Mothers & Fathers: Big Talk

Words by Alan Vaarwerk

Published on December 18, 2013

My dad could beat your dad in a fight. He’s super strong and can lift heavy things. One time he saved me from drowning, and I’ve even seen him punch a hole in a wall. How about that, hey? I bet your dad’s not stronger than a wall. My dad would punch your dad like he was a wall, and your dad would try to run away but my dad would catch him because my dad can run faster than anyone, and then he would punch him again.

My dad would go around to your house just before dinner, still wearing his work shirt (my dad works for Nintendo and brings me all the games I want) and stand on your front verandah rocking back and forth on his heels. You or maybe your mum would answer the door, and at first your mum or maybe you would smile and say Oh Gidday Andrew, because our dads play tennis together sometimes, but my dad would say something like Where Is He, Where Is The Bastard and half-attempt to push his way inside, but then stop himself because even in his rage my dad’s not the sort of person to just go into someone’s house.

Your dad would come onto the verandah and say Hey Andy, How’s It Going? like they were good mates, but while he spoke he would kind of chuckle in a way that worried you. My dad would say something like Have You Even Told Them? Have You Told Your Boy? and your dad would give you a weird smile and say Go Back Inside Mate, I’ll Just Be A Minute, still giggling although there would be sweat forming on his forehead. You would go into your living room and press your face against the front window to hear them, but they’d be talking in low voices and you wouldn’t be able to tell whose voice was whose, until one of them would make a strangled sort of noise and you’d hear a wet thud, which would be the sound of my dad punching your dad like he was a wall. Then the verandah would shudder as your dad tried to run away, but like I said, my dad can run faster than anyone.

They would make it to your driveway, handfuls of shirt collar, grappling with each other like I’ve seen bears or kangaroos do. Your dad would land one on my dad’s nose, or maybe one of his eyes. My dad would go for the ribs and the jaw, and while he punched he would yell things that were almost words but not quite. The lights in your neighbours’ houses would switch on then hastily off again.

Your mum would run out and grab at their thrashing arms, yelling at the two of them to stop it. Maybe she’d get out her phone and call my mum and tell her to Come And Collect Your Husband. My mum and I would get in the car and drive around to your house and see the two of them standing there, hands on their knees and chests heaving, not quite sure what to do next.

As we pulled up your mum would rush over to the car and start shouting at us, but my mum would ignore her and call out, Andrew. We’re Going Home, Andrew. (My mum could beat up your mum too. She’d run her down with her car. I’ve heard her say so.) I would see you on your verandah and wave but you wouldn’t wave back.

In the car my mum and my dad would sit in silence. I would ask Mum if she could turn up the radio but she would switch it off instead. She would let out one of the loaded sighs that she does that make my chest tighten and in the dark back seat I would clench and unclench my fists. I would look into people’s homes as we drove past, trying to see what they were watching on television.

When we got home my mum would pull a bag of peas-corn-and-carrot mix from the freezer and drop it on the table. He’d lift the bag to his face, my dad who once saved me from drowning, and wince as the ice made contact with the grime and blood. I would sit down with him at the table, and I would say You Didn’t Have To Do That, Dad, and he’d narrow his good eye and stare at me for a long time, and then shake his head a little bit. That’s what he’d do.


Alan Vaarwerk is a writer and editor living in Melbourne. He can be found at alanvaarwerk.com or on twitter at @alanvaarwerk.