It would be years before I began to understand the awkwardness in my dad’s smile, to unlock the reasons why he might have been willing to say damn in front of his boys. They had to do with marking himself as an adult after having been caught hanging from a tree like a kid, but it was more than that. Mr. Sanderson’s presence cast a spotlight on our backyard, the way throwing a dinner party makes you notice the smudges on the light switches or the chips in Grandma’s china. We might have disagreed with the Republicans whose backyards adjoined ours, but they could still intimidate us. There was always in my dad, even later when he worked in the Carter White House or represented the United States at international conferences, a hint of self-doubt that I don’t think he let many people see. It was as if these “Country Club” people, these people who drove a new Oldsmobile convertible when he drove a six-year old Chevy station wagon could see him for what he was—a dirty faced kid who fished farm ponds for bullheads and sold gooseberries at a stand by the side of the road so he could buy his first rifle, a little single-shot twenty-two.
My dad wedged himself back into the fork in the tree and situated himself the way he was before Mr. Sanderson surprised us. I handed him the last nail. He banged it home in five quick strokes, and we headed down the ladder to wash up for dinner.
–From Ned Stuckey-French‘s essay, Good Fences, at Guernica.