Of Pawns and Kings, Fathers and Sons

At the age of 13, I approached my father, showed him the latest batch of bruises and was promptly told that I had a place to stay.

Normality appeared to be resuming itself. The fear in me still existed even if my surroundings had changed. The separation of my parents twelve months ago had left me dangling. Confused. Frustrated.

A king piece in chess, with three pawns.
A king piece in chess, with three pawns. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new accommodation was a white residential house, one that had been temporarily used by the town’s sole operating funeral home. The old house had a redesigned interior with a reasonable entrance which had been added on later. The kitchen was another story. It was deteriorated, the bathroom in serious need of repair and the garage still held remnants of a large cooler. There was also a curious smell that was difficult to erase.

My unemployed, usually welfare dependent father had signed on to the extravagant idea presented to him by his new father-in-law, that  in exchange for almost zero rent,  my father could renovate the place.

My bedroom had once held mourners who would come to view the departed. The coffins had long since been removed although an old trolley remained. In retrospect, it is likely that the use of the room was a softer version told to me in order to put to rest any concerns I had about the living arrangement.

Not long after my move to live with my dad. My stepmother gave birth.

The months that followed continued on their merry way, until one evening my dad pulled me aside and gave me a bulky tape recorder. Puzzled by the gift, I enquired as to what it was for. He told me that I was to attend a pre-Christmas gathering. There my stepmother’s family would all be present. I was to accompany her to her parent’s house, most of them strangers, and record everything that might be said regarding my dad[1].

I knew from the deep tone of my father’s that pleading not to, wouldn’t remove the terror attached to the task assigned to me:

“I need you to do this for me son, there is no one else I can trust”

Although I objected I went along, all the while trying to work out on how to carry out my mission or better yet, avoid completing it.

Not far from my destination I had concluded:

“If I stay in the car and don’t go into the house, I wouldn’t have to carry out my father’s wishes”.

I had reasoned that I would passively defy my father’s maligned request. So I sat in the car for hours, ignoring pleas from my stepmother to join the pre-Christmas family gathering.

When the evening was about to close and night-time was well underway I had held the line. As I moved closer to the freedom of the hour when this could all be over, I was scared, but felt that the brilliance of my plan would end in a win, win. Feeling a sense of achievement in his resolve, I relaxed.

This was a tactical error because it loosened the tension of the status quo. Something I had successfully maintained for over four hours.

My plan fell to pieces. My step-mom and her brothers approached me. With matriarch in tow they cross examined me and my reasons for not coming inside.

Hours of passive resistance were futile. I confessed to the interrogators that I was sent to record every conversation. Showed them the recording device I had concealed under the seat and told them of my win-win plan, telling them that I had hoped to avoid using it by staying in the car.

Upon this revelation my interrogators withdrew. I was left alone.

Their response was calculated and swift. One of my stepmother’s brothers had convened the family, a decision had been made.

I was to be taken back to my father. I was to tell him that his wife and new-born daughter were leaving him and would not return.

Like a young pawn before kings, my course was chosen for me. Two unfair errands had now transformed into one dark herald. I was trapped. Reduced to nothing more than a expendable messenger boy.

I arrived, was dropped off, then farewelled.

Turning towards the door I saw no lights.

My new “home”, the old funeral parlour was bleak, dark and empty.

I walked in through the unlocked sliding door. The whole house was dark.

Once inside I saw nothing but darkness.

Navigating the furniture, I eased forward. Giving each step serious consideration I moved through the old funeral home looking and calling for my dad.

No answer.

There was nothing but silence and that inescapable curious old funeral home smell fused together with remnants of oils used to cover over it.

At every light switch the fear grew and so did the volume of my voice.

I uttered the words:



“where are you?”

The darkness was no friend. The surreal situation scared the thirteen year old. Trembling, I fought off images of finding my dad’s dead body, images only made more real by the weird mission my father had sent me on.

Leaving the bathroom to inspect last, I made a cautious approach to every light switch.

The house made no noises. I checked the bathroom last.

Finally, I approached the closed bathroom door and opened it. Through the darkness I saw…nothing.

I was terrified. The only thing allowing movement in my body was the adrenaline that pumped with every thumping beat of my heart.

Turning towards the area which was once a lounge room, I let out tears and began to scream:


“DAD, where are you? Stop hiding you’re scaring me”

Only then did my father appear in the doorway. He was hiding under a double bed.

“Where’s my wife, did you record anything?”

I explained that I didn’t record anything because I couldn’t. He didn’t go inside the entire evening.

I then sat down and with the very best a thirteen year old could muster, I told my dad that my stepmother and new born half-sister were leaving them; and that she would calling him soon to tell him why.

[1] Whether my father was invited to attend or whether he chose not to attend, is beyond this retelling and remains unknown to this day.

(This is a true recount of my own personal experience).

If you find yourself in the midst of despair hold fast to this:

‘…Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor.3:28)
‘Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand…I will make a way in the wilderness for you’ (Is.41:10 & 17-20)

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