Fathers and Sons

F

Leland Potter is one of those guys who can’t stand a quiet bar. He’s getting on a bit, so maybe it has something to do with keeping ahead of the regrets. Or maybe beer makes him chatty. Either way, silence is a scab he just can’t leave alone.

“So, tell me perr-fessor,” he says, shifting over to the stool next to mine. “What’s the deal with this Hemingway guy?”

Big topic, Hemingway.

“Long afternoon.”

In the end, I guess you could say he was one of those guys who left his mark.

“Yeah, but I mean he’s just a writer, right? It’s not like he invented anything.”

Except maybe those hardboiled detective stories you like so much.

“Nah, you must be thinking of somebody else. I’m talking about the guy I saw on Biography. The one who ran with all those bulls over in Italy.”

Spain.

“That’s the guy! What’s so special about him?”

Well, it’s hard to say, really. I suppose the people who should know figure he was pretty good at what he did.

“They sure called him a lot of names, though.”

Like what?

“Misogynistic, for one. That means he hated women.”

He did have a few wives, but…

“And they called him an alcoholic.”

Not if you go by Wisconsin standards.

“And they said he was beastly to his friends.”

By all accounts, it’s true.

“So, what gives, is what I want to know. Why’s he worth an hour when I’ve never yet seen a Biography about Roland Martin or any of the other TV fishermen?”

Well, he did win the Nobel Prize.

“So? Roland won Angler-of-the-Year nine times.”

Point taken.

“I’m just trying to understand, is all.”

Well, it’s like this. You know us writer-types. Most of us tend to be a little on the bookish side.

“That’s putting it mildly.”

But we’re thieves, really. We sit around bars listening to people talk, then we dash up to our drafty little rooms and copy down what we heard, claiming it as our own. That’s just the way we are, you see. We’re parrots. Some of us are better at it than others, and some of us are so good people actually pay us to keep sitting in bars just so we can dash up and copy down new things for them to buy.

“What a scam.”

Yes. It’s positively scandalous.

“And this Hemingway?”

He wasn’t like the rest of us. He went out and actually did the things he wrote about, or at least a close approximation of them. And the way he wrote – his style – was so simple it wasn’t like art at all. It’s still not, even though we know better.

“So he dummied-down.”

Dummied-up is more like it. And he never forgot the key aspect of masculinity.

“The ability to take a punch?”

Vulnerability.

“Get out.”

The Hemingway code, they call it. A real man doesn’t complain. A real man suffers in silence.

“Like I said, he knows how to take a punch.”

It’s more than taking a punch. It’s taking a punch well. It’s fearing the punch and fearing you’ll be punched again and that maybe next time you won’t be able to take it. Hemingway took all that and made it into something admirable and tragic.

“But then he went and killed himself.”

It disappointed a lot of people.

Leland is quiet for awhile, staring into the amber depths of his Leinie. When he’s through, he drains what remains in three big swallows and places the glass very tenderly upon the bar.

“When you put it like that, he kind of reminds me of my old man. Hard as nails, he was. Tough as old boots. But kind of wounded, too, you know? Like life had kind of hollowed him out.”

It’s one of the reasons they call him Papa.

About the author

Eric Johnson

Not to be confused with all the other Eric Johnsons out there, I'm the one who writes. I'm a journalist, editor and fiction writer with nearly 30 years of experience under my belt, and I can help you achieve your communications goals. Just let me know how I can help.

By Eric Johnson

Dispatches from a Burly Flow

Eric Johnson

Not to be confused with all the other Eric Johnsons out there, I'm the one who writes. I'm a journalist, editor and fiction writer with nearly 30 years of experience under my belt, and I can help you achieve your communications goals. Just let me know how I can help.

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