General Non-Fiction posted August 7, 2022

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Hand me down

I Never Asked/ He Never Told

by John Ciarmello


“Sit down with your mother and me, John. I’m going to tell you your life story.”

“Well, as typical as that statement may be coming from you, Dad, shouldn’t it be me telling you my life story if there were one to tell?”

“Son, we haven’t had the best relationship over the years, and I wanted a way to clear the air and maybe start us on a new path.”

Mom looked at me and patted the chair seat beside her. “Guys, I’m not a child. If you have something to say, just say it. What brought on this out-of-the-blue weirdness, anyway?” Dad’s eyes shot up quickly and caught Mom's glance.

“Ahh, Mom, you had something to do with this?” 

Her gaze lowered to her lap. “I’m tired of watching you two fight,” she mumbled.

“Your mother always says you and I know each other better than we know ourselves. So, who better to tell your story than me?”

“Is that what you want to do, Dad? Tell my story?” Dad drummed his palm on the table and shot my mom a second glance. “Look, thanks for the effort, but--”

“YES! Yes, that’s what I want to do,” he finally blurted.

I folded my arms slack-jawed and leaned back against the kitchen countertop. “Dad! As far as knowing you better than myself, that was a defense mechanism to learn how to ward off your egotistical gremlins. Unfortunately, concentrating on that over the years never afforded me the chance to get to know myself.”

 Dad dragged his forearms and palms across the table and rested his shoulder blades against the back of his chair. He looked at me strangely. I thought for a split second I saw a glimmer of understanding in his eyes until he slammed his palms on the table and jolted me out of the moment I’d been waiting for all my life.

“Well, here’s your chance to get to know yourself, son. I’ll keep it short. I mean, how much could there be to tell, anyway?”

Mom touched the bend in my arm.“Johnny, let your father tell your story. Please don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

“Mom, stop whispering,” I blurted, instantly irritated at how little she understood.

“I’m trying to set the tone, Johnny. Now please, let it be.” 

“Mom, you're still whispering,” I said with an ascending inflection to my voice. “We’re all in the same room. Dad can hear you-- I -- can hear you.”

Mom got up and disappeared into the hallway. “Mom! I didn’t mean disrespect--” Her bedroom door closed behind her.

 Dad tapped his fingers on the table. “I think you owe your mother an apology.”

“What do you know about apologies, Dad?” I leaned back against the counter, folded my arms, and stared disdainfully over his head. I could feel him looking at me. I purposefully maintained my gaze.
Dad’s words came slow and deliberate. “He wasn’t intentionally abusive,” he began.

I released the tension in my shoulders and looked at him quizzically for a few seconds. “Who, Dad? Who wasn’t abusive?”

“My father. He was twelve when his parents passed away. His brother didn’t want to raise him. His resentment turned into beatings and other cruelties I won’t mention. Finally, he took to the streets, knowing anything would be better than where he was. He stayed warm in the local library and became self-educated. He eventually landed a good job and, of course, started a family, but he was raw, raw to the bone. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good provider, but what could he have known about loving a child?”

“What does this have to do with my story, Dad?”

“Everything,” he answered quietly. He got up, poured a tall bourbon, and raised the bottle to me. 

“No, thanks.”

He sat back down and cupped the glass in his hands. “It took me a lifetime to realize I was a decent person, John, and the doubt still lingers when I see you look at me the same way I looked at my father. I can feel your resentment and hear the unasked questions to which I’m sure I have no answers.”

“How could you possibly be that perceptive?”

“It has nothing to do with being perceptive, at least not entirely. It has to do with living it, John. Because of my father’s mental abuse, my behaviors infrequently matched who I wanted to be. Gradually my uncertainties about how to behave in the real world grew into improvisatory actions and rehearsed scenarios. Finally, my world became a stage, and my true reality, which I wanted so badly to live, filled the theater seats in front of me, screaming boos and throwing sour fruit.” He looked down and twirled the bourbon in his glass. “Did it become bearable…?”

“Of course it did,” I finished. I leaned on the table, palms down and elbows locked. “There wasn’t a need to search for yourself anymore, was there? You were exhausted, weren’t you, Dad? You were satisfied there wasn’t another way, terrified you might find our missing piece, or worse afraid of failing me if you did find it. That was simply the way it was. So you gave up, Dad.”

He swiped the sweat from his stubbled chin with the back of his hand. “How did you know all of that?"

“I lived it, Dad.“

He tapped the bottom of his glass on the table, seemingly in thought. Then, finally, he looked me in the eyes. “I’m not sorry about that, John.”

“Of course, you’re not.”

“It only made you stronger.” 

“It’s time you stop throwing your guesses at my life, Dad. Thanks to you, I do enough of that for the both of us.”

“Fair enough, son, fair enough.” He reached behind, took his restaurant licenses from the wall, and wiped the dust with his palm. He looked down at the certificate as he spoke. “I thought I had it all together when I opened the restaurant in seventy. I thought it would bring us closer, but my gambling losses and sketchy real estate purchases ate away at those prosperous twenty-six years in business.”

“Yes, I remember, Dad. I ran the business numerous times, once after your heart attack and again after your nervous breakdown. Both times I made some needed financial adjustments and boosted employee morale. I put a little of this where there was none of that. It took the business to new heights. I thought how proud you would be of me when you came back to work, but you weren’t having any of those changes, were you, Dad?”
He pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “The restaurant was my birth child. You had no right to make those changes without me.” Then, his fiery gaze dropped into an empty space before me, and he fell back into his chair. “I lost it all, son. I gambled it all away,” he muttered. “I’m not sure how you came out uninfluenced.”

“I learned from your mistakes, Dad.” The only mistake I didn’t learn from was how you wrongly perceived yourself. I fell hard into the same trap. The restaurant simply added to my confusion about who I thought I was. Growing up, I approved of our Cadillacs, racehorses, fancy house, and oversized pool. Perhaps I thought I wanted all those things too, but I was wrong, Dad. I would have given all of them up to have the relationship with you that I now have with my two sons.”

“I know, son, and I’m -- I’m…”

“You’re what, Dad? Why can’t you say it? Why can’t you say you're sorry?”

“I’ll make it up to you, John. What do you want? Tell me what you need, anything.”

I turned away from him and walked to the opposite side of the kitchen. “I just need you to say the words, Dad.” My voice was so low and prolonged that I wasn’t sure if he had even heard me, but would it have mattered?

 I swung around and faced him. “Didn’t you see it, Dad? As my relationships grew with my boys, I felt you less deserving, not of all your material things, but less deserving of me. I’ve often had to repress the envious feelings about my own relationship with my boys. I cursed you for that. I wished so badly I had that with you.” Dad looked up at me, and his eyes glazed. I moved closer to ensure I could see the tears falling on his cheeks as this strange satisfying feeling crept over me.
Dad shot back the remainder of his bourbon and looked into his empty glass.“Those envious feelings, John?”


“They took away a few of the fatherly moments from Keegan and Eric?”

“Yes, Dad, they did.”

 “Moments you can never get back?”

“Yes, never.” 

“You’re lucky, son.”

I pursed my lips and could feel the heat behind my ears, but I managed to ask him calmly. “What do you mean by that, Dad?”

“At least it wasn’t their lifetime.”

With Dad's passing, the hand-me-down generational crutches melted metaphorically away, and I never used them again, except when I broke my leg playing basketball with the boys and referenced to them that I got my athletic ability from my Dad. However, the actual crutches were quite helpful - this time.

Did he ever become the Father he wanted to be? Better yet, did I ever become the son he wanted me to become? I never got to ask, and he never offered to tell.


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I felt I needed to write this from a different POV to put a little meat on my life's meatless bones. I hope it came together as I intended. The facts scattered between the lines of text are real. The scenes are embellished or changed to protect the innocent.

BTW, my mom was a saint, and I did apologize. :)
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by cleo85 at

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