Once there was an old man who was meaner than his pack of wolves. He never met a kid he didn’t want to kick. He saw everyone as a mouth to feed and so kept his distance with mean words and mean behavior when needed. Still, he had a child by accident and out of fear for her life the mother left him but he kept the child. And since it was his, he took him in and taught him to be tough for his own good.
Whenever he caught the boy playing with the wolf cubs he whipped both the boy and the cubs. he had a pack of wolves and needed them tough to protect his possessions and to hunt and to survive the harsh winters. He fed his boy, the wolves, and himself only enough to survive. To be hungry was to be alive in his mind. If the boy made mistakes around the house, he would froth at the mouth and then punish him so that he wouldn’t make those mistakes again. One of his favorite punishments was making his boy more the woodpile from one side of the house to the other and back again. And the boy hated his dad when he had to move the woodpile and wished he were never alive.
As soon as the boy was old enough, he ran away to find another place to live. And he found a village where he learned a trade. He met the kindest person he had even known and she taught him how to love. And he learned to make friends. And when he lost one in a tragic death he feared not to show how helpless he felt in the face of such loss and wept in front of everyone. This was something he knew his father could never have done. And precisely so, his father’s inability to show sadness and accept the vulnerabilities of life hardened him from the inside out and made his misery pour into anyone who knew him.
And with his wife and kids, they made the family he never had together. And the home was a place of love not of punishment. A place where anyone makes mistakes sometimes and the others help out instead of using it as an opportunity to hurt one’s family. He saw the framework of the village interlacing each person into its fabric and providing as such as it could for all while always having some problem in the process of being mended.
As he got older, he thought of his dad alone in his hut in the woods and how the mean old man had destroyed any relationship with others in order to not feel weak. He felt sorry for him so he went to see the mean old man one more time to see if he could change his mind. But he didn’t tell anyone in his family about it.
The wolves in the pen looked famished. The cabin was gloomier than he remembered. His dad bullied his way out to meet him on the steps and did not welcome him in. Father asked what he was doing there and in that mean voice and in those cold eyes, he thought his dad did not possibly recognize him. But he did. And he told him that he ran away once, and once was enough for him.
He tried to tell him about his life but his father cared not for one word nor did he ask any questions about his family. It seemed to him that his dad could not bear the thought of any happiness that he had found. And his father said some mean things but his son did not fear this barking old man anymore. He knew his father was trying to scare him off. And his father grabbed a pail of scraps and told him to get out of his way. That pail of scraps reminded him of how hungry he was growing up here. And it angered him that this continued with the wolves.
The father went in the pen to feed the wolves but saw that his son was still standing there like an idiot. He heard his son tell him that he was an old fool who confused toughness for strength and he was actually pushing everyone away because at heart he was a chicken who was afraid of love.
The son saw his father froth at the mouth. And this made him think of the many times his dad punished him for his misery. In a fit of anger, his dad slipped in the mud and hurt his leg so bad he couldn’t get up. The wolves snarled closer. The mean old man looked at his son with a confused expression. And the son knew that his dad would rather suffer the consequences than ask him for help. Before he could help his dad, the wolves lunged onto his father. His son opened the gate and chased the wolves off with his sword but it was too late.
The mean old man could not ask his son for help for his heart had already been carved out by a sick pride over his toughness. And the wolves teared him limb from limb. One last time, he moved the woodpile to a clearing on the other side of the cabin. And he placed what was left of his father’s body and set it afire. Somehow the burning felt like a return to his father’s natural element that was left to catch fire to anything within his reach instead of harnessing it for a better life. And he returned to the warmth of the family and village who loved him as much as he loved them and taught his kids to place strength over mere toughness and to balance their worries with love.