My father was thirty when I watched him through the crack in our barn door talking to my grandfather. I was nine, and had recently taken up snooping as a casual hobby. I’d been caught a couple of times, nothing particularly awful, mostly listening in on my parents arguing about money late at night or overhearing my sister’s conversations on the cellphones. Nothing terrible enough to warrant more than a slap on the wrist from my parents, and nothing I learned was awful enough to make me regret it.
Catching my dad and grandfather happened by accident. My grandfather had called us all over to the house that night, planning some big announcement. It turned out he was retiring, unexpectedly as far as the family was concerned, and would be naming a successor for his company in the next few weeks. My father had sat next to me during dinner, and I had asked him if he thought that grandpa would pass the company along to him.
“No I don’t think so,” he said “I wouldn’t really want it to be honest with you. I’m not sure I could deal with all the logistics and all the time spent in an office would drive me insane”
My dad was a carpenter who loved being outside. Even during winter, he would find an excuse to spend the day outside working on some project, regardless of the cold weather and snow coverings. I always admired that and would often follow him around to work sites, watching and trying to soak up as much as I could.
“It’ll probably go to Uncle Ned” my mother whispered and that made sense to me. Uncle Ned had gone to school for business and now worked as an entrepreneur in Downtown Boston. He had always seemed to be the one destined for the company my grandfather was leaving behind, even with Dad being the older of the two brothers.
This made the rendezvous between my father and grandfather all the more intriguing to me that night. I didn’t know then what my grandfather did and I still don’t exactly understand what my father does now, but I know it was important enough for Grandpa to corner dad and make him take the job.
“You must.” said grandpa fervently as he stared my father down. My dad said nothing, and looked at his feet, unable to return the gaze. After a while, He finally broke down and answered him
“I don’t understand though,” My dad said “It was always supposed to be him. You even said as much. I don’t know why he went to school for so long and worked hard at it only to have the rug pulled”
“That doesn’t matter” Grandpa replied
“Plus I don’t even want it.” He said
“It doesn’t work like that”
“What do you mean”
“I mean I thought it would choose your brother. I always thought you were destined to avoid it, to somehow get outside of its sphere but that’s not what happened. The Coin choose you, and now you have to take it or terrible things will come to all of us”
“It’s not fair,” Dad said “I don’t even believe in this. Whatever Gramps told you about it, that can’t be real”
“I thought the same as you, and thank God I had until thirty to make that mistake. Otherwise, I’d have neither of you boys, and I’d be left a penniless widower, leaving the Coin to some unsuspecting man unaware of its importance or power”
“It’s just a penny,” Dad said, pleading to be set free of whatever terrible task grandpa was setting out for him.
“I can’t son,” grandpa said, voice breaking as he strained to get the words “There isn’t enough time for me to wait for the Coin to decide otherwise. I tried to make it change its mind, but it didn’t listen. It just came for you every time”
“What about Ned?” dad asked
“He’ll understand,” Grandpa said “Give him time he will come around to seeing it your way. Plus I’ve made it official already, the will is sealed and unchanging. You’ll take care of him won’t you?”
Grandpa started crying then, and as my father went to comfort him, I ran away, unable to watch the broken man who had infested the body of my beloved grandfather.
Uncle Ned did not understand. My father told me that a week later, Grandpa called both of them to his house for a private visit. There he told them both who would take over, and who would be responsible for his estate. My father, trying to rid himself of the duty, again pleaded with grandpa to free him from these constraints, all the while trying to appease Ned and explain that he didn’t want the job. Ned didn’t believe my father and stormed off in anger leaving both of them alone to wonder why.
Grandpa died a week later and Ned didn’t show up to the funeral, but both my aunt and my cousins came. Aunt Kelly told me that Ned got called away urgently at the last moment for his business and that he would be coming by the next day to pay his respects. I believed her at the time, but after the will was read their whole family packed up and left, this time claiming that whatever happened to the business had been bad enough that they all needed to come back. I asked dad about it, but he just shrugged it off.
Over the next year, two main things happened. 1st, My dad lost whatever love for the outside he used to have and started at Grandpa’s company working harder than ever before. I wasn’t allowed to come with him to work anymore because now he had meetings and was in charge of people. No longer could the two of us chat while my father cut boards and replaced flooring.
He became surlier than ever and would come home late after working and be angry with all of us at home, seemingly for no reason. He and mom stopped fighting about money, but now fought more than ever, often about his long hours and the way the three of us at home felt without him. Our family’s previous lower-middle-class lifestyle morphed into a lavish one of constant tension. Dad was making enough money for mom to not work anymore, and she stayed home to take care of us through the middle of our years.
At first, this shift was nice, balancing out my father's lack of presence with my mothers felt good and she was very supportive of my sister and me. As the year went on though, my mom grew disinterested in us and seemed to be longing for something more that she didn’t have. Whatever our family wasn’t giving her, I’m still not sure, but she started drinking and drinking heavily. Her presence shifted away slowly, then completely until there were times when neither of us noticed the other in the same room.
The other thing that happened was Uncle Ned sued my father in an attempt to contest my grandfather’s will and final wishes. I asked my dad about it and received some of the only defenseless words I got that year.
“I don’t think there is much I can do about it.” He said
“Why doesn’t Uncle Ned stop?” I asked
“I don’t think he can. I think he’s had his eye on the business for so long that it’s all he can think about now”
“What about Aunt Kelly?”
“I’m not even sure she has his ear anymore. If only he could understand how little I even want the job. It’s not like I enjoy coming home to the three of you, completely useless and angry. Plus what it’s doing to your mother-”
He stopped short, suddenly seeming to realize that he was talking to a ten-year-old and perhaps broaching on subjects too dark for my age. I looked down at my feet, pretending not to notice him cutting his sentence short, and tried to pry further.
“Why did you take the job?” I said
“I don’t know, ‘' he said, closing himself off “But that’s enough now. Run along and get your sister. Dinner should be ready soon”
Uncle Ned persisted, and the more he tried to take the company back, the more things went bad for him.
That first year, nothing truly awful happened but Uncle Ned’s business suffered tremendously. Dad said it was because all his capital was tied up in trying to undermine the will Grandpa made and because of that and Ned spending all his time trying to fight it, the business started to lose clients. Once the first couple left and Uncle Ned didn’t do anything to try and get them back or sign new ones, the rest jumped off the ship as fast as could be. By the end of the year, Ned sold what was left of the company and went to work for some smaller firm. He had to start splitting his time between the lawsuits and work now and his family sold their house and moved into a smaller suburb. He didn’t give up though, and just a few days before the new year things turned from bad to awful.
Despite the animosity brewing between my family and Uncle Ned’s, mom still sent an invite over to their family for the holidays. She said she hoped it would put an end to all of the nonsense and we could all come together. My Dad grumbled that it wouldn’t work but she ignored him and did it anyway. I think we were all surprised when just a short while later a response came from them, saying that while Ned wouldn’t be coming, both Kelly and her kids would be, provided the party wasn’t on Christmas day exactly.
The party was held a few days after Christmas, and Aunt Kelly and her children came. They looked haggard and beaten down when they arrived and spent most of the party huddled together avoiding conversation. Eventually, the kids did break free from their mother and played with my sister and me as if nothing had happened at all between our families. Later I saw Aunt Kelly and my Mom talking and they both seemed happier than they had since before Grandpa died.
They all left that night and stayed in a hotel in town. Mom tried to offer them spare bedrooms in our place but they refused. Aunt Kelly said the next morning they would have to leave very early to get back home in time. The next day, driving early and in the rain, Aunt Kelly slid on the road, over-corrected, and rolled their small sedan over a guardrail and down into a river bank. She was killed instantly and her daughter and eldest son died in the hospital from their injuries. The youngest son was declared dead for several minutes and he woke up with severe brain damage. Uncle Ned was left nearly alone, with the only surviving member of his direct family unable to recognize his own father.
When I was fifteen, my dad started coming home more and taking time away from the business. It had been several years since the accident and after it happened Uncle Ned gave up on trying to take the company. He had dedicated himself instead to taking care of his remaining child but still had refused to return to contact with my dad, despite my mother reaching out several times to offer any help we could give.
By the time my dad started to be around more, it was too late for my mom. I’m not sure what the final nail was, it could have been Aunt Kelly dying, but eventually she gave up entirely and no longer tried to hide the shape she was in. There were many times after he started coming home I thought about asking about her and what we should do, but I never got the courage to do so
One night, unexpectedly as the two of us were watching TV in the living room he started talking
“Do you know why I took the job son”
I paused before answering, unsure how to proceed. A couple of times early on I tried asking him that question, but he never answered and always found a way to dodge it.
“No.” I said, trying not to lead him in one direction or the other
“I had to.” He said
“Your grandpa made me. All about this stupid coin we’ve always had.”
“Is it a rare coin?”
“One of a kind, I think”
“It must be worth a ton”
“It would be”
“Then why don’t you sell it,” I said “Then you can come home and do what you want to do. We can work together and help mom and we can be done with the stupid business. We can give it to Uncle Ned!” I started talking and by the end of my sentence, without noticing, I was shouting. My father's tone and expression never changed.
“It doesn’t work like that.” he said
“What doesn’t?” I asked, still with my voice raised
“The Coin doesn’t work like that” He answered, then sat back in his seat and locked his eyes on the television. I looked up at him as he said nothing, then eventually I gave up and turned back to the TV as well. We sat for a while in silence, before eventually he rose and went to leave the room.
“You’ll understand when you’re older,” He said, speaking with his back turned to me “That coin has been in our family for generations, and eventually it’ll be yours whether you want it or not. It’s followed the men in our family and it will continue to follow the men in our family until there is no more in our family”
Time went by, but I never forgot that conversation with my father. I went to college and while I was there, my mother finally went to rehab. My dad continued to be home more, and with his support, she was able to get sober, which she remains to this day.
I went to school for social work, focusing on addiction counseling. I met a girl in my 3rd year and we married after just weeks of knowing each other. She is the light of my life and I can’t believe how lucky I got.
My sister chose not to go to college, a choice the rest of us did not agree with and one I think she regrets. She married someone she knew from high school, then had two boys with him before getting. She lives well enough now, working as a bank teller and looking after her kids.
My wife and I had two kids as well, both girls, which was objectively terrifying to me. I never had issues getting along with women, but I was my father's son and thought I was destined for boys. However, it did give me a glimmer of hope that the Coins power would end with me
My father called us all over for his 60th birthday party and we happily came. My father and I worked together on the party for a week before. He took the time to tell me about the business and who did what job and when. I was working as a rehab counselor then, but I had the feeling he was pumping me up, preparing me for a career in the business. I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but after seeing Uncle Ned’s life, I figured I had no other choice.
With rain pouring and a sense of Deja Vu filling me, we ate at my father's place. The night was amazing, and after a long heavy meal, my father shocked most of the room with his relatively early retirement announcement. We clapped and applauded, and I cornered him and told him that now he would have the chance to get back outside more.
“We both know it won’t be like that son,” He said “Just remember, this is a good thing, it’s what the Coin chose.”
“I don’t think it always works the same,” I said “I bet you’ll get plenty of time, more than Grandpa”
“Whatever you say son.” He said, and smiled at me.
I helped clear the dishes and hung around a while, expecting my father to find me just as Grandpa had him. Out through the window looking out to the barn, I saw my father grab my sister’s hand before she got into her car, then pull her over to the barn and slide the door shut.