Home, my absolute favorite place on this planet. My mom, dad, two sisters, two dogs, two cats, and one parrot. It is a packed house but there is nowhere else I would rather be…usually. My mother is a secretary for Knox County Schools and my father is a furnace
operator at Gerdau Ameristeel, two very different jobs. My father has worked with that company for over 20 years, and he intends to stay there until he retires. When I first read David Wagoner’s poem “My Father’s Garden” I immediately resonated with it. A poem about a child watching his father kill himself working for them. It spoke to me almost immediately, because like that child I have watched my father work endlessly at that company…coming home cut up and exhausted mentally and physically. It is a hard thing to do, watching my parent slowly melt away working for my family.
My father works a rough schedule, it is a mixture of night and day shifts. Day shift begins at 7am in the morning and goes until 7:30pm, night shift begins at 7pm and goes until 7:30am. So, we either eat dinner at 6pm or 8pm and we either see him for about 2 hours at night or 2 hours in the morning. I do not see him often, yeah, he is at home some days when he has time off, but he spends that time resting or lost in television. Working shifts like he does constantly is obviously going to begin to take a toll and working at a place like he works only makes the toll even more detrimental. I remember my mother telling me a story about an explosion that occurred before I was born. One of the furnaces exploded and my father was affected by PTSD for many years, my mother told me that for about two years the sound of fireworks exploding was enough to bring him to tears. He could have died that day; he could die any day. The work he does is dangerous, he risks his life everyday he walks into work. He has been injured too many times to count. He tore his Achilles Tendon, he has arthritis growing in his neck that causes his arm to go numb constantly, burns, bruises, cuts, and lots of injuries none of us will truly understand. A good friend of his lost his life in an explosion in 2014, luckily my father was not at work that day because he could have been injured or even killed. His friend spent about a
month in critical care in a burn unit before passing. My father went to high school with that man, they grew up together and he lost a good friend that day. The funeral was rough, all his fellow employees came together. We watched his widowed wife and fatherless young daughter plaster smiles across their faces and welcome us all with open arms. I could feel the discomfort and fear all his work coworkers were feeling, that could have been any of them. My father was in a dark place for a while after that incident, it left a lifelong effect on him and it slapped my family and myself into reality. I have had the opportunity to look and sit where he sits day in and day out, staring into the eyes of the beast. Wagoner described the furnace as an, “open hearth where whit-hot steel…waits to…set loose demons and dragons in molten tons, blazing down to the huge satanic caldrons” (lines 1-5). I could not describe it better myself, it is terrifying. He just sits there staring into a pit of hissing and bubbling fire, every single day, over and over. Luckily as he has grown in the company over the years he has moved from working out on the floor right beside the furnace to working behind a window operating everything that happens. Still the heat that comes out of that furnace, it feels like looking into the entrance of hell. I wish that he could move away from that company, some place safer…a boring desk job, someplace safe.
Over the years he has changed a lot, and the trauma that he has endured it is not a huge shock, but it is a huge loss. He used to be the biggest goof ball, he took every opportunity he had to make sure he was making somebody laugh and making sure I was embarrassed. He had this pair of yellow, redneck looking, buck teeth that he would put in when he would pick me up from school or when friends came over. I hated it, I was always so embarrassed but now I regret not appreciating it more. Every Christmas Eve my mom buys us all new pjs, last year she had found these matching pjs for the whole family, they had polar bears all over the pants and she had found my dad this polar bear onesie. We all thought it was amazing, such a cute and fun thing. But my dad hated it, he thought we were purposely trying to make fun of him and make him look stupid. He lost it, he refused to come in when we opened our sneak peek presents and he just sat in their room fuming the rest of the night. We all tried to explain that it was just for fun, he loves polar bears so we assumed he would love it, but it was the complete opposite. My dad 10 years ago would have eaten it up, but my dad now hated it. Wagoner explained that his father “tried to keep his brain from melting…but it melted” (lines 13&19). And the exact thing happened to my father, but instead of his mind melting away his personality melted away.
When I was a baby my dad refused to put me down, if he even heard me start to cry he would quickly grab me out of the arms of anyone who was holding me…even my mom. My parents experienced a miscarriage, infertility, and even losing a foster son they intended to adopt. So, me being born was a dream come true, and my dad especially felt that. But over the years our relationship has dwindled away as his personality has dwindled away. We are complete opposites, opinion wise and personality wise. The only thing we have in common is the knowledge that we are always right…and according to my mother my road rage. He loves to argue with me, I am his number one target when he gets in a mood. I believe it is because I am the only one not afraid to stand up and speak up for myself. His parents were not the most loving and touchy. His mother was extremely sick during the entirety of his childhood and his father was not a loving man. At his father’s funeral this past September, my father’s brother revealed that he had only heard his Dad say “I love you” twice. My dad is not like his father in that way, we hear “I love you” constantly in my family and I would not want it any other way. But he is like his dad in the idea that children have no right to stand up to their parents. His argument is always that I have no respect for him, but in my opinion respect is earned. I give respect when respect is given. I have gotten a lot better over the years about voicing my opinion because it honestly just wastes my breathe and breaks my mom’s heart to watch us fight. This is no way stops him though, he still takes jabs at me and he constantly tries to get me riled up. It is truly exhausting. It is sad, but I hate when he is home because I feel like everything I say is going to start him up. I remember vividly about two weeks ago I was sitting in the living room with him and we were just talking, having a good conversation and all the sudden shit hit the fan. He was saying that he believes he has skin cancer and I jokingly said, “gosh what isn’t wrong with you,” and he immediately went off. Yelling at me and exclaiming that “[he] is killing himself for this fucking family and none of us respect him and what he does for us.” His mood switched so quickly I felt like I had whiplash, and this is something that happens often. His mood switches so quickly and I can never tell when it is a good day or bad day. I know as he continues to age and as he spends more time in front of that furnace it is only going to get worse and I am terrified. His humor and outgoing personality is “not burning bright” like it used to, he is no where near the same person he was, and he never will be (line 20). I am not saying he does not love us, he does so much, but he just is not the same big loving dude he used to be. Everyone thinks we are the perfect little family, but nobody truly sees what happens, they see the smiling faces in my mom’s Facebook photos but not the tears shed at home.
My father is one of the hardest working people I know, and I truly appreciate everything that he does for my family but it is not worth all of this. Watching my father’s personality dull and his way of being change completely is rough. Having to watch him leave for work and come home knowing exactly what is in store for me is rough. It is just rough, to be completely honest. I will never allow the father of my children to work a job like my dad does, I will not have my children watch us dwindle and fade. I cannot help but feel a little guilty, I mean he is working for us. He is working to give us the life we have but it is no way, shape, or form worth it if we lose him in the process. David Wagoner’s poem says it best, he completely understands what it feels like and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to read his poem. Parents do anything and everything for their children but at some point it begins to take a toll on them as well. Knowing that I must continue to watch my father melt away in that furnace is heart breaking but that is the life I live.