Brian Miller was born in the midwest and raised on apple pies, falling leaves, and cracking campfires. He now lives in western China with his wife and three (soon to be four) children. You can read more of his writing on his website and follow him on Instagram (@wayleadstoway).
I know my mom’s secret hiding places. All of ’em.
I found the first one by accident, when Ronnie and I were playing hide and seek and I tried to hide in my parents’ closet and knocked over the jar of coins. When Ronnie found me, we headed to Loaf ‘N Jug and mom never suspected anything because I know better than to take too much, just enough to buy a bag of sour skittles and pop, or something like that. You can’t get too greedy or you’ll get caught. I learned that from Ronnie. When he took over five dollars from his parents his dad grounded him for a week.
Ronnie’s dad is pretty strict, but he also has fun and takes Ronnie on vacations. They invited me to go with them to Florida this year but my parents said I couldn’t go because his parents are a bad influence because they don’t go to church. I wish my parents would take me to Florida and not church . . . I also wish I didn’t have to do Saturday morning chores. I hate cleaning the kitchen. Probably not as much as I hate stacking the firewood in the garage, but still, I hate it. Even if it does build character.
My dad talks a lot about character, about how us men need it and about how we grow it over time. He says hard work plants the seed but honesty waters it and keeps it growing . . . how does honesty help something grow? Because in all honesty, I never get it when he talks like this.
Mom doesn’t talk like this; she talks normal. Like when I was washing the dishes a couple Saturdays ago and saw Mr. Benware walking through our backyard toward the camper and I asked what he was doing back there and she said he was going to fix the fridge in the camper. When I asked why he had to fix it and not Dad she said it was because Mr. Benware isn’t as busy as Dad
See what I mean?
When she went to help him, I found her other secret hiding place.
I needed a towel to dry the dishes and I opened the little wooden box near the toaster and found a giant bag of peanut M&M’s stuffed under the towels. I took only a small handful then covered them back up. My mom never suspected a thing.
By the time Mr. Benware finished, I was done with the kitchen—it took him almost forty-five minutes and mom said it probably would have taken longer if she hadn’t of helped so I’m glad she did because Dad came home shortly after.
Dad doesn’t have secrets or hiding places, but he does have buttons, and Mr. Benware is one of them.
Once, while driving to the hardware store, I asked Dad why Mr. Benware only has coffee with mom and not him. He asked what that meant and when I told him that Mr. Benware often stops by for coffee when he’s at work, he didn’t say anything, he just turned the truck around and headed home. I knew better than to ask what was wrong. When we got home, Dad sent me to my room and I could hear him yelling. When the front door slammed I went downstairs and found Mom sitting on the couch staring at the floor. She didn’t seem to notice me at first, she just stared. When I put my arm around her, she started to cry.
Since then, I’ve stayed clear of the Benware Button. Even if Mr. Benware were to lose one of Dad’s tools, I’d take the blame. I’d rather Dad lecture me about responsibility than yell at Mom.
I hate it when she cries.
I’ve never seen Dad cry. Ever. Even when he smashes his finger with his hammer or drops a spare tire on his toes. He hollers and curses for sure, but he never cries. I’ve seen him shoot a nail through his index finger, pulled it out, then wrap his fingers with duct tape and get back to work. I couldn’t believe it. But that’s my dad.
Ronnie’s dad is tough too, but not like my dad because Ronnie’s dad cries. He doesn’t yell though, and he doesn’t leave the house for hours at a time, even when he’s angry. But when my dad gets angry, he breaks things. Like the time he broke the garage window.
Ronnie had come over and we had borrowed several of my dad’s gardening tools to help build a fort. My dad doesn’t mind when I borrow his tools, I just need to put them back when I’m done, but Ronnie had left the shovel laying on the garage floor and my dad didn’t see it when he pulled in and his pickup flattened it completely. I heard him yelling and screaming from the back of the yard and I knew I was in trouble. When I tried to explain that it wasn’t my fault, he kicked the empty garbage can and it flew across the garage and shattered the window.
I spent the rest of the evening cleaning up the glass, taping in a cardboard cutout, and thinking about what I’d done, just like my dad told me to.
He later apologized for the window and I discovered another one of Dad’s buttons—little things. Dad cares a lot about them, unlike Mom, because he thinks the little things add up to big things. On a couple of occasions he’s sat me down and asked “Do you want to be a man of character, a man people can trust and count on?”
I always nod when he asks questions like this.
“Than you have to take responsibility for your actions,” he always says, “If you can’t be a man who accepts responsibility, no one will trust you.”
I can’t look my dad in the eyes so I stare at his bottom tooth that’s crooked and coffee stained and a lot less scary.
Mom never yells at me, even when she catches me doing things I shouldn’t be doing, like looking at her Victoria Secret magazines. She caught me once and wasn’t even mad. She just took it and said I didn’t need to be looking at such things. That was it. No yelling, no cursing, and no broken window.
But when Dad caught me and Ronnie the following summer with the swimsuit addition, he ripped it from my hands, tore it to pieces, and sent Ronnie home. He tried telling me it was normal to want to look at women, but not okay. I stared at his crooked tooth. “When you look at other women, you’re looking at another man’s wife. Would you want someone staring at your wife?”
I didn’t really know how to answer that question but I said no anyway. I heard my mom start the dishwasher and I told my dad I was sorry. He said I didn’t need to apologize to him, but to my future wife. I said I would, and I did, but a few days later when I found more magazines . . . I had to apologize again.
My dad is big on apologies. He says being able to admit you’re wrong is the mark of a man, and to be honest, I’ve tried. I’ve really tried. More than once I’ve apologized to my English teacher for cheating on vocab tests, I’ve apologized to the girl down the street for being a little too rough at recess, and I’ve apologized to Ronnie several times for stealing his money, baseball cards, and whatever else. I’m always apologizing! But not this time. This time, it’s Ronnie who needs to apologize. It’s his turn. But I know he won’t because he said he wouldn’t, because people don’t have to apologize for telling the truth.
I told him it didn’t matter, that he shouldn’t have said what he did and that if he didn’t apologize, I’d make ’em. So when he said it again, I hit him, right on his mouth. His lip split open and started bleeding and I told him to say he was sorry or I’d do it again, but he just started crying, just like his dad, and holding his mouth.
SAY YOU’RE SORRY I yelled and showed him my fist. But he didn’t. He just stood there crying and I didn’t really know what to do because my knuckles kinda hurt and I didn’t want to hit him again. I did want him to apologize though, but I knew he wouldn’t. “It’s not my fault your mom is fucking Mr. Benware,” he said instead.
And he’s right. It isn’t his fault, but it’s not my fault either and he shouldn’t have said it. I don’t say it. I don’t tell anybody about Mom and Mr. Benware, not even Dad! Because what would I say? That Mr. Benware still comes over every Tuesday? That he’s fixed just about every appliance in that stupid camper? Or that the real reason I hate going to church is because when Mr. Benware walks to the stage the only thing I can think about is screaming, YOU’RE FUCKING MY MOTHER! and nothing else.
What good would that do?
Saying anything would only make things worse. Way worse.
I know my mom’s secrets and I know my dad’s buttons and to be honest, I’d rather secrets because they don’t seem to hurt anyone. But Dad’s buttons make Mom cry, and I hate it when she cries.
But maybe, maybe Dad is right. Maybe men should apologize when they’re wrong, be honest as much as possible, and never cry.
I don’t want to have secrets. I’d rather buttons, but I think I’d rather the kind that don’t make Mom cry.
I hate it when people cry.