My father got beat
but he never beat me.

His skinny frame would tighten up,
he’d start to shake with a seething rage
at my errors, my arrogance,
he’d clench his bony fingers and say
“I’ll sock ya” but he never did.

My father’s father drank like a drunk.
He hit my dad,
called him a sissy,
infected him with TB,
threatened him with a knife,
and sometimes just disappeared
for a week or longer.

My dad drank at night,
drank beer and worked.
A quiet man, he put in long hours
and never talked about what hurt.

He told me that when he’d worked
Emergency at County General
he’d seen what beatings do to kids
and then he knew he’d never beat his.
He didn’t say much about himself
but he told me that.

You’ll hear guys say
they’d take a bullet for their kid.
You’ll hear guys say a lot of stuff.
My dad stepped between a bullet and me,
stopped that mayhem
from ripping through his chest and
into the hearts of the ones he loved,
did it at a cost to his angry soul,
did it for me and my sister and brother
and for what is decent.

One time I got up the nerve
to tell him I loved him.
All he could say was thank you.