The screwdriver slips from its slotted perch. My knuckles rasp against the mangled folds of an old radiator.
As drops of fresh, red blood well up on my skin, so do the tears in my eyes.
He towers up, and looks down at me as I cradle the wrist of my injured hand, stifling sniffles as well as an eight-year-old can.
“There’s no crying in the garage,” he says.
For my entire life, I regarded my dad’s behavior as a form of classical machismo. He wasn’t being overly harsh, or reinforcing contemporary gender stereotypes about “strong men,” but instead passing on to me the toughness he’d accrued from years of amateur rugby and slinging wrenches on engines in the cold of England evenings. Hardening through experience, to face the challenges of life.
Weakness held no sway around him. I’d flex my fledgling biceps in a show of pre-pubescent power and he’d laugh, quipping, “when I was your age, I had more muscles in my spit.”
I never got angry, or bitter, or resentful, because he practiced what he preached. Rarely did I see my dad wince at physical pain. He never hinted at psychological stress or fatigue. I never saw him cry.
I swallow the pain and wrap my knuckles in an old, oil stained cloth. He comforts me in an utilitarian way, and tells me to wash my hand and go find a band-aid. There’s expectation in his voice, an implication that I will return to work and not let so little a thing beat me. I nod, and wipe away the few salty drops that managed to migrate down my cheeks.
Even when his mother died, I didn’t see him cry. Maybe he did, behind closed doors, but in front of us, he remained forest pond placid. I envied him, then, wishing to be so in control of my emotions that the worst of the world’s worries simply rolled off like water on glass.
My daughter cries. Hard. Her tiny little lungs muster more than enough air to send her vocals chords into a fury of complaint. She has no other way to communicate, and I can’t blame her, but the sound tears through me. It startles me awake mid-REM. It eats at my heart. Her every outburst feels like a failure as a parent.
The layout of our house, as functional and open-concept as it is, means her cries echo and rebound, filling every corner with anguished bellowing. If she’s upstairs, the cries cascade down. If she’s in the living room, the sound reverberates off counter and coffer. It’s impossible to escape the sound of my irrational questioning of my ability to parent.
Except in the garage.
When the heavy door swings shut, I can’t hear her crying. When I pop into the garage to take out the trash, or grab a beer, or snag a screwdriver, I get a tiny respite from my nagging doubt. If I can’t hear the cries, she’s OK, and I’m doing things right. In that moment, as I cross the threshold, I go from father to son again, existing as two spirits in one space.
I remember him, there, and think of her, here.
But there’s no crying in the garage.