."

All I could do was hug him and cry.

My tears finally dried up, and we got in the truck. Suddenly I laughed…and I kept laughing.

Rev. Langham kept saying, "What?"

I was finally able to get the words out. "I wonder if there’s ever been a bass boat in the cemetery before?"

I couldn’t get Rev. Langham’s words out of my head. I even heard him in my dreams. "Show Donovan the type of man you want him to be. Show Donovan the type of man you want him to be."

I thought about it for at least a month, and finally decided Rev. Langham was right. The bickering was getting on my nerves, and it wasn’t having the effect that I wanted. I decided that I was going to have to show Dad how to become himself again.

I called Rev. Langham. "I’ve been thinking about what you said, and you’re right. I’m going to try to help Dad."

I could hear the relief in his voice. "Thank God. I’ve been praying for wisdom for you, and I want to give you the thought that keeps popping up in my heart."

"What’s that?"

"Think about how your relationship crumbled. It didn’t happen overnight, and it won’t be restored overnight. Don’t make the change in your behavior too abrupt. Start slowly. Give him plenty of time to adjust to every little change you made." He laughed, "I can’t believe I’m saying this, but be nasty every once in a while, and gradually decrease it."

I nodded my head. "That makes sense. I’ll try to remember it. Thanks, Rev. Langham. You’re a god-send."

"Just remember, Paul. It might take months, or even years, but it will be worth it." He hung up with the words, "I’ll keep praying for both of you."

I started making plans. "Be careful, Paul. You don’t want him to become suspicious."

I followed Pastor’s advice and started simply. One morning after Dad had been out late, I put a cup on a saucer, and put two aspirins beside it. When I heard him stirring around, I filled the cup with coffee and went upstairs. I knocked on his bedroom door, and when he opened it, I simply said, "I thought you might need this."

He looked at me like he was trying to decide if I was being facetious. It seemed I passed the test. "Thanks, son. You’re a godsend. I did need it."

"Want me to fix you something for breakfast? I was about to scramble some eggs and fry some bacon. I’d be happy to fix you some too."

"I don’t think my stomach would take bacon and eggs, but could you throw a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster?"

"I’d be happy to. Breakfast in five."

We are in silence, but it felt good to at least be sitting at the table with Dad.

Seeing the success I had made me a little bolder. I started seeking him out. I didn’t try to engage in conversation, just quick questions and a hasty departure.

After several weeks of success, I started asking about his day. We’d have short conversations, and then I’d walk out.

When school started, I stepped it up. I walked into his office. "Dad, I need your help."

"What’s going on?"

"I have to write a paper about the most interesting Native American tribe in North America. Since you’re the history expert in the family, I thought you might have some ideas."

He thought for a second. "You said North America?"

"Yes, sir."

"I’ll be right back." He got up and went to his library. He came back with a few books. "The Aztecs have always fascinated me. Their civilization was amazing. I’ve always wondered how they could be so advanced, and so bloodthirsty at the same time." He handed me the books. "Look at these, and see if anything interests you."

I grinned. "Thanks, Dad."

"Let me know if you have any questions, or need some help."

"Will do. Thanks again."

I read for a while, and went back downstairs. Dad was getting ready to leave for the evening.

"I’m glad I caught you, Dad. You were right. The Aztecs were cool. I’m going to enjoy writing this paper."

"My offer for help still stands. Let me know."

"I will."

He headed to the door. "See you later, son."

"Have a good time."

That night while working on my paper, I thought, "Rev. Langham was right. It seems to be working. I wonder if he was right about the haircut?"

I argued with myself. "You promised Dad you wouldn’t get a flattop until you went to the barbershop together." "Yeah, but that was before I talked to Pastor." I argued with myself for a while, and finally thought, "OK, Paul. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Try it. It’ll either work, or it won’t, but at least you’ll have tried."

I’ll admit I was more than a little scared about my decision, and changed my mind at least a hundred times, and I never made it to a barbershop. A few weeks passed before fate intervened. I was getting ready to leave the house, and I was having one of those fabled "bad hair days." Nothing I did could make my hair look good. My cowlick was standing straight up and random hairs were sticking out everywhere. The blow dryer couldn’t tame them. A half a can of hairspray didn’t help either. I looked like a mess. I glared at my hair in the mirror and muttered, "As much as I had thought I would love having long hair, I hate it. I despise having to comb it all the time, and if getting it cut would help me reach Dad, I’d be killing two birds with one stone."

I jumped in the truck and went to a random barbershop (NOT Morton’s) before I could change my mind again.

The barber looked at me like I was crazy when I said I wanted a flattop. "You high?"

I grinned. "No, sir. I’ve never been high, or drunk either. I just want to try something different."

He didn’t respond to my smile. He just said, "OK."

I thought, "That was disappointing. I would’ve thought an old barber like him would be happy to get rid of my long hair."

He tried to comb my hair, and the hairspray wouldn’t let him. He squirted my hair down and managed to comb it a bit. "How short?"

I thought about my experience with Mr. Morton. Then I thought, "The purpose of this haircut is to get Dad to like me. He used to keep his flattop pretty short, but now he’s got long hair. What would he respond to best?" Reason kicked in. "I can always go shorter later. I don’t want him to think I’m being a smartass."

I said, "Not too short. I wanna look like I have some hair. Maybe a #2 on the sides."

He caped me up, and then said, "Boxy or beveled?"

"Definitely boxy."

"Ok. Tapered or blocked?"

"Um…tapered."

"Ready?"

"Yes, sir."

I thought, "This guy hasn’t used a complete sentence since I got here. He acts like words are precious jewels, and he can’t bear to give them away."

"Mirror?"

I was puzzled for a second, and then said, "Oh, I’d like to watch."

He was deadpan when he said, "OK."

He walked to the side. "Sideburns?"

My first thought was, "Yeah, I have sideburns." I thought for a second. "What the hell is he talking about?" Then it dawned on me. I thought, "He’s asking if I want to keep my sideburns."

I replied, "Short ones."

I thought, "Paul, you’re talking like him now. You should’ve used a sentence."

Without another word, he turned the clippers on, and mowed down my left sideburn. The next pass of the clippers released about four inches of hair onto the cape, and I got my first glimpse of my ear.

His expression never varied while he slowly clipped around the sides and back. He squinted when he started on the deck, and I wondered if he needed glasses.

I decided to see if I could get him to talk. "Can you believe the summer we’re having? It's already September, and it’s still hotter than the devil’s pitchfork."

"Yep."

I thought, "Well, that didn’t work. Ask him a question." I thought for a bit. "How long have you been a barber?"

"Forty."

"Forty years?"

"Yep."

"Wow. That’s a long time to be cutting hair."

"Yep."

"I’ll bet you’ve cut a lot of flattops in that many years."

"Yep."

"If you had to guess, how many would you say you’ve cut?"

"Dunno."

"Did you go to barber school, or do an apprenticeship?"

"School."

I gave up, and started watching him cut my hair. Watching was about as exciting as watching grass grow. He was slow, and it was hard to see anything he had accomplished. Each pass of the clippers seemed to take an hour.

He finally hung up the clippers. "Done."

I hopped out of the chair without even looking to see the final results. I was just relieved to get away. I paid him, gave him a quick, "Thanks" and headed to the door.

His "Welcome" was so slow that it didn’t reach me until I was outside.

I left the shop shaking my head, and thinking, "That was freaky! I’ve never met a man with less personality." I grinned when I thought, "There’s probably corpses at the morgue that have more life left in them than he has."

The reality of what I’d done hit me after I left the barbershop. I looked in the truck mirror, and thought, "What the hell have I done? I don’t wanna go to school looking like this."

I skipped school, and headed home.

I was more than a little nervous when I walked in the house. Visions of Dad’s last reaction to a surprise visit to a barbershop filled my head.

I walked into his office, and his first words made me despair. "Son, you look ridiculous. Why the hell did you cut your gorgeous hair?"

His tone brought up all the hurt. I reverted back to where we had been weeks before. I snarled, "I’m sick of looking like you."

Dad surprised me. "I’m sorry, son. I was wrong. I shouldn’t have attacked you like that. You just shocked me." Then he laughed. "If your goal was to NOT look like me, you failed miserably. You look more like me than ever…or at least like I used to look."

I was instantly contrite. "I’m sorry I snapped at you Dad."

For the first time in forever, he started a conversation. "What made you decide to get another flattop?"

My mind started racing. "What do I say? I can’t tell him the real reason."

I finally said, "I don’t know, Dad. It was a spur of the moment thing. I was hot and sweaty, and drove by a barbershop. The truck just turned on its own."

Dad laughed. "A magical truck, with a mind of its own? That’s funny."
Without me saying anything, he kept talking. "I’m not complaining about your haircut. You’re old enough to make your own decision, and live with the consequences." He reached out and rubbed the top of my head- -and shivered. "I had forgotten how good a flat deck feels."

I sounded a little defensive when I said, "I didn’t go to Mr. Williams. You told me not to go there again."

He laughed. "I know you didn’t go see Mr. Williams. His flattops are way sharper than what you got."

I grinned. "I thought the same thing, but overall, it’s not bad." I paused. "I don’t think I would’ve gone to see Mr. Williams, even if you hadn’t told me not to go back. Somehow, it just seems wrong going there without you."

I could see Dad was remembering that I had said I wouldn’t go back to Mr. Williams until we could go together and get matching haircuts.

Dad rubbed my head again. "Hot damn! He’s entranced." flashed through my mind.

He didn’t say anything else about my hair. "Let’s go grab something for dinner, Paul."

"Sounds good. Let’s go."

I yelled upstairs, "Hey, Mikey. Come on. We’re going to get something to eat."

We had just stepped out the door when he stopped. He ran his hands through his hair. "I’m almost ashamed to be seen in public with you looking so squared away, and me looking like this."

I grinned when I thought, "Rev. Langham was right."

I punched Dad in the shoulder. "I’ll make a deal with you. I won’t be ashamed to be seen in public with a hippy like you, if you won’t be ashamed to be seen with a square like me."

He grinned. "Deal!"

I could tell he was still thinking about the difference in our hair.




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