The Man's Favorite Pastime

His father judged him. It seemed, sometimes, to be the man's favorite pastime. When he did not meet unspoken standards—which was often—it provoked anger. Yelling. Namecalling. Violence.

Reminding his father that he, too, was a grown man only heightened the disappointment. He returned home from work without having fulfilled the father's ambitions for him, so the reminder only drew abuse that much sooner. Sometimes, sooner was a relief.

Now a full-grown man, he could fight back, and he told his father so. This only provoked laughter. His father called him weak and told him he couldn't fight back. In truth, he couldn't. The few times he tried, longs years of a child's harsh conditioning softened his blows and slowed his defenses. He was weak, because his father had weakened him.

He strove to please his father, to meet those standards the old man held ever higher above his head. Some days he earned his way free of the beatings. Some days he won grudging, backhanded praise. But not every day. He knew he should have done better, and earlier. He also knew that failing in the past was no good reason for failing now.

One day, he didn't come home.