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Return From the Dark Side IV by Just_Me


A few nights later Dad brought another "guest" home, and they disappeared into his bedroom.

The next morning I waited until I figured his hangover was getting better, and walked into his office.

"Dad, I’m really worried about you."

"Why’s that, son?"

"If you’re not careful, you’re going to wind up in prison."

"Have you gone crazy? What the hell are you talking about?"

I sighed. "I don’t want to have to tell you this. Do you remember that hooker Mike and I saw you with?"

Dad looked blank. "Vaguely. I was pretty drunk that night."

"Well, you brought her home again last night. I go to school with her. She’s younger than I am. If the cops ever find out, you’re going to the pen for a long, long time."

Dad’s jaw dropped. He stuttered a moment, and he had a pleading tone in his voice when he finally said, "Please tell me your kidding?"

"No, sir. Her name is Cheryl Hooper. She’s a year behind me. She’s a sweet girl, but she’s really messed up right now- -just like you are."

"She told me her name was Candace."

I was proud of myself. My tone was just right. It had no accusation. "Dad, I really don’t mean to be ugly, but you could, and probably should, go to jail for what you’re doing. It’s very wrong, morally and legally." I let that sink in. "Heck, I’ve thought about reporting you myself. I probably would’ve if it wasn’t for Mikey. I didn’t, because I don’t want him going into foster care." I took a deep breath. "I actually picked up the phone one night to report you for the drugs, but once again Mike saved your ass."

I saw the first crack in the wall he had built between us. He fell in his chair. He whispered, "My own son almost reported me." Tears started streaming down his face. "I knew I had sunk low, but I didn’t realize how low."

I thought, "You’re getting there, Paul. Keep working."

The next week I walked in, and Dad was home. He greeted me with, "You got your flattop tightened up. It looks good."

My first thought was, "I’m going to pass out. He noticed me." My second thought was, "Maybe he just opened the door for me to talk to him some more."

"Thanks, Dad. I’m getting used to short hair again. I actually think I look pretty good in a flattop."

He grinned. "All flattop wearers are just alike. They always think it’s the best haircut ever." He got a wistful look. "Did I ever tell you about how I got my first flattop?"

"No, sir, but I’d love to hear about it."

He pointed at a chair. "Have a seat." He cleared his throat. "I’m going to have to start this with the first time I met your mother if it’s going to make any sense."

"OK. That sounds cool."

Goofy Dad showed up. "Once upon a time, a long, long time ago in the age known as the Fifties, a handsome, debonair college professor walked into his class on the first day of the semester. He was scared, since it was his first time to teach, but he was determined to drum some knowledge of history into this freshman class. He walked to the podium, and turned around, and there she was, sitting in the front row. He sighed, and thought, ‘At last! I have finally found my princess.’ The professor almost asked to see her glass slipper."

"The professor couldn’t keep his eyes off of the beautiful student. She was obviously a little older than the rest of the students (at least he hoped she was!) and she was so beautiful that she stood out like a peacock in a flock of turkeys"all grace and beauty in the midst of the mundane. The professor thought, ‘She is a diamond amongst the coal. An angel in the midst of demons.’ He shook his head, and almost said his next thought out loud. ‘This is NOT your typical freshman!’"

Dad stopped with the fairy tale mode. "Honestly, your mom was a hot little number, and she looked like she had just stepped off the cover of Vogue Magazine. I still remember the saucy little hat and great blue suit she was wearing. It had large buttons that ran down the left side, and a tight skirt." He got a smirk on his face. "That suit showed her curves, and she looked better to me than Marilyn Monroe had ever looked!"

"I took one look at her, and knew she was going to be the one I married. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew it as well as I knew my name was Donavan Paul Harris."

"Because she was a student of mine, I couldn’t ask her out until the end of the semester. That was the longest semester in history." He sighed. "I thought it would never end."

"On the last day of the semester, I got up early and dressed carefully. Even though I was a maverick, and didn’t dress anywhere near ‘professorial,’ I tried to dress as youthfully as I could to downplay the age difference between us. I didn’t want to look old and staid, so I put on a button-down shirt, chinos and my leather jacket. My hair surprised me by doing better than it ever had, and I achieved unprecedented height with my pompadour, and my DA looked amazing. I thought I had got just the right amount of Brylcreem too. I carefully snipped stray hairs around my sideburns, just to make sure everything was as perfect as possible."

"On the way to work I stopped at a florist and got two dozen roses, which I hid under my desk. After I dismissed the class, I said, ‘Miss Carson, may I speak with you for a moment?’"

"She made her way to the front of the auditorium and said, ‘Yes, Dr. Harris?’"

"I pulled out the roses, and bowed to her. ‘I was wondering if you’d do me the honor of going to dinner with me some night?’"

"Her answer surprised me. ‘I thank you for asking, but my answer is no. I will not have dinner with you’."

Dad grimaced. "I have to admit, even though I was thirty-three at the time, I had never been turned down by a girl."

He shook his head. "I still can’t believe she turned me down cold like that." He looked at me. "I didn’t know what to do. All I could do was stammer, ‘Why ever not?’"

"She looked me up and down. ‘I don’t date casually. I only go out with men who have the potential to become my husband, and honestly, you don’t meet most of my expectations’."

"I was perplexed. I blurted out, ‘What’s wrong with me? I’m reasonably intelligent, I’ve been told I have a good personality and I don’t think I’m unattractive. I have a good job and thanks to an inheritance from my grandfather, I have a decent-sized savings account. I own my own home. What about any of that makes me a poor choice for a husband?’"

"She answered me, and I didn’t like what she said. She was almost haughty when she started talking. ‘I don’t deny what you say. You do seem to have a good personality, and you’re undeniably attractive. That may be a part of the problem. I’ve heard about how many women you date. I don’t want to be just another notch on your belt’."

"That flustered me, but excited me. I thought, ‘Maybe she’s interested in me, and has been asking about me.’"

I rallied. ‘It’s true that I have dated quite a few women, but it’s not my fault I haven’t met the right one yet. To be perfectly frank with you, I knew you were the right one the first time I saw you’."

"I could tell my remark hit her, so I pushed harder. ‘I’ll make a deal with you. Go to dinner with me, just one time. If you don’t think there’s something special about us together after dessert, I’ll take you home, and not bother you again’."

"She shook her head. ‘I’m sorry. My answer is still no’."

"I was frustrated when I said, ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, why not?’."

"She gave me that impish grin that I loved so much. ‘It’s really simple, Dr. Harris. I don’t date men with long hair’."

"I stuttered, ‘You what?’"

"She was calm when she said, ‘I did not stutter. I don’t date men with long hair. You see, my father is a barber, and he’s taught me not to trust men with long hair’."

"I didn’t hesitate. ‘Ok, Miss Carson. I have a question for you. How short would my hair have to be to get you to say yes to dinner, with the possibility (but not the presumption) of a post-dinner kiss?’"

"She pretended to think. ‘I might consider dinner if you showed up with a flattop. The kiss would depend on how short the flattop is.’"

"I was almost sick at the thought of losing my beautiful hair, but I was ready. ‘Where can I meet you tomorrow to ask you to dinner again?’"

"She gave me her saucy grin again, and I almost passed out. ‘I’m sure I’ll be in the library by three. You might try there.’ Then she laughed. ‘I happen to know an excellent barber, but it’s a long drive’."

"I gave her what I thought was my most charming smile. ‘Your father? Where is he?’"

"She pulled out her notebook and wrote his address down. I looked at it. ‘He’s in Gladewater? What’s that, an hour-and-a-half away? I’ll be there when he opens in the morning’."

"She laughed. ‘I won’t tell him you’re coming. He’d probably shave you bald if he knew you were getting a haircut on my account’."

"She gave me another saucy look. ‘Don’t think you can go to just any old barber and pass it off as Dad’s work. I know how he cuts hair."

A strange look passed over Dad’s face. "I guess your mother already had me figured out. She threw a dare at me when she said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow- -if you don’t chicken out’."

"I was quick to respond with, ‘Oh, I don’t chicken out, Miss Carson. I’ll be there, sporting a nice, fresh flattop.’"

"As she walked away, I pulled out my cigarettes, and started to light one."

"She looked back. ‘Oh, one more thing, Dr. Harris. I don’t date men who smoke cigarettes. I find them very unappealing.’ She gave me another grin. ‘I do find pipe smokers attractive though’."

"I figured I’d better find out if there were any other things I needed to work on about myself. I asked, ‘Do you have any other words of advice for me?’"

"Well, it’s not a deal breaker, but I like my professors to look like professors, not a motorcycle gang member. Tweed would suit you better than leather."

"I was all smiles when I said, ‘Thanks for the directions. Tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. start looking for a pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing professor who sports a flattop. He’ll be near the front door of the library’."

"She said, ‘I’m excited to meet this new professor. He sounds close to perfect.’"

Dad sighed, "I was relieved that she took the roses with her."

Then he grinned. "My feet didn’t seem to touch the ground the rest of the day. I canceled my last class, and went looking for a tweed suit."

"After visiting several shops, I finally found a couple I liked…and more importantly, one that I thought Marilyn would like. The price tag made me flinch, but I told the salesman I would take them. Then I picked a hat, and some shirts and ties. Our conversation got interesting after that. The damned salesman said, ‘Let me mark the suits for alterations, and we’ll have them done by next week.’

I was quick to say, ‘Oh, hell no. I’m not buying it if I can’t have it by tomorrow’."

Dad looked at me. "You know I can be stubborn. I argued until he agreed to get one of the suits done." He shook his head. "I had to pay triple the price for the alterations, but they were done the next morning."

"I left the suits at the shop, and went to a tobacconist. I came out with five pipes, and a bunch of tobacco."

Dad grinned. "I thought the suits were expensive, but the pipes cost me even more."

"I cussed myself for being a damned fool. I kept thinking, ‘She should accept me for who I am, and not be trying to change me’."

"Obviously, I decided she was worth the change, and I never regretted it, not for one second."

"The next morning I was sitting in front of her father’s barbershop at 6:30."

He grinned. "When I first saw Mr. Carson, I almost chickened out. He was one tough-looking bird."

"I walked into the shop, and he looked at me like I was a dead snake and snarled, "What do you want?’"

"I want a flattop."

"A slight smile passed through his mouth, but never reached his eyes. ‘Have a seat.’"

"Instead of just cutting my hair, your grandfather had to be nosy. He said, ‘That’s a mighty big change. What brought this on?’"

"I put all the Harris charm in the grin I gave him. ‘What normally makes a guy change? A woman.’"

"Mr. Carson was instantly suspicious. ‘That woman wouldn’t happen to be my daughter, would it?’"

"I started kicking myself in the butt for saying anything, but I ‘fessed up. ‘Yes, sir. She’s the woman for me.’"

"He snorted. ‘I might have something to say about that.’"

"I looked him in the eye. ‘Well, if you do, I’d appreciate any help you can give me.’"

"We bantered for a while, and I finally got around to saying, ‘Mr. Carson, I’m asking for your daughter’s hand in marriage. Will you give us your blessing?""

"Your grandfather was a contrary old bastard. All he said was, ‘I’ll think on it.’ He combed my hair a bit. ‘I’ll let you know after I make you look like a decent human, instead of the wet, shaggy dog you look like now."

"He picked up his clippers, and peeled my DA off faster than you can say greased lightning. The next thing he did was cut my sideburns off above my ears."

Dad paused. "I’ve never fought tears as hard as I did that day. I kept thinking, ‘I’ll be damned if I’ll let this old bastard see me cry.’"

He sounded smug when he said, "I didn’t give the old coot the satisfaction of seeing my emotions. My face stayed as straight as a poker player’s."

He paused. "I’m guessing the old fart realized my misery. He slowed way down. I thought that haircut would never end." A look of contempt passed over his face. "The contrary SOB cut and cut. I still think he deliberately drug that haircut out, just to make me miserable."

"He finally finished up and turned me around to face the mirror." A snort of laughter came out of Dad. "I damn near passed out when I saw myself. I had envisioned a nice, plush, boxy flattop. That old bastard had given me the shortest flattop I’ve ever seen."

Dad grinned at me. "That’s not true. That stupid looking horseshoe-wanna-be you came home with was the shortest flattop I’ve ever seen." He shook his head. "That messed-up haircut doesn’t even deserve to be dignified with the name flattop."

Dad jumped right back into the story. "Mr. Carson said, ‘You took your haircut like a man- -which is more than I expected. I’ll give you my blessings, if Marilyn will have you."

"I jumped up and shook his hand and thanked him. Then I asked him why he decided I was good enough for his daughter."

"The old fart said, ‘Hell, I didn’t say you were good enough for her. No man is good enough for her.’ He kept talking. ‘I’ll tell you why I said yes. First, I respect the way you asked for her hand like a man." He stopped, "The real reason I said Ok was because I know how you greasers feel about your hair. I figured if you were willing to give up your hair for Marilyn, you probably love her enough to treat her well." Then he growled. ‘If I ever find out you’re not treating her well, there’s not a demon in hell that’s gonna stop me from hurting you…and hurting you badly.’"

Dad laughed. "He sounded like a demon from hell when he said that."

"As I was walking out, I noticed Mr. Carson had cowboy boots on. I thought, ‘I wonder if Marilyn would like to see me in boots?’ I left his shop and hurried back to Dallas, and went to a western store, and bought my first pair of boots. I stopped and picked up my new tweed suit, went home, got dressed and went to comb my hair." He laughed. "There wasn’t any hair left to comb, so I just put my new hat on, and went to the library."

I don’t think Dad knew I was in the room when he said, "I watched Marilyn as she walked up. No goddess has ever looked more beautiful than she did that day."

"She walked up to me and grinned. "You might be the man I’m looking for. I’m supposed to meet a pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing professor who’s sporting a flattop. I see the pipe and tweed, but can’t see your head. Do you have a flattop?"

"I took my hat off, and Marilyn ran her hands up my head."

I spoke up for the first time. "Let me guess, she said, "Ah, that’s what a man’s haircut is supposed to feel like!"

Dad laughed. "That’s exactly what she said." He looked wistful. "That was the first time I ever heard her say it." He got tears in his eyes. "I’d give my soul to just hear her say it one more time."

Emotions choked me up. "Dad, I’d sell my soul to the devil to hear her say that again."

I cleared my throat, and Dad looked at me. "I don’t think Mom would say that about the way your hair looks now."

He looked surprised, and then he nodded. "You’re right about that. I’d hate to hear what she’d say if she could see me now. She’d chew on my ass until I was in a barber’s chair."

I laughed. "I’d love to hear it." I looked at him again. "Did you get your kiss?"

Dad turned professorial on me- -he was suddenly dignified and proper-looking. "A gentleman never kisses and tells." Then a huge grin split his face. "You’re damned right I got my kiss!" He looked lost in thought for a second. "I won’t tell you how long that kiss lasted, or how many more we shared during the next few hours."

I smirked at him. "Telling a kid things like that about his mother could scar him for life!"

We sat in silence for a while. I was thinking about what Dad had said. Suddenly I blurted out, "I’ll be damned!"

Dad looked up. "What?"

I laughed. "I always thought you were the hair-hater, and I really cussed you a few times because you were the adversary that made me keep my hair so short. It wasn’t you at all. Were you just pretending to keep Mom happy?"

"That’s a good question, son. Let me think a minute before I answer." He seemed to get lost in thought for a while. "When I met your mother, I hated short hair, and I thought the flattop was the stupidest haircut ever invented. Somehow Marilyn converted me, and then I really became a short-hair enthusiast. I hated long hair as much as she did."

He looked at me. "No, I wasn’t parroting your mother. I believed in the virtue of having short hair."

"Have you ever thought about going back to a flattop?"

He nodded. "I sometimes think about it, but I really do like my hair long now. It makes me feel younger."

Everything in me wanted to pop off and say, "Well, it makes you look like an old man who’s trying to be a teenager."

I resisted the urge. Instead I just said, "OK."

He looked at me. "Would you like for me to go back to a flattop?"

I laughed. "You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve missed your flattop. I’ve always thought it looked good on you." I smirked. "I wouldn’t have admitted that three years ago, even if you tortured me."

Emotions hit me, and tears welled up in my eyes. "Yes, I want you to have a flattop. I want to go back to the way things used to be. I want my mom back. I want my dad back." I took a deep breath. "I guess that’ll never happen, but it’s what I want."

Dad got up, and came and put his arm around me. His voice was choked with emotion when he said, "That’s what I want too. It’s what I want more than anything."

I let the tears flow. I cried harder when I realized Dad was crying. I thought, "This is the first time he and I have cried together for Mom."

I wondered if I should talk to Dad more that night, but remembered Rev. Langham saying, "Give him plenty of time to adjust to every little change you made."

For the first time in a long time, I said a prayer that night. "God, thank you for what happened tonight. It meant the world to me. Now I’m asking for divine wisdom to know what to do next."

Dad and I got along well for a long time. Some days we’d talk about what was going on in our lives, and some days we didn’t say much more than "Good morning" and "Good night." It was OK though. There wasn’t any tension in the air.

A few days later Dad made another change- -and I still haven’t figured out if it was a good one, or a bad one. I was busy making coffee when he walked in and said, "Good morning."

I didn’t look at him, and I just said "Good morning" back to him. When the coffee was done, I turned around to hand him a cup, and almost dropped it.

He grinned. "Well, what do you think?"

I said the first thing that popped in my head. "Anything is better than looking like a devil worshiper." I looked at him again. "I’m not sure whether to ask if you’re going to ride a horse or a motorcycle to work. I can’t figure out if that horseshoe moustache makes you look like a cowboy or a biker."

He grinned. "Let’s go with a cowboy. I used to love to ride horses."

I smiled. "I think I’m voting for a biker. No self-respecting cowboy would have long hair like that." Then I asked, "What brought this on?"

He shrugged. "I don’t know. I guess I just wanted a change."

I smirked at him. "Well, it’s a change all right…but you still look like a damned skunk."

He laughed. "Well, I’m the best looking skunk you’ve ever seen."

I smiled. "Duly noted, Mr. Skunkmeister."

I tried to figure out what my next move should be, and kept coming up blank…until one night I was looking through the family pictures, and a picture of Dad jumped out at me. It seemed like I heard Rev. Langham talking. "Show Donovan the type of man you want him to be." A plan popped into my head. I thought about it a while, and whispered, "I’m going to do it."

As I was leaving the next morning, I said, "Hey, Dad, are you going to be home tonight?"

"As far as I know, but I’ll be late. Why?"

"I have something I want to show you."

I could tell I had piqued his interest. "What is it?"

"I don’t have time to show you now. You’ll just have to be patient." I gave him a grin. "Remember, patiences is a virtue."

He rubbed my head. "Get your ass out of here. I’ll see you tonight." Then he gave me a hug.

I stopped at the barbershop on the way home, and got "tightened up". When I got home, I pulled the picture out of the album, and carried it upstairs with me. I went into the closet, and pulled the suit out that Dad had on in the picture. I tried it on, and the jacket fit fairly well, but the pants were a little big. I cinched my belt to keep them on. I looked at all the ties, and was a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. I started counting, "One, two, three…" I was almost to two-hundred when I found the right tie. I stopped counting. I found the boots next.

I was ready when Dad came home. He yelled, "Hey Paul, are you home?"

I yelled, "No, sir. A witch dropped my truck off in the driveway. We’re out flying around on her broom, looking for a four-leaf clover and a leprechaun."

He yelled back, "Smartass!" Then he said, "What did you want to show me?"

I smiled and thought, "He remembered. He was paying attention." I yelled, "I’ll be right down, Dad."

I sent a prayer heavenward, picked up the last accessory and walked downstairs. Just before I walked into the den I stuck his pipe in my mouth.

I saw Dad before he saw me, and I noticed he had some serious grey roots showing. "I wonder if he’s going to let the dye grow out?" I didn’t get to continue the thought, because Dad noticed me.

Dad grinned, and then faked a heart attack. "It’s the big one. Elizabeth, I’m coming to join you." He stared at me. "Have I stepped into a time machine? Is that me a few years ago?" Then he grinned. "What the hell brought this on, and when did you start smoking a pipe?"

I laughed. "I’m not smoking. It’s just a prop." I kept talking. "Last night I was looking at the pictures, and I saw this one." I put the picture on his desk, and posed like he was in the picture. "I wanted to see if I look as much like you as everyone says, so I pulled out your suit and pipe. What do you think?"

He shook his head. "Holy cow! It’s uncanny. All you need is a moustache."

I hung my head, trying to look like I was ashamed. "I’m sorry. There wasn’t time to grow one between last night and this afternoon."

He pointed at me, "You, good sir, are a first-class smartass!"

"The last time I checked, you were a pretty big smartass yourself. Being a smartass just makes the resemblance between us even stronger, huh?"

He laughed. "Guilty as charged."

Dad picked up the picture, and started walking around me, examining me. "I’ll be damned. That’s the same suit, boots and pipe I had in the picture. I thought I told you to throw all that away."

I got bashful, and looked at the floor. "You did."

A little of my resentment showed up when I thought, "You’d know I didn’t throw these things away if you’d been in my room in the last year. The pipes have been setting on my dresser and desk all along."

"Why didn’t you throw everything away?"

I kept looking at the floor. "I don’t know."

"Look at me, son." I looked up. "I think you’re being deceitful. What were your thoughts?"

I shook my head. "I’ll sound like a nerd if I say."

He laughed. "I already think you’re a nerd, so it won’t change my opinion of you."

My brains felt scrambled, and I couldn’t figure out how to start telling Dad what I needed to. Finally, I just took a deep breath, and started talking. "Ok, Dad. Here goes, but before I start, I’m not saying this to be mean. I promise."

"Give it to me."

"When Mom died, I felt like I lost both you and her. You changed a lot." I looked at him, and he nodded.

"To me, this…" I pointed at my flattop, his suit and pipe, "Was my Dad. Not that." I pointed to the disco clothes he was wearing. "Somehow, throwing your suits, boots and pipes away seemed like I was going to be throwing you away, and I couldn’t throw you away- -even though there were a few times I was tempted."

He laughed. "I can understand why."

"Anyway, I kept them as reminders of the father I used to have." I gathered my thoughts. "Maybe I hoped that someday I’d see my father again, and that he’d need his stuff. I don’t know why, but I wanted to keep your stuff, so I did."

I kept going. "I always admired the man you were, and I think I had hopes that someday I’d be the type of man you were. Maybe I kept everything to remind me of who I wanted to be."

His voice quivered. "You admired me?"

"Yes, sir. I did."

"Why?"

"I remember how I used to think it was cool that you did what you wanted, and said to hell with the style."

He looked shocked. "You did? I never knew that."

"Hell, yes. You had a look that said, ‘I’m Donovan Harris, and I don’t give a damn what you think. I’m going to be me’."

"What do you mean, Paul?"

"Well, let me see if I can find words to express it." I thought for a second. "You were the most unique man I’d ever known, and I thought that was cool. You didn’t follow the trends, and you stood out in a crowd. I guess I’m trying to say you did what was right for you."

"First, you wore the flattop, but you didn’t wear it like some old men do. It wasn’t a ‘I’m stuck in the Fifties and too scared to change the way I appear’ look. It was more of a ‘I like this look, and I’m not impressed if you do or not’ attitude. Then you always wore the boots with your suits, when most men wear dress shoes. I felt like you were saying, ‘To hell with what you think. I march to my own drumbeat, and I’m not ashamed’."

After another pause to think, I kept going. "When most men were wearing blue or black ties, you always wore something with interesting colors, which in turn made you more interesting."

"Even the pipe had a ‘I’m not doing what everyone else is doing. I’m doing what I want’ feel." I grinned. "Plus, it smelled a lot better. I didn’t go to school smelling like an ashtray when you were smoking a pipe."

His eyes asked if I had anything else to say. I nodded. "Heck, even your moustache stood out as being something different, not what everyone else was wearing. It made you an individual, not a part of the crowd."

"You know, son, I’ve never thought about any of that."

"Do me a favor, Dad. Next time you’re downtown, just count how many men you see with a horseshoe moustache. I’ll bet you see a dozen within five minutes. Then look around to see if you see a moustache like you used to have. You probably won’t find one."

I closed with, "My old Dad was a one in ten-million. My new Dad looks like he came out of a dime store."

I stopped for a second, and thought, "End it on the right note, Paul."

Then I said, "When I grow up…" I stopped and grinned at Dad. "Make that IF I ever grow up, I want to be the kind of man you were then. I’m not going to let others dictate my behavior. I’m trying to find out who I really am, and I’m going to be true to who I am, no matter what everyone else does- -just like you used to."

He hugged me. "New Dad, or Old Dad, I’m still proud of you. It took a lot of guts to open your soul like that."

I thought, "OK, Paul. That’s enough for tonight. Lighten the mood."

I took the jacket off, and slung it over my shoulder- -trying to look like a model. "You never said what you thought about my look."

He grinned. "I imagine your mother would say something like, ‘You look like you should be on the cover of a magazine.’ Goofy Dad showed up. "I’d agree with her, but the magazine would’ve been something printed about twenty-five years ago."

I stuck the pipe back in my mouth. "OK, that’s enough of a stroll down memory lane. I’m going to bed. Sleep well, old man."

I stopped at the door. "By the way, don’t expect mini-Donovan to show back up tomorrow. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you by showing up like this, so I’ll just be me."

Dad walked over to me, and rubbed my deck. "To paraphrase your mother, I like my pipe-smoking, tweed-wearing mini-Donovan who’s sporting a flattop. I’d be happy to be seen anywhere in town with him."

I had to bow my head to hide the tears.

I gave him a quick hug, and ran up the stairs, thinking, "We actually sorta talked about Mom without breaking down. That’s cool!"

A few weeks later Dad said, "Hey, Paul. Can I ‘borrow’ one of my suits? I have a meeting tomorrow, and I really need to look as professional as possible. It’s a big deal."

"They’re yours, Dad. They’re in the closet in the guest bedroom."

He was in there a few minutes when I heard, "Goddammit!"

I went running in the room. "What’s wrong, Dad."

He pointed at his pants, and I fell on the bed laughing. The pants had about a 3" gap that wouldn’t close. I was finally able to gasp, "Did you gain a little weight, Dad?"

He frowned. "Evidently. I guess I’ve been drinking too much booze."

I jumped on that. "It probably wouldn’t take you long to lose the weight, if you stopped drinking so much."

He grimaced. "I guess I’ll have to do that."

I struggled to keep from grinning. "I have an idea, Dad. Go buy a safe, and give me the key. I’ll put the booze in it and open it every night, and give you one glass. That way you would have to cut down."

He grinned. "What would keep you from drinking it? Teen boys are notorious for stealing their father’s liquor."

"You’re goofy, Dad. The Scotch is always sitting on your desk. If I wanted some, I would’ve already been getting it."

Dad faked a basketball shot. "He shoots! He scores and wins the game."

Then he kept talking. "What the hell am I going to do about pants until I can lose some weight?"

I thought for a second, and answered him. "Try all the pants on, and find the ones that fit the best. Mrs. Shaw can probably let them out for you."

His eyes lit up. "Good thinking. When did you get so smart?"

I boasted. "I’ve always been smart. You just never noticed."

He nodded his head. "Maybe you’re right."

The next morning, he knocked on my door. I yelled, "Come in."

He walked in, and looked at my dresser. "I’ll be damned. You did save all of my pipes." He walked over and picked one up.

"Yes, sir."

He stuck the pipe in his mouth. "That was a great idea you had. Mrs. Shaw got the pants to fit. What do you think? Do I look like ‘Old Dad’ again?"

My heart and mind went to racing. "He looks like someone who borrowed a suit to go to a funeral."

I hedged my bets. "Mrs. Shaw did a great job. I can’t tell the pants were too tight."

He looked at me. "That’s faint praise. Do I look professional?"

I shook my head. "I can’t lie to you, Dad. The Fifties suit with six inches of hair hanging off the collar looks bizarre. The grown-out dye job doesn’t help. I’d have a hard time taking you seriously."

He grinned. "I don’t want you to hold back. Be brutally honest, and tell me what you really think."

I knew he was teasing me, but I couldn’t think of anything to say.

He looked in the mirror for a long time, and he was thinking so hard I could almost hear the gears grinding. I thought, "Don’t blow a gasket in your brain, Dad."

I could see when he reached a decision. He looked at me. "There’s no help for it. I’ve gotta look professional today. Want to go with me to see Mr. Williams?"

I pointed at my head. "Matching haircuts?"

He nodded.

My heart leapt into my throat, and I whispered, "Wild horses couldn’t keep me away from this show. Let’s get the hell outta Dodge."

We got to the barbershop, and Dad walked in first. I heard, "Welcome in. What can I help you with?"

I thought, "Holy hell, Mr. Williams obviously doesn’t recognize Dad."

Dad winked at me, and turned back around to Mr. Williams. "Does this sound familiar to you? ‘Mr. Williams, would you do me a favor and peel the hair off the sides of these boys’ heads? Leave enough on the top comb, but I want those sides white-walled.’ "

Mr. Williams' eyes just about popped out of his head, and he got a gleam in his eyes. "You sound like someone I used to know, but you sure as hell don’t look like him." He smiled. "Donovan, is that you?"

Dad looked down. "I’m ashamed to admit it is."

Tears started flowing from Mr. Williams’ eyes. "Damn! Come here." He wrapped Dad in a big hug, and thumped him on the back a few times.

He stepped back, and looked at Dad. "It’s good to see you."

Dad pointed at himself. "It’s good to see me looking like this?"

Mr. Williams grinned. "Hell yes, it’s good to see you, even looking like a damned hippy. I’ve missed you. Welcome back."

"Thanks. It’s good to be back."

I saw hope in Mr. Williams' eyes. "Any chance you’re here to turn back into Professor Donovan Harris, instead of the ‘Disco Don’ I’ve heard you turned into?"

Dad plopped in the barber chair. "Get rid of the dye."

"Gladly, but first let me grab a Kleenex. Crying always makes my nose run." He blew his nose so loudly that I jumped.

I grinned at him. "Mr. Williams, you should try out for the symphony. I hear they need a trombone player, and that sounded like someone tooting a trombone to me."

A big grin crossed his face. "Oh, hush up."

He combed Dad’s hair, and parted it. "There might be enough grey roots here for me to do a flattop, but it’s going to be a close call. I might have to resort to the old one/two. Is that what you want?"

"I want the dye gone, and I don’t care if you give me a flattop, the old one/two, or a complete head shave to get rid of it." His eyes twinkled when he looked at me. "I’m tired of being called Mr. Skunkmeister."

"It’s your call, but I hope you have a hat with you."

"Why?"

"This is the coldest winter we’ve ever had. You’re gonna get mighty chilly up top with no hair."

Dad smiled. "Bring it on."

****
Author’s note: This is another story that I started months ago, and never finished. It was inspired by three different things. First, I recently thought about someone I grew up with who lived a life very similar to Paul’s. He lost his mother to cancer, and his father went off the deep end.

At the time I was formulating plans for "Dad Makes a Change", I read a Jonathan Kellerman novel, and one of the characters in the story really spoke to me. I patterned Donovan off that character.

At first, Rev. Langham was just going to be a minor character, but he kept popping into scenes. After reading Manny’s stories on this site involving Rev. Battlesea I decided to enlarge Rev. Langham’s role.

I tried to show a minister that met people where they were, and affected their lives. I wanted to show that not all ministers are greedy bastards, just in it for the money- -or the power and control they have over their congregation.

Because of my bad feelings toward organized religion, I couldn’t bring myself to have any of the interaction between Paul and Rev. Langham happen in a church. If you noticed, they only met in "real" life settings. (Just a bit of personal history. There was a time in my life when I was an ordained minister, and like Rev. Langham, I felt like real ministry happened in people’s homes.)

After writing this, I really wonder how many Seventies families had the mother who was the driving force behind the mandated short hair, instead of the fathers we typically write about?

If you managed to read through this mini novella, I’d love to hear your thoughts. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the story.







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