You’ll Be a Man Before Your Mother

My daughter took this photo in 2009. They added a skateboard area to the park I used to play in. Nothing like that in my day.
My daughter took this photo in 2009. They added a skateboard area to the park I used to play in. Nothing like that in my day.

I never thought that I’d have to preface a post with a disclaimer regarding how it’s not a post about gender identity. It’s not. The expression in the title is what my father used to tell me as he dealt with my injury du jour. He would look at my skinned knee, brush the bits of dirt out of the bloody scratches and say “you’ll be a man before your mother.” I won’t tell you how old I was before I realized the relative certainty of that statement. I like to think that I wasn’t “slow on the uptake” but rather that his words had the desired effect.

I always felt better after he said that.

My dad wasn’t one to mince words and he wasn’t one to shy away from a colorful expression when an ordinary expression would do just as well. I’m sure that if he thought I was about to bleed to death, he would have said: “we need to get your dumb ass to a hospital right now.” As it was, the times that my injuries required medical attention, my mother was on-duty.

Back in the late 50s and early 60s, there was no 911 to call. You could call the police, or an ambulance service, but mostly, you tossed your kid in the back of your car with a towel to keep the blood off the seat. “Try not to get blood on the seat” added for good measure. If things were really bad, you might ask a neighbor to ride along.

It’s interesting, but when I was taken to the hospital, a neighbor was usually in the car holding me, but my mother drove. I suspect that there was a greater sense of being in control when she was behind the wheel, instead of sitting there wondering why the neighbor stopped at the red light while her son was bleeding to death.

When I was about four years old, I fell down a set of steps and smashed my face into a stone wall. Nothing short of the Hand of God directed my face during that fall. I smacked into a stone with a V-shaped edge and I cut my face above and below my left eye. Stiches were required on both wounds. My mother grabbed a neighbor, a towel and off to the hospital we went. When my father came home, he was calm around me. He assured me that I would be fine, dispensed his signature comforting statement and then he took a sledge hammer and destroyed that wall.

Most of my cuts and bruises were less dramatic. In the little town near Pittsburgh where I was born, lots of things were “paved” with an evil substance called “Red Dog.” Red Dog was a byproduct of coal mining and was readily available on the cheap in the 50s and 60s to anybody that needed a few tons. Red Dog was used like gravel but since it was larger, flatter and had sharp edges, it acted more like glass. When you fell on/into Red Dog, you learned the meaning of laceration.

We played Wiffle Ball in a Red Dog parking lot behind a bar a few doors down from our apartment. We rode bikes to a nearby park, the long parking lot of which was also “paved” with Red Dog. Sliding into base, falling off my bike and/or just running and falling because – clumsy, frequently ended with me sitting on the side of the tub while my father cleaned my non-life-threatening wound. Next came the application of Mercurochrome, followed by a clasp of my shoulder and the comforting “don’t worry, you’ll be a man before your mother.” All of that care mercifully rendered despite the fact that I had been told not to play in that parking lot and not to ride my bike through loose Red Dog.

In 1972, I asked my parents if I could go on a school sponsored ski trip. Knowing that 1) I had never skied, and 2) I was better suited to the role of spectator than athlete, my parents said no. I forged my mom’s name on the permission slip, lied about my plans for that evening, went skiing and broke my leg. On the way home, the school bus broke down at 2:00 am. They took me by ambulance to Homestead Hospital, on the other side of Pittsburgh and they called my parents.

My father came the following morning to collect me. I was in a cast up to my hip. For six weeks, he helped me undress, wrapped my leg in a bag, lifted me into the shower, lifted me back out and helped me dress, all before leaving for work at 5:45 am. He never once mentioned my deception.

Homestead Hospital
This gives you an idea of how far my dad had to drive.

Many years later, he confessed that he wanted to leave me in the hospital to rot. He was very angry, but he said that his anger dissipated the second he saw how pathetic I looked. He hoped that my having to receive his help would serve as a lesson. It did. In fact, I learned many lessons from watching his loving service to his family.

He’s been gone over 30 years, but he was right. Somewhere along the line, I became a man and I became a better man thanks to his example.

70 thoughts on “You’ll Be a Man Before Your Mother

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  1. Dan, that’s a beautiful post about your dad. I enjoyed reading about your rebellious antics, but more so about how caring and comforting your dad was in the face of your scrapes and breaks. Such a good man!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Dear Dan, I want to thank you for the You’ll be a man before your mother story. I also have very fond memories of my Dad saying that to me and I too didn’t really know what it meant until I was at least 30 or 40. I know it confused me thinking somehow my mother would some day be a man. I heard an older guy 70 or 80 say the phrase to someone in his 60’s (my age) in jest and it got me thinking about the origin which lead me to google where I found your post. My guess is that my father must have heard it growing up which is a little odd because his father was out of the picture very early in his life but he was the seventh out of eight and probably was passed around quite a bit. Thanks again it really hit home and when I read it the second time I cried but ended up with a big smile on my face. Take care, Dan Cornell (cornellz@aol.com)

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        1. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Dan. I hadn’t thought of this for a while, so your comment really made my day. I think expressions like this and the ever-popular “walk it off” and “the air will be good for it” were their ways of helping us move forward. I just reread this post, and I’m sitting here remembering my dad during lunch. Thanks for helping keep the memory alive.

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  2. Heartfelt post – smiles and wet eyes here. I lived in a city apartment, couldn’t ride a bike in the traffic, played a lot of ball in the series of city alleys, rode a bike on the dirt roads in the summer surrounding my grandparents small dairy farm and had bottles of Mercurochrome applied. But, no dad after age 5. So, enjoy these nice memories with a smile and have a wonderful Father’s Day with your family today. You really are a gifted writer, Dan. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Judy. I am sorry you lost your dad at such a young age. I was 30 when my dad died and there are so many things I wish he could have been a part of. I always imaging alleys in cities as being somewhat mysterious places. I guess my mind is conditioned by the movies. We had a few, but alleys in between rows of houses really don’t cut it.

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  3. Great post Dan. In some way while reading I started remembering my own dad. Although, my father was not really close to me, I was a complete Mama’s Boy, but we did sat together at times and he would share his experience which at that time was completely boring and useless to me, but his words stuck in my mind and I used it when I was battling alone with my life after he and my mother passed away. His best line that I remember till date is – All men die, but what men do, speak and think lives on forever.

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  4. Back in the late 50s and early 60s, there was no 911 to call. You could call the police, or an ambulance service, but mostly, you tossed your kid in the back of your car with a towel to keep the blood off the seat.

    And the conversation went something like this:

    Dad: Take the towel off and show me the cut.
    Me: Does it look bad?
    Dad: Sure does, but it will leave you with a scar to be proud of.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This is a charming tribute, Dan. It’s also well constructed, and you kept my interest throughout.
    My father’s usual consoling words were “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” It always worked — because i couldn’t understand why he’d say something so stupid. :D
    Whether you’re a parent, a pet parent, or the parent of this blog, happy Father’s Day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Amy. It gets a little easier over time, but sometimes, when things happen that I know he would love to be a part of, it’s like he passed away yesterday. Then again, he’s really still here with me.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. For reasons I am not able to explain, I honestly have Peace on this day. I little while ago, I fell apart in my garden, crumbling to the ground in sobs. Since that day, Peace has been with me. I cherish this Peace and pray it stays. My Dad would want me to have Peace, especially today. (((HUGS))) Amy <3

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  6. Oh, Dan….I laughed at the forging the signature and subsequent injury part. And then about cried at the end of this post. This is beautiful. What a wonderful man he was. Happy Father’s Day to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That wasn’t one of my brighter moments Lois. I was so scared, but he was the best. The broken leg actually ended up being a good experience. Thanks, as always for your support. Happy Father’s Day to your folks.

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  7. This is a lovely post, Dan. You really made me tear up on this one. My dad is all I’ve had for a long time, so I really appreciate the sentiment of this piece. God bless your dad for being such a good one. Good dad’s aren’t as easy to come by as people think.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a great article Dan! You brought me right back to my childhood. No ambulance when I was girl either…I’m only a couple of years younger than you. :) My parents either doctored us up themselves…usually it was Dad, or one of them or both drove us to the hospital with a towel, and a sibling on either side giving updates to the driving parent.

    If my Dad was doing the patching up he went into what I called Soldier Mode (he’s a retired Marine DI). He moved with quick deliberate action and became unusually quiet. Since I was the oldest if I wasn’t the one bleeding out, or injured I was enlisted to help. When he gave orders/directions like, “hold this and apply pressure like this.” We knew they needed to be followed no question asked.
    With 4 kids in our family there were a lot scrapes, cuts, and a few broken bones.

    My Dad always patched us up pretty good. I always thought he was amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am watching and playing with 5 of my 6 grandkids today. Trampoline and water pistols.
    I had to “Shoosh” them to read this fine and realistic portrait of your Dad. I like that he came through for you when ‘the going got tough,’ Dan.
    I have heard similar stories about thus red dusty stuff. I have a hard time picturing how this would trip up a bike but did think it makes a true story ‘real’ with such unique geographical details.
    Spea king of details, my Dad believed in an equally painful treatment to scrapes: Iodine. Yikes to mercurohrome and iodine!!
    I wish you had had him longer. Seems like a lot of years he has been gone now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thanks Robin. I actually preferred mercurochrome to Iodine although neither was much fun. When they first dumped the Red Dog on the lots, it was very loose and fairly deep. It was like riding through very loose gravel. sounds like you had a fun weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ah! That mercurochrome. Virtually every house had it and I don’t think there was a moment when some child was not in some way dabbed with it. Those red glitches were part of growing up. So enjoyed your post Dan. I recognise something of my Dad in yours.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. That mercurochrome must have had you gritting your teeth and feeling as in you fell into the Red Dog again. Nice tribute to your dad and great growing up memories here, Dan. I agree with your mom for taking the wheel – moms know when to run that red light :)

    A very Happy Father’s Day to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Audrey. In 2009, I took my daughter back to my home town and gave her the “grand tour.” She caught me thinking of what it would have been like if this had been built when I was a kid (probably broken bones instead of cuts).

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I read this yesterday and wanted to savor it before responding. I don’t know how to explain it but when I got to the end I felt like I’d been reading an engaging tale about YOU when really, the subtle telling was about the solidness of Dad’s support. It’s such a universal element of a Father’s role – they are rarely front and center because that’s where the children are. But Dad’s are a vital part of our infrastructure, and they hold us up long after their physical presence is gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s true Sammy. I think (hope) I know this from the other side of the equation. Nothing prepared me for being a father other than the fact that I loved my dad and that I had so many memories of when he did just what I needed. The right thing at the right time and without any concern for recognition. One of the reasons I wish he were still here is so I could thank him for the things I only realized he taught me after he died. Thanks for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. We had a good relationship and we had “those talks.” I got to hear him say that he was proud of me and I was able to tell him that I appreciated all he did for me. But, I was only 30 and probably still suffering a little from “I did it myself” syndrome. I wasn’t a parent yet and I had no idea how many times I would be thinking of his example in that role.

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          1. I had a graph one time (can’t find it) that shows the decades from infancy when we think our Dad is the whole world to the teen/20s when we think he’s clueless through our 3os/40s when we think ‘maybe’ he knew what he was talking about and we began to ask for adviceto to our 50s/60s when we’d give anything to still have him around. It made me aware of how lucky I am Dad has stuck around for me to love in both our older ages!

            I’m glad you at least had time and wisdom to share your mutual feelings before you lost him. It’s a void that lingers, I’m sure.

            Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m sorry for missing this great post for Father’s Day. Our falls and accidents when we were kids trigger good stories. But of course your dad is the hero of these stories. He was wise and right, too. It’s good to read that you learned so much from him. Our dads may be gone but their words and even more their attitude stay with us. Lovely post with as always the right dose of humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A wonderful post. I remember being taken to hospital a few times when playing rugby as a kid. At the time I thought nothing of it but now I’m a dad I realise the hell that must of been for my parents. Never once did I get asked to stop playing rugby.

    Liked by 1 person

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