I grew up afraid of my dad. He never hit me. I never saw him hit my siblings. I only heard the stories. Once he broke his own hand when he slammed it down on the desk by the kitchen. I saw him do it. He knew I was afraid of him and it bothered him when I pulled away.
When I was ten, my dad bought a pontoon boat. He left it sit by the neighbor's garage all winter. Come spring, he began scraping, priming, and painting the pontoons. He yanked out the rotten benches and scrubbed the deck. By the time he was done, the boat was bright and clean and didn't smell like dead fish. My mom and sisters wanted nothing to do with the boat. My brother liked the boat but complained that the motor wasn't powerful enough to pull a water skier. I loved the boat. My dad and I named her the Gracie Mae. Even before school was out, on warm evenings, Dad and I would take the short drive to Grand Rapids Marina on the Maumee River, where Gracie was docked. By the time we made it half-way up the river, the coals in the hibachi were white-hot. When we got near the sandbar, Dad dropped the anchor. I finished grilling our onion burgers and we ate. Sometimes he would throw in a line, and me, I was content to dangle my toes in the muddy river. There was nothing scary about my dad when it was just us on the Gracie Mae.