On Father’s Day, I Celebrate the Miracle of Survival

My dad’s parenting style can best be described as “No Lifeguard on Duty.”

He was and is an inventor who holds several patents, including a timing mechanism for military-issued explosives and another patent for children’s toys. That pretty much gives you an idea of what I was dealing with growing up.

(And for the record, he is my absolute all-time hero, although I believe one of my therapists once referred to that as Stockholm Syndrome, which was
clearly wrong because I grew up in Texas, not Sweden.)

Now, I had one burning desire as a kid: I wanted a dog, just like my friend Heather’s. She had a Cocker Spaniel named Toby. His fur was the color of butterscotch and his ears were like cool velvet. He had expressive brown eyes and followed us everywhere, always wagging his tail.

I thought all dogs were like Toby. I begged my dad for years to get me a dog like Toby.

Then when I was seven and my brother Steve was nine, my dad gave us our very first ever dog.

The male dog had been found abandoned and starving. His breed was already notorious back then for being used in fighting rings. He wasn’t in the best of humors. Dad left us in the backyard with the dog and returned to his workroom. We were not permitted in the workroom.

I bounced toward my new Best Friend Ever and he bared his teeth, the fur standing up on his back.

My brother Steve was the first to realize I was in trouble. He held the door and yelled at me to slowly back up into the house.

We knocked on the door to my dad’s workroom. “Dad, the dog you gave us just tried to kill us!”

“Go tell your mother.”

The problem was, Mom was not currently in the mood to let us live.

You see, the day before, she had returned home after an afternoon of serious dental work. Her cheeks were swollen, packed with cotton and she was unsteady from the meds. Steve and I quickly discovered she was verbally helpless, so when a plumber arrived a short while later to replace a pipe, we carpe diemed. Hard. Steve got to the door first.

“Hi there, son. I’m looking for your mother, Mrs. Garrett?”

Steve stepped outside while I held the door, nodding with a mournful expression.

“No one told you?” Steve asked. “You cannot call her that. EVER. It sets her off really bad, sir.”

“Really bad,” I echoed.

“Uh…what should I call her?”

“Snuffy,” Steve replied with a somber expression. “She only answers to Snuffy.”

So all afternoon, the plumber yelled things like, “Hey, Snuffy, can you bring me a towel?” Or, “Snuffy, come in here, I think I found your problem!”

My mom would brace herself against a wall, garbling furious but unintelligible rants while Steve and I looked at the plumber in sad desperation. Our eyes downcast, we’d sigh heavily and nod, as if to say, “Yes, this really is our mother.”

So now Mom wasn’t going to save us from our new dog.

However, when the entertainment value of the plumber and my mom wore off, Steve and I snuck outside and found (found being a loose term for seeing nice things left unguarded) a stash of long thin metal tubes.

Our eyes met and we both knew…

We ran around back and slipped the tubes over our arms, then slowly approached the dog. His eyes glowed with hellfire as he bared his teeth. We approached cautiously. When his body went completely still, every muscle frozen, we braced for impact.

Sure enough, the dog lunged for us, attacking me first, those jaws of death clamping down like vices on my arm as he shook me side to side like a ragdoll. He crushed the tube from every angle but he just couldn’t get to the juicy filling inside.

I was screaming.

In delight.

“That was so awesome!” I yelled to Steve. “You try!”

So he did. And it became a thing. If we wanted to play with our dog, first we’d cobble together makeshift body armor. That dog mauled us for countless summer hours. Talk about family fun!

Soon I wondered what I had ever seen in Toby; what good is a family pet without that rush of adrenaline, or the delayed-onset muscle soreness from fighting a mighty battle the day before?

We loved that dog. He was and is, to this day, one of the best memories from childhood that I still carry.

However… I would NEVER let my kids get anywhere near an animal like that. I’m pretty sure in this modern age my dad would have been arrested. But things in the day were different. There was no lifeguard on duty. Anywhere.

In fact, I don’t think lifeguards had been invented yet. But danger? Well, that’s the universal language of childhood and we were fluent.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. It’s a miracle we all survived.

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