House of Pain

March Men's Room column

My parents’ house doesn’t look like a killer. The manicured lawn. The Japanese maple. The big, welcoming front porch. Despite appearances, however, it’s clear the house has been hellbent on doing my father serious bodily injury.

To be fair, it appears he has been to some degree complicit. Not due to any morbid desire for self-harm, but as a consequence of a hazardous mix of an unearned bravado, an inflated sense of his own dexterity, and a fierce streak of independence. Fortunately for my father, he’s also lucky. Lucky enough, at least, to avoid a mortal wound. So far.

My father’s first fall took place in the garage. He was in a rush as he slipped into his favorite “shoes,” so worn and misshapen, they were, by that point, shoes in name only. Topsiders purchased sometime during the Carter administration. Laces rendered useless by weather and age. Soles with neither tread nor grip. By some irrational impulse (I blame the house. A possession?) and despite owning many handsome pairs of barely worn shoes, my father refused to throw them away. So, as he leaped from the steps, he slid on the slick garage floor, and, by my father’s account, his feet slipped out from under him and were over his head momentarily before he landed hard on the concrete. He was bruised but, miraculously, otherwise okay. Later, my mother and I successfully conspired to make the offending footwear disappear.

The second major spill occurred during a period when most seniors were painstakingly careful to avoid hospitals. My father, ignoring my mother’s protestations, attempted to navigate the slick wood stairs from their TV room down to the kitchen while in socks and carrying two trays with their dirty dinner dishes.

My father’s account goes something like this: “After a couple of steps, I lost my balance. I squatted to keep a low center of gravity, then figured I could just kneel on the trays and ride them like sleds straight into the kitchen.”

True to my father’s luck, this tactic actually worked for six or seven steps until, due to either a navigational miscalculation or a cruel combination of angle, momentum, and torque, my father’s luck ran out, and his skull connected with the door jamb. “One inch to the left, and I would’ve made it!” he brags.

My mother was left to contend with the resulting mess of spilled pasta, leftover salad, and her husband’s sanguinary head wound, but true to form, other than needing a few staples in his scalp, my father was otherwise fine.

Despite my father’s seemingly earnest resolution to finally start acting his age, I’ve been vigilantly dad-proofing their house by, among other things, applying a grip coating to the hardwood steps, tossing out tripping-hazard throw rugs, and gifting my dad a pair of laceless sneakers with a nonslip sole.

It’s been months since the last fall. Has my father finally become more careful? Have the new safety measures made the difference? Or has the house’s bloodlust finally been satisfied? This is a mystery too complex for a man of my limited insight to unravel. I’m just glad my dad’s okay. 

Dylan Patterson is a writer and filmmaker who teaches English at Cape Fear Community College.

To view more of illustrator Mark Weber’s work, go to

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Categories: Culture