14 April 2020

Dear Gus,

A couple of nights ago, you stood in your bedroom door, holding a bottle of lotion like it was a light saber, a towel draped around your shoulders like a superhero's cape. You looked up at me with tears in your eyes, shower water dripping from your hair onto your face, and you said, “I don’t even recognize you, right now. You don’t look like my dad.”

I’m sure I didn’t. Bad night. The moon was out and you saw a werewolf.

Earlier that evening, we’d been sitting out on the deck, enjoying our dinner: hamburgers and hot dogs, peppers, and all sorts of other delicious things cooked on the fire. You and Mom and I were laughing and having a great time, 70º and sunny for Resurrection Sunday. As we wrapped up dinner, you asked if you could use the blower to blow leaves and twigs off the roof. “Sure,” I said.

You’d never been on the roof before, but you’d wanted to so badly. You were looking for an excuse. Blowing leaves seemed like a great ploy to get me to say “yes.” It was a Sunday evening, the weather was great, and we were all in good spirits. Why wouldn’t I let you up there?

A few minutes later, you pulled yourself out onto the roof and put your feet on the shingles. You clung to the house as best you could, uttering oh-my-goshes and this-is-so-freakies.

I stretched out the window and blew what leaves I could. I pointed the blower at your feet and you screamed at me to stop and then we both laughed. You were frightened then, but a little daredevil lives inside of you, doesn’t it? You crept closer and closer to the edge.

"You gotta back away from the edge, bud," I said.

You looked at me with a grin and took a defiant little step.

I ignored it and asked you to come back over and take the blower. You did just that and blew the rest of the leaves and twigs off that section of the roof.

That’s when Mom came out and the two of you sat on the roof together. She’d hoped to watch the sunset with you. I went back inside to clean the kitchen and close up the grill. Soon, though, I heard angry words. Mom was hopping mad and you had thrown your shirt to the edge. I didn’t know what was going on—why Mom was mad, why you were pouting—but I came out to hang and Mom came back inside.

That’s when I learned exactly what was going on.

The healthy fear that gripped you when you first ventured out had completely gone. You told me you were wanting to do “crazy stunts” like jump off the roof. I joked with you, asked if you thought you could jump from our roof to the neighbor’s, but you told me not to make jokes because you were serious. You were gonna get your scooter, ride it off the roof, and land it on the car. I told you we weren’t going to do that. A few minutes later, you were openly defying me even though I was trying to keep you safe, and I told you to get your ass back in the house and take a shower.

I’m not proud of this. I lost my temper. I yelled at you.

Things escalated from there. Your defiance grew and my voice puffed up to match. Twenty minutes later, you stood in your bedroom door, brandishing that bottle of eczema cream and telling me that you didn’t recognize me.

I’m sure you didn’t.

Anger is a werewolf. It wells up inside of us when we fear that we are losing control. It takes over our bodies and our voices. We become unrecognizable to ourselves and to the ones we love, ready to attack, howling and clawing in hopes of regaining control. But control is mostly an illusion; there are so many things in this world that we can't control. Yet, we try so hard to maintain this illusion, to prop it up and make it seem like we're in control of everyone and everything in our orbit.

But the only thing I have control over is myself, the way I react to what the world throws at me. Nine years ago, the world threw you at me and I’ve been reacting ever since. Unfortunately, I don’t always react the way I want to.

“You don’t look like my dad.”

Those words knocked my soul out of my body. I turned around to face me and saw the stormy eyes and wild hair of a werewolf. God, what had I become?

I’m not gonna control you, Gus. You’re wild and free. Truth is, I like you that way. Mom and I are always telling you that we want you to make your own decisions, to be a big kid, to push outside your comfort zone and even try some things that are a little risky. We think that's the best way to live: out there a bit, on the edge of the horizon but with the shore always in sight.

I'm sorry I lost my temper and yelled at you for just being you. That's not right. And no excuse, not even a werewolf, can make it right.

Love,

Dad.


READER (and Gus): I agonized over this one a bit. I want to capture our lives, warts and all. But I do not want to encourage anyone to use a piece like this as an excuse. I could imagine, for example, someone taking this werewolf idea and using it to excuse repeated abuse of children or spouses. God, how terrible that would be! Sometimes, we are blinded by anger, sometimes we do lose control. But, as I tried to emphasize in the final paragraph, the werewolf is no excuse to take out our frustrations on others.