[…] TAKE 2: It had been a few years since Dad had told me a Red Dog story by the time I became a teenager in 1999. With the lengthening and filling out of my body came other changes: a bristling at the slightest provocation, an inability to dispel the fury inside me, or grasp why it was there in the first place. All the while I found myself becoming sensitive to the discrepancies between the heroic, faultless Dad I had seen until now, and the person others seemed to see. I became aware of Mum’s flared nostrils and sharp intake of breath on the odd occasion that he arrived home drunk, of how her body settled into a subdued, frowning unease.
Once my brother and I were visiting Nan when an uncle arrived, the one who seemed to find avoiding trouble particularly difficult, the one Nan fretted about most. He asked me if I knew what it was like to hit titanium, then told me of a few days before, when he had to control a man who was beating on his ex-wife, how it hurt to punch him because half his face had been reconstructed beneath the skin after he lost an eye and part of his cheekbone. How? Oh, one day he had decided to have a crack at letting off a home-made bomb in his backyard.
My uncle shook his head at Titanium Man’s stupidity and went on to recount how the police had arrived but no charges were pressed, luckily, because they understood that he had needed to defend the man’s ex-wife. He told me this, and then he went quiet.
‘Fight or flight,’ he nodded after a while, looking at me. ‘Some of us choose to fight. And that can be a virtue, that. I’ve got it, your dad’s got it.’
Nan delicately placed our cups of tea before us on the table. He picked his up, sipped at it. I looked at mine and turned over two facts in my mind. First, that fighting could be judged a virtue. Second, that my uncle had included Dad.
These and other suggestions began to bring into sharper focus the person Dad was beyond the confines of family. There were hints at a more undisciplined side, one of excess, one that embodied the particular breed of masculinity esteemed in that Red Dog time and place, a masculinity that was measured by how many beers you could down, how well you fought, how you bucked and chafed against authority.
I started to believe that the Red Dog stories had been aired so often because they were the appropriate ones, that they had acted as a kind of decoy for other happenings, and that now I was no longer a child I was starting to see through them. By bringing Red Dog to the forefront, I decided, Dad’s purpose had been to relegate himself to the narrative shadows.
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