When Your Father Gets Home


by Robert Satterwhite

Lois was waiting for me when I arrived home from work. She had that too familiar look on her face that told me something was wrong.

"What is it?"

"It's Michael," she said. "He has to be punished."

I went to the refrigerator, got a beer, opened it, and sat down.

"What did he do?"

"He lied to me, that's what. When I confronted him with the proof that he lied, he wouldn't even admit it. One lie on top of the other. It's inexcusable."

"What did he lie about?"

She told me. I took a sip of my beer. It had been a rough day at work, and I was dead tired. I wanted to drink my beer and watch the news.

"Why didn't you spank him? You usually do."

"This is too serious, John. We can't let him get away with lying. He has to learn."

We both were brought up by parents who strongly believed that sparing the rod spoils the child. My father whipped me – with his belt. Lois never got the belt, but her brothers did. Michael is ten years old.  A good kid. He has never done anything serious enough for me to have to whip him. When he does something that Lois thinks is serious enough for punishment, she paddles him with an old Ping-Pong paddle she keeps on top of the refrigerator just for that purpose.

"Where is he?"

"I sent him to his room. I told him to wait there until you came home."

I remembered the times just like this when my mother sent me to my room to wait for my father to come home.  I remembered the dread I felt listening for the sound of his car in the driveway, his heavy steps on the staircase. He would open my bedroom door, take off his belt, and fold it with the tip and buckle in one hand.

"You know I have to do this, don't you Johnny?"

I would nod and brace myself.

"Well, are you going to do it?" Lois said.

"Okay."

I got up and went up the stairs to Michael's room. He was sitting on the bed, a look of fear mixed with defiance on his face. I knew that look, knew it well.

"Michael, your mother says you lied to her.  When you lie to someone, you're telling them that you don't respect them enough to tell the truth. You must always tell the truth no matter what the consequences are. It's easier that way. Do you understand that?"

He nodded, his eyes locked on my face.

I took off my belt, folded it, holding the tip and buckle in my hand, just as my father did.

My father would whip me until I either cried or yelled out in pain. At first, I tried not to cry or yell, but I soon learned if I didn't, he would continue whipping me. Michael looked at me, unblinking.

I took the belt and struck hard as I could, hitting the bed blow after blow.

"Yell, damnit."

He yelled. I hit the bed again.

"Louder."

He yelled again.

I sat beside my son on the bed, put my arm around him, and drew him close.

"Stay here until you mother calls you for dinner."

I put my belt on and went downstairs, turned on the television, and sat in my recliner.

Lois looked satisfied. "It had to be done, John. He has to learn. Want another beer?"

I nodded. She got the beer.

"Lois," I said as she turned to go back into the kitchen.

"What, dear?"

"Don't ever ask me to do that again."

She looked at me, eyes wide.

"Never again," I said. "I mean it."

I held her gaze until she looked away.

"Dinner will be ready in a little bit," she said.




BIO: Robert Boyd Satterwhite is a former journalist and a retired English and composition instructor at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He has a degree in literature from the University of North Carolina-Asheville and a master of fine arts from Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, North Carolina. He is the author of Broken People, an as-yet unpublished novel. He resides in Cullowhee in the North Carolina mountains.