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His Imbecile Son

My father was born on December 3rd, 1910, that will be 100 years ago tomorrow. He died in 1996.

On this occasion it would be easy for me to write paragraph after paragraph of negativity about father, but the truth is that this man influenced and shaped my life more than any other.

So instead here is a true incident that happened when I was sixteen years old. This could be the opening chapter of my biography if I ever choose to write it.


I was confused. How was a somewhat immature sixteen year old boy supposed to react? My mother had just told me that my father had been severely burned in a work related accident? And my first thought was, I hope the bastard dies.

I had just ridden my bicycle the five miles home from work the way I always did, as fast as possible; a heart pounding, lung bursting flat out sprint. I put my bike away in the in the garden shed, and walked indoors. I was sweating, pumped up with adrenaline, breathing heavily though not out of breath.

Once inside it was immediately clear something was wrong; my mother was still wearing her hat and coat, for one thing.

“David, your father’s been burned at the iron foundry.”

“How?” I asked.

“First thing this morning, he and another man opened the door to the blast furnace, there was an explosion, and all the hot coals came out and completely buried both of them. Other workers pulled them out right away, but they were both burned from head to toe.”

I stood there trying to evaluate the situation; could my father possibly die? The thought had never occurred to me before that moment; my father was this awful entity that was always there. I avoided him as much as I could, but I had to contact him at some point, and it was never good. Now I’m hearing that he has been severely burned. People die from that, don’t they? I was contemplating life without my father being there; I could hardly keep from cracking a smile, what confused me was my mother’s demeanor as she explained what had happened. She was frantic, beside herself with worry.

For the last seven years, since my father came home from the war, whenever I was alone with my mother she would unload on me all her frustrations concerning my father. She would go into detail about the physical abuse, along with the verbal and emotional abuse she endured. This had always fueled my hatred towards my father even more, and I always assumed she hated the man as much as I did, after all I suffered the same abuse, and I could relate what it was like. Now I saw a different side; the obvious concern, and for the first time the realization, My God, she really loves him.

“He’s at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital,” She told me.  “I’ve been there all day. Someone from the foundry came and told me this morning, and gave me a ride there. I just got off the bus not five minutes ago; if you hurry you can catch the same bus when it goes back into Luton.”

“But I don’t want to see him, what can I do?”

“David, you must go and see him, he’s your father, he’ll think you don’t care.”

I wanted to say, That’s right I don’t care, but didn’t. “But I was going to get at least forty miles in on my bike tonight.” I said in a somewhat whining tone.

“How can you think about riding your bike when your father is lying there in so much pain? Anyway, you have to go, he asked me to buy cigarettes, you have to take them to him.”

On the table was a paper bag with several packets of cigarettes inside.

“Alright, but I won’t catch the bus, I’ll ride my bike.  I’ll actually get there quicker than riding two different buses. But I need to eat first.”

“I’ll make you a sandwich.”  My mother said as I went to get out of my work clothes, wash, and change.
Whenever I rode my bike I carried a small canvas bag, called a “Musette.” In it I carried tools, spare batteries for my lights, and my wallet, sometimes food if I was going on a long ride; tonight it would also carry cigarettes.

Riding towards the hospital, not at my usual fast past, but rather slow; I was deep in thought. Not really wanting to do this, and not knowing what to expect when I got there. I left my bike by some railings near the front entrance to the hospital, and made my way up the steps and though the double glass doors. Inside at the reception desk I told them who I was, and asked where I would find my father. I was directed to a ward on the second floor.

I was wearing a regular pair of trousers, and several layers of assorted old shirts and sweaters, topped off with a heavy sweater that my mother had knitted in my cycling club colors. I was rather proud of this “Badge” of a cyclist, along with my white socks and cycling shoes. I wore spring steel trouser clips to keep the bottoms from fouling the bike chain. I left these in place, a further symbol, along with the rest of my “kit,” that I was a real cyclist and had a real racing bike outside; not just some bloke who had arrived on some old sit-up-and-beg roadster bike. The metal cleats on the bottom of my cycling shoes made a clip-clop sound on the stone floors as I walked along the corridor towards the ward.

Inside the long narrow hospital ward with beds on either side, I looked for my father. Suddenly, I heard his voice call my name. From that moment it became a surreal experience as I walked towards this unrecognizable figure, with my father’s recognizable voice coming from it. Dressed in a loose fitting hospital gown, a blackened and red raw lump of meat sat where a head should be. As I came closer I next recognized my father’s eyes. Every trace of hair was gone; from the head, eyebrows, even the eyelashes were missing. 

“Did you bring cigarettes?” I opened my musette bag and handed him the paper bag. He immediately opened a packet and lit one up. Now the vision before me was even more bizarre, as a white cigarette by stark contrast, stuck out from this blackened piece of meat that was now my father's face. His right forearm and hand had miraculously been spared from the fire, but the rest of his body was terribly burned.

One thing was certain, he was not going to die, and for whatever reason I was now okay with that. As much as I hated him, I had never wished him dead. It was only when the probability had presented itself; I had contemplated what it would be like if he were no longer there.

This was now an awkward situation however; he and I never sat and held a conversation; now I didn’t know how to react. He just chit-chatted about this and that, and one thing became clear to me. He must have been in terrible pain, but he would never show it. To do so, in his eyes, would be to show weakness and he would never do that; least of all to me.

A nurse came to the bed side to check on my father. “This is my imbecile son.” He said, waving his good arm towards me. It was the way he always introduced me to strangers. The young nurse smiled awkwardly in my direction



Reader Comments (18)

I had ambivalent feelings towards my Dad, dead these many years. He was a product of his time, and loved me "in his own way". I always anticipated a reconciliation, but he died at 49, which took me by surprise. I would give anything to have had one last conversation with him. I like to think, had he lived to a ripe old age things would have been different, but who knows? Sons carry the burdens given to them by their fathers. I can only hope I haven't burdened my son too much. It appears you have worked through your feelings for your father, good for you!
Keep the rubber side down, Dave!

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug P

I wonder if your father's "tough love" relationship with you did however give you the strength and determination to be the success that have been?

Back in the post war period people's ideas were different. They had survived the war, and how they came through it affected their whole attitude towards life.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJW

I tried to reconcile with my father in later years but he would not accept that he had done anything wrong. “He did it for my own good,” as he put it; the fact that I turned out alright in life, seemed to re-enforce (In his view.) that he was right. I had to wait until after he died to forgive him, and I still work on it on a daily basis.
Absolutely, if the “Tough Love” doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger. Eventually we have to stop blaming our parents for our problems, and take responsibility.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

JW, abuse and violence is not "tough love".

All the credit of this story has to go to Dave, who has broken the circle of abuse and laid it dead. I dare say most abusive men have not themselves turned abusive as a result of war; more likely it is the result of childhood trauma when being on the receiving end.

Good on ya, Dave. You are a stand-up guy.


December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJan

While I agree that abuse and violence in not tough love, and if anyone is practicing it today; it can no longer be excused. However, if it has already happened in the past, you can call it “Abuse” and feel sorry for yourself, or you can call it “Tough Love” and get over it.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton


December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBkk

Dave, I hope you write that autobiography one day. I look forward to it.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

I can only say that I'm glad my own father never lifted a hand to us and was always kind. Hope writing this was cathartic for you Dave.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterstephen_mc

My father's dreams of being a mathematics professor, or at least a public school teacher, were destroyed by an increasingly disabling medical condition that now is politely called seizure syndrome. The best he could do to eke out a livelihood for his family was work as farm laborer in a succession of short-time jobs. One was shoveling manure out of milking barns at Alpenrose Dairy in Portland, Oregon. On SW 45th Avenue, which ran between the dairy and the formerly abandoned farm house where we lived, he taught me to ride a bicycle. He was a harsh disciplinarian. Life was hard at our house. But I was free and my coaster brake Schwinn was my freedom machine. After World War II, when he worked in the shipyards, he faded out of the picture, but my favorite ride is a hard climb on Skyline Drive overlooking Portland, past the cemetery where he and my mother are buried.
Although I know that I have been a better father than he, I often wonder how many scars my children carry as a result of my fatherly shortcomings. One good thing I did was teach them all how to ride a bicycle--and I used exactly the same method that my father had used for me.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKeith Watkins

Thanks Dave...

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarge

Dave, You know I always loved you and I only did what I thought was best for you, Look at you NOW, happy and very content in your life, You have been a huge sucess in the busines world, A credit to your self and a shining example to everyone you have had contact with. As your Dad I had to make some tough choices and I know at times you did not agree with them, One day we will meet again and them you will see the proof MY love, DAD

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

I just turned 48 on sunday and because I ride all the time now, I still feel like I am 16.

This time of year October and November are tough, I had a father who was a smart successful man, but decided to sabotage himself with alcohol, He took his own life very violenty my sophomore year in college. I know I'm not alone here. just sayin'.

Last year I did a fully loaded 100 mile ride in a vicious tropical storm to see my Mom. It was Oct 13, the day he decided to cash in the chips. It was a brutal ride, rain going horizontal into my eyes, tree branches in the road, power lines down. But I made it. It was my "rebellion-tribute" in a way, I used to ride at night to escape his tirades. He never could have done this at age 47. He walked on crutches .

Good points from the previous posters about survivors of abuse, Yes he may have suffered it himself as a kid, and was "paying it forward" from low self esteem and as a survival tool. Anger comes out the side doors sometimes.

"Tough Love" is about negotiation, it's a contract between parent and child. "If you do that again, I will take away your Ipod AND cell phone for 3 weeks. Wanna Try me? (Throw in a "goddamit", sure let it out! )

That's NOT abuse, the parent is still asserting their right as guardian/authority and is making the discipline like a contractual or probationary agreement. The child is taught about the consequences of his actions, and an "action plan" is formed for correction.

(I think you wanted that 40 mile ride just to escape again, and process it in isolation, go on, admit it! How could you be so insensitive to say that? It was a survival mechanism , just like Eddy Murphy used humor to escape.

Abuse is when he puts a cigarrete- butt out on your hand and laughs at you, or calls you an "Imbecile".. That's not the mark of a sane individual. The only thing you can do is pray for him.

I think the way you have built a garden from the ashes is by building these amazing bikes that make people smile, and kids be kids again, instead of robots.

Ever notice how their eyes light up when they talk about riding?

This is Dave's medecine, and unlike a carbon fiber bike that shatters when it hits a pothole, Dave's stuff will probably be passed on to the owner's grandchldren, tell me that's not powerful healing magic for the masses, especially these days...

BTW, Turned out that bike I saw was not a Dave bike. A guy wrote. "Dave painted his frames much nicer than this!".. run with that one for a sec.

peace out,


December 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRobert Graves

Dave Like you, I had a Dad that was abusive in many ways,Thats one of the reasons that I left for the USA in 1957, Maybe thats the way it was ment to be, I have NO regrets, things have turned out for the better. I now have a 40 yr old son, I have let him to do what he thinks is best for HIS life, Tried to give him the right advice, but with the way my Dad treated me,I have Let Paul go his own way. Reflect on YOUR life Dave,Did the way that your Dad treated you REALLY affect your path in life? Could this have been the best thing for you? John Crump

December 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjohn crump

Oh for Chrissakes! I gotta tell ya, Moulton, for a "bicycle" blog you certainly pluck some funny notes. Nevertheless, I keep comin' back. You are, after all, an icon and all that. As for me my ownself, whatever 'Daddy" issues I had (minimal) were certainly washed away by my own descent into Parenting. I get phone calls two or three times a week from my twenty-something son in LA telling me what a great Dad I was and how much he thanks me for all the hard-ass crap I handed out. Scares the hell out of me.

Yer poor burned Dad sounds like a real hard case and you are lucky for the genes. Most guys would have died.

December 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Joe Comstock

Though I follow this site, like most, for the bicycle content I have to say I've enjoyed your writings. You really captured that series of moments, I don't know what I felt, but something stirred in me after the last line. Well written.

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStuart

Powerful and emotional stuff here.

Lucky for me, nothing like my childhood at all. My dad and I got along well.

I'm even closer to my 11 year old son. We spend a lot of time together, riding and racing bikes, and other activities as well. I hope he retains some great memories from this time together.

I also have a 7 year old daughter and hope that's the case as well. This post appears to be a father/son relationship story, so I focused on that,

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan O

The meaning of the word 'imbecile' the way your father used it cannot be found in any standard dictionary for it is his 'tough' expression of endearment for only his son,Dave, and no one else. He loved you!.

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRichard (N) C.

People often do the wrong thing for the right reason.
I didn't realise that til my father was dead and it was too late

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTony P.

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