How my father gave me a terrifying lesson at 10
June 8, 2015 11:24 AM   Subscribe

 
Is this a post about Arrested Development?
posted by OmieWise at 11:25 AM on June 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


Nope. Awesome article, thanks!
posted by OmieWise at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2015


I have no idea what is going on in the conversational bits.
posted by maryr at 11:36 AM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ended up where I thought it would (with a mental variation of "And that's why you always ..." echoing in my head) but charmingly written, anyway. :)
posted by tilde at 11:36 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved this article, kicking myself for not posting here.

Whatever you are doing, stop, and take a few minutes to read it, you'll be glad you did.
posted by NordyneDefenceDynamics at 11:37 AM on June 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


That was special. Thanks.
posted by shmegegge at 11:43 AM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


He didn't say anything else. He didn't need to. I'd seen the light. "Yes, Harold," I said, suddenly ashamed of my self-centredness and stupidity. "I see now."
At least Bernard knows that by taking the path he did he made his dad enormously happy.
posted by fullerine at 11:48 AM on June 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Kinda on the dark side, innit?

(I keed, I keed.)

Wonderful.
posted by Samizdata at 11:49 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, this was wonderful. Thank you so much for posting it.
posted by zarq at 11:51 AM on June 8, 2015


What actually happens once he gets down? There's a loud noise and he falls down? Is there an actual explosion?
posted by edbles at 11:53 AM on June 8, 2015


If you go to Cape Breton Island, you can tour the mining museum there, and the tour includes a short walk into the mine itself.

Yeah. That's enough to make sure you'd never ever want to be a miner.
posted by suelac at 11:54 AM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a loud noise and he falls down? Is there an actual explosion

They drop the chocks holding up part of the gallery, and part of the ceiling collapses. Controlled, but still, for a 10-year-old? Terrifying.
posted by suelac at 11:55 AM on June 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have no idea what is going on in the conversational bits.

Broad Yorkshire dialect still has the thee/thy/thou form of "you". "Tha' knows" = "you know" (sither? = "see thee?" i.e. "you see?"). The rest is an attempt to do the pronunciation phonetically: "Ah see" = "I see", and so on. Oh, and Leetning = Lightning, bit like calling someone huge "little John".
posted by pw201 at 11:55 AM on June 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


A good read, thanks.. My father's family was from England, with a name that was a variation of collier... I had never really thought about that a lot, I was many generations removed from that aspect of the family... this article held some meaning for me..
posted by HuronBob at 11:57 AM on June 8, 2015


Dad was a sadist. That fact that he worked a hard job in miserable conditions doesn't justify playing cruel tricks on his son. Did he also name the boy "Sue" so that he'd grow up knowing how to fight?
posted by Modest House at 12:09 PM on June 8, 2015


They drop the chocks holding up part of the gallery, and part of the ceiling collapses. Controlled, but still, for a 10-year-old? Terrifying.

Or for a 53-year-old! I started mildly hyperventilating at "my dad was a miner," but then, I also think The Descent was among the scariest movies ever made even before the Bad Things happened. Spelunking [shudder].
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:14 PM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thomas Keller once wrote that one should not be decide to be a chef until you have killed and cleaned a live rabbit yourself.

Similar educational problem but conveyed in a noncoercive and nonnegative way.
posted by polymodus at 12:17 PM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Whiskers!" You could hide under the bed, but he would just drag you out by your heels, or turn the whole thing over on its side. "Whiskers!" There was no escape. One way or another, he would catch you. Then you got the whiskers.

My dad used to do this to me. Usually just before bedtime. I hated it when he did that. But then he'd get shipped off somewhere halfway around the world and I'd lie awake and in bed and wish he was there to give me Whiskers and tuck me in. He was way better at tucking than mom was, Whiskers or no.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:24 PM on June 8, 2015 [13 favorites]


From what my Mom tells me, more than half of my Mom's family is from that area and my ancestors did that work.
posted by kalessin at 12:25 PM on June 8, 2015


I've experienced this moment -- the one where I realized that my dad was doing the best he could, even if that best wasn't objectively all that good at times. It's allowed me to treat him with empathy and compassion, forgive him for past wrongs, and appreciate our family's triumphs. Thanks for posting this.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:31 PM on June 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


"Dad was a sadist. That fact that he worked a hard job in miserable conditions doesn't justify playing cruel tricks on his son."

A "sadist"? A little perspective here....A sadist is someone who spends years abusing a kid emotionally and physically and then kills them and cuts them up and puts them in a freezer (with the other kids being aware of what happened).... yep, this happened around here just recently...

This guy enlightened his son to the reality of possible life choices...and it worked...and the kid was better for it...
posted by HuronBob at 12:31 PM on June 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


If you go to Cape Breton Island, you can tour the mining museum there, and the tour includes a short walk into the mine itself.

been there, done that - also they said it was under the atlantic - and glace bay was just about the most depressed looking place ever, even compared to "syndey"

and it was coooold doon there ...
posted by pyramid termite at 12:33 PM on June 8, 2015


I don't know whether he was a sadist or not. I do know that he cared enough about his son to let him know what his life would be like if he didn't try hard, and no one cared enough about my future to do anything like that for me.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:35 PM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


In 1968, in a mining family in a mining town in a Britain that was still trying to wrap its head around the idea of socioeconomic mobility and basically everyone in the country suffering from primary or second-generation PTSD from the war, I can't fault a man for wanting to make the strongest possible case to his son to not default to mining like everyone around him.

I have always heard stories of miners trying to talk their sons out of mining - it really wasn't a "it's good enough for me and it'll be good enough for you" thing. I think a lot of men did it because the pay was pretty good for not having a lot of other options, so that their kids could have those options, get an education, learn a trade, and not have to go down the mines at 13 or 15 to support the family.

There's a reason the others could be paid off to look the other way. They knew what he was doing and they probably did the same.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:37 PM on June 8, 2015 [26 favorites]


Dad was a sadist. That fact that he worked a hard job in miserable conditions doesn't justify playing cruel tricks on his son.

actually, my school did something like this too - they took us to the archway cookie factory in town and it stank like cookie dough and was hot and there were a bunch of old ladies who had to wear these hot looking hairnets and plastic aprons at the line - it looked like a very unpleasant job

it saved me from ever working at a cookie factory

now i work in a milk carton factory and it's hot and i have to wear a hairnet and a plastic apron

scratch that - i didn't learn a goddamned thing
posted by pyramid termite at 12:39 PM on June 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


There's no reason to believe that most fathers in hard jobs ever wanted their sons to follow them.
posted by Thing at 12:40 PM on June 8, 2015


Let's be sure to not confuse the word "hard" with the words "dangerous" "unhealthy" "soul robbing"
posted by HuronBob at 12:42 PM on June 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Lovely article. Reminds me a little of my dad, who also did the whiskers thing. I think it's the picture of seeing from child's perspective what his dad is like in his work environment. I remember that similar feeling of fear of the strange environment and people when I went with him a couple of times to sites (he worked as a service engineer for Caterpillar so all the local building contractors and farmers knew him) and they would have similar conversations in broad Lincolnshire accents. Once when I was quite young he left me sitting in the cab of a bulldozer while he was working on the engine - I managed to start the engine and nearly put it in gear before he started shouting at me! He could be pretty cranky, but I still miss him.
posted by crocomancer at 12:43 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dad was a sadist. That fact that he worked a hard job in miserable conditions doesn't justify playing cruel tricks on his son. Did he also name the boy "Sue" so that he'd grow up knowing how to fight?

Eh, at least it he did it towards some concrete aim, and just the once for effect. My dad never exposed me to anything quite as viscerally terrifying as thinking I was about to die in a coal mine collapse, but my during my weekends visiting him at this age and younger we'd go on "hikes" in remote wilderness areas that actually just consisted of him leaving me in the dust with the unstated expectation that I either find him or find my way out. It stopped being totally terrifying after the first few times when I realized that I could do it, but there were always more mundane fears, like about whether I would get to eat dinner if I took too long and there weren't any places open for food by the time we got back, since he almost definitely wouldn't want to cook and his wife would have already eaten, and plain confusion about why he was doing it and why he kept doing it. I don't know what his aims were besides the vague sheen of "learn to be a man" that he projected afterwards since he never really even verbally acknowledged that anything out of the ordinary had happened, and I don't know what it accomplished except for I guess furnishing me with the appropriate emotional disposition to hack it as a hermit in the upcoming Road Warrior apocalypse.

So, yeah. That was the first thing I thought of when I read this article, and by contrast the "surprise" seems like a downright kindness.
posted by invitapriore at 12:48 PM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


John Adams said “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”

But maybe consider telling them this later on in addition to showing them.
posted by infinitewindow at 12:51 PM on June 8, 2015 [23 favorites]


My parents and I visted the mining museum in Glace Bay. My dad grew up in Nottingham, and his response to our walk in the mine was astonishment that one could stand upright. His memories of the mines of his boyhood were tunnels not more than 4 feet high were the miners would work kneeling or even lying down.
posted by angiep at 1:03 PM on June 8, 2015


Dad was a sadist.

Hmm.

My dad was covered in little blue scars, like tattoos. If you got even the smallest cut down a pit, the dust got in straight away and turned it blue forever - and there was nothing you could do about it.

The dust got in to your lungs too. My dad coughed a lot, but not as much as my granddad. Granddad's knees were shot too, due to 50 years kneeling and crawling in damp conditions at the coalface.


I'd submit that dad wasn't the sadist in this equation.

Coal Tattoo.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:04 PM on June 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are so many things my parents did that I didn't get till I was a parent. I still think they could have done better, because I compare them with the parents of my peers, and they fail.

A lot of the stuff they did makes a lot of sense, when you see it from their perspective. They were not very smart. They had no idea where society was heading. They did their best.

And yeah, some of the things I learnt were useful: I can clean fish and game. I can survive on subsistence farming. I am not really flustered by other people's opinions, (since I am already defined as a weird loser). I'm good at basic math, physics and chemistry despite these subjects being very far from my line of work.

These days, I'm wondering if we are really giving our children better starts. Here, politicians are almost always academics, and they have no idea how life is if you are not academically inclined. They seem to see it as a failure if you are not interested in university or research. Which leaves 80-90 % of any population as failures.

Old school mining is not the future, thankfully. But maybe we need a contemporary discussion on what is, based on the skills of our forbearers rather than total rejection...
posted by mumimor at 1:10 PM on June 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Back in late 60s Albania my dad's first job out of geology school was in a (chrome!!) mine, helping oversee prisoners, political and otherwise. He has lots of stories about how rough it was but my favorite the most terrifying is the time he forgot his ID on the way in and the guard knew him so he waved him in. He had a tougher time being allowed to leave at the end of the shift. New guard thought he was a prisoner.
posted by preparat at 1:13 PM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, a pretty scary dad joke.

It reminds of the Northern Playwright.
posted by plinth at 1:17 PM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Granting different norms for different times, doing the best we can with the tools we have, and whatnot, and with appreciation for the obvious love Bernard Jr. has for his old man + for the obviously positive outcome of Dad's act: Intentionally traumatizing your 10-year-old is not good parenting, and, yes, sadistic. A different kid and this story might've had a completely different denouement.
posted by Lyme Drop at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2015


There's a former taconite mine called Soudan Underground Mine State Park in northern Minnesota you can tour. It's half a mile down. HALF A MILE UNDERGROUND. I would poop my pants if someone dragged me down there, as my family have "offered" on several previous visits. *shudder*
posted by wenestvedt at 1:31 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


now i work in a milk carton factory

you all ever find any missing kids there?
posted by thelonius at 1:32 PM on June 8, 2015 [19 favorites]


My dad did the same thing to me, except instead of introducing the horrors of mining to a 10 year old, he introduced the horrors of calculus.

THAT WHY I HAVE A LIBERAL ARTS DEGREE, DAD! SITHER?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:46 PM on June 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


Let's be sure to not confuse the word "hard" with the words "dangerous" "unhealthy" "soul robbing"

OK, but coal mining is probably hard, and certainly dangerous and unhealthy.
posted by entropone at 1:49 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I really enjoyed the article, despite guessing early on where the author was headed with it. It was well written and timely with Father's Day around the corner. Glad he learned the lesson his father wanted him to learn.

I've tried taking my kids under my wing to show them what it's like to write computer code, and of course I wouldn't actually mind if they went into coding (even though there are times when it feels like that South Park episode where Kenny dies of boredom). No takers yet, but they're only 10 and 14, and who knows what jobs will be available for them 10-15 years from now.
posted by mosk at 2:09 PM on June 8, 2015


I think I must have gotten a mote of coal dust in my eye just now.

Thanks
posted by etherist at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


you all ever find any missing kids there?

yes, they became our supervisors
posted by pyramid termite at 3:01 PM on June 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I suspect the lesson would have taken quite sufficiently without the crowning moment of mortal terror but it really is another world we're talking about here.
posted by atoxyl at 3:23 PM on June 8, 2015


There is something so gratifying about a scared boy hanging onto you, thinking that you know everything and can fix whatever it is. My dad minored in astronomy and would haul my little ass way out of Chicago to watch things explode IN SPACE!!! through his telescopes. I was potty trained but that scared it right out of me. What if this planet exploded? I was one scared little boy. The universe was full of things crashing into each other and exploding. What chance had I?

The worst thing I do to my boy is to pop in the bathroom while he is bathing with a horse mask on. He's pretty good with horses. The one that mops and cleans is suspected to be dad.

Tease the bejesus out of your kids. It is already happening at school. Having it come from friendlier quarters helps prevent bullying later.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 3:44 PM on June 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just lovely, thanks for the post. It was horrendous work and if it took scaring the shite out of his son to make sure he never, ever wanted to go back down a mine again I'm definitely ok with filing it under "cruel to be kind".
posted by billiebee at 3:51 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just lovely, thanks for the post. It was horrendous work and if it took scaring the shite out of his son to make sure he never, ever wanted to go back down a mine again I'm definitely ok with filing it under "cruel to be kind".

I think it's not so much the idea of giving the kid a glimpse of your harrowing job that has people uncomfortable - I'd consider that a good idea even now - but the specific step of dropping a coal seam to scare the living shit out of him. But again, different world. People used to do *a lot* to scare their kids. And as the author says, a lot of dads - some still of course - used to do much nastier things for much worse reasons.
posted by atoxyl at 4:10 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dad was a sadist.

Ah hahaha, ok.

I grew up on a farm in the last days of small-scale family farming, in the shadow of the coming onslaught of American industrial agriculture corporations. I would have much preferred my dad being able to show me a day in the life of an American farmer. But alas, I got conscripted into the family motto of work-our-asses-off-and-get-out-of-this-game-before-we-can't. My folks sold the property and operations to a megacorp-who-shall-not-be-named for a song when I was 14 and I buried myself in my studies with my dad's blessing.

Man I'm glad I grew up with that experience. It keeps me from assuming that the existence of leisure and ease is some sort of assumed birthright.

This guy's dad seems awesome. And the whiskers...
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:14 PM on June 8, 2015


"Mer-MAN, dad, mer-MAN!"

I get a titch nervous taking the BART under San Francisco Bay, I'd be clawing my own face off in a mine.
posted by bendy at 4:32 PM on June 8, 2015


Did he also name the boy "Sue" so that he'd grow up knowing how to fight?


Funny you should mention that...

posted by TedW at 8:09 PM on June 8, 2015


...now I work in a milk carton factory...

Who cleans the wax room? One of the toughest/riskiest jobs I ever had. Although nothing compared to coal mining (and roughnecking and commercial fishing and any number of other jobs that are needed for our modern lifestyle that are pretty much invisible to most people.).
posted by TedW at 8:27 PM on June 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wow, did they really allow the cage to drop down the shaft then apply the brakes? Or was Dad just trying to scare him?
posted by DZ-015 at 8:21 AM on June 9, 2015


As to whether this was the best way to do it, or needlessly cruel is probably difficult to judge from a perspective of 40+ years and possibly thousands of miles. But note the mention of the “elven plus”, the exam taken to steer you either towards grammar school and a good education or a secondary modern and probably leaving school at sixteen with no good option but to go down the pit (which, as noted, was dangerous but well paying so a temptation for the academically disinclined). So if you want to ensure your kid does his best on a high stakes exam at the age of eleven, ten is probably the optimal time to put the fix in.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:01 AM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Who cleans the wax room?

we don't have one - we get paper coated with poly from the mill, no wax involved

i was a security guard at a paper mill once, though - there are many unpleasant ways one could get oneself killed there and it is so hot that people used to wrap up chicken in foil and cook it near the rolls - (which are like 15 feet in diameter, go really, really fast, and aren't something you want to be caught in - they had hundreds of them - the machine was about the length of a football field)

on the bottom floor, beneath the machine, they would call for the broke beaters to, i think, get the pieces of half made paper if they broke - sometimes, there'd be a couple of feet of water on the floor and one time there was 5 or 6 feet and i had to be very careful on my patrol - that was probably a very unpleasant job

12 hour shifts 7 days a week - they did get vacations, and sometimes the factory would go down but not often - i don't know how they did it
posted by pyramid termite at 12:55 PM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a former taconite mine

Today I learned that there is a for-real mineral actually called 'taconite'.
posted by rifflesby at 2:28 PM on June 10, 2015


Today I learned that there is a for-real mineral actually called 'taconite'.

Don't know if you'll find this interesting, but taconite ore was what the Edmund Fitzgerald was carrying, in pelletized form, when it sank.

My husband's cousin's husband has run the now-defunct Edmund Fitzgerald 100 km road race in Minnesota - he's still got an old shirt from it. When I asked him about it, he said that all the finishers received a commemorative jar of taconite ore pellets as well.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:49 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Taconite pellets make the best wrist rocket ammo ever. They are the perfect size and cheap and easy to obtain. Walk along any railway north of Duluth, and you can have gallons of them in minutes.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:24 PM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well written and touching article. Makes me miss my dad. :(
posted by Andrew Thewes at 12:13 PM on June 14, 2015


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