Dad Was Watching
|by PJ Franklin|
Copyright on this story text belongs at all times to the original author only, whether stated explicitly in the text or not. The original date of posting to the MMSA was: 23 Feb 2018
Author’s personal note: I like many are moved and angry about the recent school shootings these past days in Parkland, Florida this latter month of February, 2018. My feelings on the technical aspects of the whys, wherefores and possible solutions about the incident notwithstanding; my real purpose to write this short story is simply to emotionally unwind myself some using a media that is close to my heart. I do not write this story to exploit, honor anyone or anything only just to express my fears and frustration on many levels in a way that I can understand for myself. Please do enjoy the presentation.
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My father Joseph Wilson Havelock is not prone to worship in a church nor does he believe in ghosts, spirits, things that go bump in the night, apparitions, epiphanies, hairs that stand up on your forearms or neck nor the boogie man, divine entities, demons, devils, spiritualists, Tarot card readers nor those who say that they speak to dead spirits.
You won’t find my father wondering about existence too much. He is not sure about evolution, but is pretty certain that Biblical references to divine creation are a crock of shit. He loves science but realizes its weaknesses.
My dad loves to speculate about UFOs and the origin of existence but avoids getting too serious about each. In short, my father is pragmatic and pretty much just believes what he can see, touch and otherwise handle with his two strong hands and know that it is real.
When it comes to his son, me, Warren Wilson Havelock, age fifteen, my dad gives me the latitude to
believe what I wish to concerning matters of faith and even of science. He does not argue with me about
things that should be left alone to any reasonable person’s own opinion if possible. That kind of latitude
does not extend to acts of disobedience or outright outrageous behaviors on my part and especially when
he has said,
Don’t do it, and I go ahead and do it as I am prone to do.
When I do that which my father has expressly and sometimes peripherally strongly hinted that I had
better not do
or else, suddenly dad’s pragmatism and strong hands go into action pointing me to
my room to prepare for what otherwise is a very good, hard old-fashioned bare bottom spanking over the
end of my bed.
Being of the old school like that has nothing to do with belief other than my dad believes that by doing what he does with his son’s bare bottom at the time will hopefully teach me to stop being an idiot or jerk or just plain willful. Most times it works. A red, sore bottom will and should do that you know.
What happened that day still bothers me a lot. I could have died. I almost did. My father saved me
from my own poor judgement. When my dad says,
Don’t do it, he means it. My current conscious existence
is still alive and kicking when it should not is entirely his doing.
The last school shooting in America was over two years before at a high school over two thousand miles from our home. We live in a quiet place with lots of same-minded folk. Nothing ever happens in my community.
My high school is like any other. Nothing special. No drama. No nothing. Just school. We watched the media coverage of that awful incident, my dad and I, like others with detachment. That could not happen where we live.
Lots of unpleasant things can happen where we live. Take for instance my mom leaving my dad for another man over two years before that shooting. That was unpleasant, but I still see mom. It’s all good. Even I can see that my parents are happier separated and friends than in a relationship so that is really no issue for me.
Dad works a short distance from my school so he drives me to school most every day. It gives us some
time in his truck cab distant from the distractions of living at home to talk sans those distractions.
Then he drives up to the curb and empties me out of the truck after a peck on my temple,
Be good. Get
good grades, is all he says, and then takes off for work and I for my first class of the period, Mr.
Ferguson’s social studies class.
On that day, we got into the truck after breakfast for him to drive me to school and then him to
work. Something felt amiss even to me but I had no idea what it was and dismissed it. Dad blinked as he
started up the truck and looked at me,
You feeling OK Warren? My tummy is rumbling. Maybe it was those
damn left over enchiladas from El Gaucho (A Mexican restaurant that had recently been kind of losing its
touch for a few months).
I don’t know, I said and dismissed that as well. Dad pulled out of the driveway
and drove the relatively short distance to the high school, about a twenty minute walk otherwise. I watched
him as he watched the road. His forehead was uncharacteristically furrowed,
You OK? You feeling sick
dad? I asked.
I don’t know. Maybe, he said and kept driving and in short order turned the corner with the
school curb drop-off point maybe 25 yards distant. Suddenly he pulled over to the curb far from the drop-off
Dad? I looked at him.
He sat there and looked all around us,
You sick? I asked again,
No. Shush. Something is
wrong, he said,
What? I asked of course,
I said, shush, he said and that was his last
warning. I knew to keep my yap shut or would hear about it later and might even feel flames on my ass
as well if I persisted so I did not.
The truck was still running. He looked ahead of us. His eyes narrowed.
Who is that? he said.
I looked ahead and saw the faint outline of a figure. Non-descript. For all I knew it was a student,
dad, I said. He looked again and then at me. His head tilted. He chewed on his lower lip, put the
truck in gear and proceeded to turn the truck headed back for home,
Dad, what are you doing? Why aren’t you dropping me off at school? I have Mr. Ferguson in ten
minutes! I have a paper due! and I did,
You’re not going to school today, he said with a determined
I’m not? Why not? I asked,
Because you are ill. That is what I am going to call into the school. You can give your paper
to Ferguson tomorrow, he said,
Dad! I’m not ill. Those enchiladas may have not been the best, but
I’m OK. I promise, I pled.
No. You are staying home today, he said. I just looked at my dad. Maybe he didn’t believe
in poltergeists or possession, but now I wondered about him in that manner. In any case I was floored
and not happy. Dad drove us home and dropped me off,
In the house. You stay there. I’ll call you later. I’m not fooling Warren, he said at the
last. I took him at his word and watched him leave feeling like I was in a bad movie. I went inside feeling
confused and upset. My paper was due today! I hated it when I missed school. Why was dad going to lie
about me having illness?
I stewed on this for the next thirty minutes. By now I was marked absent by Mr. Ferguson. I looked
at the wall clock. If I ran to school with my paper I could claim that it was a
miracle and I was
now OK and here’s my paper, Mr. Ferguson.
Actually, I could do that and then go home. I know, stupid. I should take advantage of my dad’s plan as bizarre as it was. I should. I didn’t though. I can be stubborn like my dad and so I ventured forth on a fast walk back to school. I turned a twenty minute walk into fifteen. Good, right?
As I approached the air around me felt, thick. I have no idea what that means. It just felt odd.
I had just rounded the corner towards the edge of school property when the first explosion occurred,
SHIT! I screamed, ducked into the bushes at the corner and watched the mass of smoke hurl up into
the air above what seemed to be maybe the school cafeteria area if my vision was not deceiving me because
my heart rate was off the charts.
Then came the clatter of gun fire. I knew gun fire. See dad owns guns. I have one too. Not those ridiculous semi-automatic things that can kill dozens in seconds. Just single shot weapons for hunting and target practice. I hit the cement. I heard screaming and more gun fire. Then again. I panicked. I should not have walked to school.
How did dad know to keep me home? Or did he? I felt confused, afraid and just plain shitting my pants. There was a shooter at my school! MY FUCKING SCHOOL IS UNDER SEIGE!
Finally when I heard the sirens and saw adults and children running from the building I got the hell out of there and didn’t stop until I had to from finally running out of breath about a hundred yards from my home. I don’t know how he knew to come home as soon as he did but there was my father looking like now he was seeing ghosts, in this case me!
Daddy! I shouted as I ran towards him,
There’s gun fire at the school! I said now starting
to cry and he ran to me and embraced me,
I know. I heard the calls over the police channel, he
said because he loves to listen to law enforcement chatter at slow times at the office on that little
portable radio thing of his,
Get inside! he said and we did and then turned on the television.
Within minutes came the reports. Already the media knew that no fewer than 57 adults and children were dead, much of them from a couple of hand grenades that the shooter had lobed into a crowd of kids. The shooter was confronted in the gym by the P.E. teacher who apparently bull-rushed the guy who fired and before the teacher was felled and died later managed to tackle him and turned the hand gun he was holding on the man and killed him as well.
In the space of an hour life in our small community changed forever. Dad finally turned to me,
I told you to stay home. What did you do? he asked and by golly I told him of my screwy plan to rush
my paper to Mr. Ferguson’s class.
It was then that the phone calls started from fellow parents who had kids at the school, some of which had already died. That was when through them we, I, found out that the entirety of Mr. Ferguson’s class was the shooter’s first location. Nobody who was in that room including Mr. Ferguson survived.
I stood, turned and vomited all over the floor and dad rushed to my side. It was then that I knew
that I should be dead. I should not be alive. I almost was. When I recovered I looked at my father,
did you know? I asked him still tasting that awful bile in my mouth.
He looked at me helplessly,
I don’t know son. I don’t. I just knew, and then I lost it and
started to cry and he hugged me. Naturally chaos started to reign in the community from then on. That
figure that dad had seen? Turned out to be a new janitor hire that was doing something and had nothing
to do with the shooter. Dad stayed home with me from work the next day and then the next.
Mom called to make sure that we were safe and we reassured her. I finally confronted having to know that many friends had perished. There would be massive memorial services and much grieving to do on that level. I felt empty inside, maybe a little survivor’s guilt. But there was more for me than just that.
I felt like a bad son. I had disobeyed my father’s express order TO STAY HOME! He almost lost me. I am not a vain person, but I would not wish to be my father and my son dies from a damn school shooting because I could not obey him that one time and STAY THE FUCK HOME!
Dad went to work the next day. I stayed home and watched the T.V. reports and fielded calls from
my friends who had survived. I turned away a reporter from the front door who was seeking comment from
students from the besieged school. I wanted to shout at him,
I’m alive because my dad knew, but
knew that would be a big ass mistake and implicate my own dad because of the reporter’s need to be nosy.
I shut the door in his face.
That night dad and I huddled around the T.V again. I was tired of it by now. I knew that I would have to confront the deaths and all. Maybe some memorial services or funerals, but just then I had other business to attend.
Dad, we need to talk, I said,
I know, he said and I looked at him,
I said and what he said shocked me,
You are not going back to school. That school or any other until
I can find a school that cannot be assaulted from without, he said,
I will home school you if I
I blinked. Actually I had talked to survivors in the past few days whose parents said the same thing.
I don’t think I can step foot on that property again anyway, I sighed and he nodded and
looked at me,
And now it’s your turn, he said.
I dropped my chin and then raised it,
I disobeyed you by going back that day. I could have died.
I would have died in fact, because that was the truth. I would have been in Mr. Ferguson’s class when
the shooter razed the room in a sheet of bullets killing all within.
Yes, he said. We had not yet talked about this. About my willful disobedience and just plain
good ass luck in timing. All it would have taken was a cheap two or three minutes delay for that shooter
to have started his assault and I would have been in a coffin by sundown.
I feel ... my voice broke. He came over to me and we hugged briefly,
Dad. You have to ...
have to punish me. Spank me hard. Make me pay. You don’t deserve ... I halted and then continued,
To have me disobey you and then die. That’s not fair. I was not fair. I deserve ... to be punished!
I finished my speech tears rolling down.
I ... I admit being furious with you Warren. You are alive yes, but as you said, the
margin was terrifyingly thin and worse, random. Obeying me would have never put you at risk. You willfully
disobeyed me, he said head down, feet shuffling.
I looked at my dad. He deserved so much better and if I could not wind the clock back to that day
and get a do-over I could instead do the right thing,
I’m going to my room. I’ll get ready. You get
the belt, daddy. Please, I begged with my voice and then took off on my mission to make things right
in the way that we both could understand.
My father never spanks in anger. If he is pissed he waits. But this was different. Dad had several days to know that I had disobeyed. That I had through willful disobedience nearly deprived him of his son in a way that is too terrible to contemplate.
If he was now angry with me still then he should use that anger and wear my ass out. Dad came into the room and I was already bare ass over the end of the bed. I sensed his normal resolve to punish his son as usual but with that was a feeling of intensity that I was sure was not going to translate into anything else other than fire and brimstone on my bare butt and so it was.
Dad brought down the belt and it hurt, hurt bad. Dad licked my ass and I had to fight to keep from moving away and fight from cursing it hurt so badly but I wanted it. I let the tears roll and sobs blurt out. Dad tanned my butt ten ways to Sunday until he could no longer and then he grabbed my arm and I only had a glance at his tear-stained face before he wrapped me up into a hard bear hug and we cried into each other’s shoulders for a short while.
That did the trick as far as my dad and I was concerned. He later thanked me for volunteering the punishment because he knew that he would never have confronted me over it. I thanked my dad for the punishment and for caring and for whatever reason listening to whatever it was that day that made him turn that truck around and take me back home.
You see, dad was watching ... out for me. Caring for me when nobody else was or could. I have my life intact because my father knows best, as cliché as that is. No other adult or law enforcement or the pols did that. Dad was.
The ending to this tragic tale thankfully is lighthearted. I shall not go into the details of the aftermath of my school shooting incident only that I grew tired of the memorials and funeral services and not because I don’t care. You see about six months later there was yet another school shooting and then another.
After a while you just shrug and say a kind of WTF because it all seemed for naught as nothing changed. My dad did a shrug too, but way ahead of the next incident. See, my old man always wanted me to live a normal life in a normal public school. We had money enough and so when that plan seemed unwise then dad spent it on me. He ended up sending me to a boarding school far from home.
He had interviewed many and figured that students in expensive private boarding schools don’t die from shooters because those schools can afford the kind of outrageously expensive security that no shooter can get past. I didn’t mind, but as usual dad was two steps ahead of me.
So! No more spankings for me, huh dad? I unwittingly gloated during my interview and in the
presence with the Headmaster as well as their Head boy, Gregory Taylor, at my eventual school, Davidson
Boy’s Academy. Very, very expensive.
Not from me, son. Mr. Taylor may have something to say on the matter however, and I looked
at the guy who sat forward,
Corporal punishment is a mainstay of discipline at this school ... Mr.
Havelock, he fixed me with the kind of icy stare that only a peer could give another fellow, in this
case, future sufferer.
I looked at my dad,
No fair, I said and then had to smile,
Yes, fair, he said and I
just sighed. Even from a thousand miles away, my dad was watching through the eyes of others, but
perhaps that is a story for another time.
Dad Was Watching, © Copyright PJ Franklin, February 22, 2018.