Tearing Up the Floorboards (SOL)

I grew up in my parent’s church; it’s hard to think about how all-consuming that life was. The intensity and the pace would not have been sustainable. Once my father left the church, the strict norms the church adopted were eased at our house. Still a holy man with a personal relationship with Christ, he supported my mother’s faith and insisted we accompany her and be raised in the church. My father, the impenetrable instrument of God, smoldered down to a gentle simmer. He would still read a lot and study the word of God. Old habits die hard.


When we would ask him, “why did you quit,” he would say that there were philosophical differences between him and the church’s leaders. He had dedicated his life since a young boy in El Salvador to serving God. First through the Catholic church, but once he got to Mexico and eventually the states in Christianity.


I think I’m thinking of him so much right now because he has Covid-19 and is in a very high-risk category (health and age). He is doing fine; he’s had it for over a week and mostly asymptomatic, which is baffling. My wife says that our terrible fathers will outlive us all. While terrible might be an exaggeration, he ruled with an iron fist and burned with fanatic energy. I remember the first time I hugged him years after being in the military—the monument of strength and a source of fear whittled down—I could feel his bones. “I’m tired,” he tells me, and you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when you talk to him. I ask him again why he left the church. He continues to tell me philosophical differences. But more than the mystery, it’s the fact that he did it at all. For over 20 years, he was dedicated in servitude to the church. I haven’t done anything for 20 years and yet to think he walked away from it all. He had less than a year to graduate from his bible college.


I show my brother my writing, with a grim face, he tells me, “take it easy on the old man.” I write to understand and to know. My father laughs as I tell him his legend; his story will outlive him, and if I get this writing thing down, it will outlive me. Truly a man who came from nothing and has bared the brunt of life to provide much better life and opportunities for his children. My brother and I are in awe of his industriousness. Even on his days off he’s working gardening, adding to the second tool shed, replacing support beams in the house, working on the vehicles to which he has added years and years of life extension.

I’m not sure where to end this post but I wrote the following paragraph for a creative nonfiction writing class years ago, and I’m thinking about him.

“I’m going to start tearing up the floor board right now.” My father says coldly as I pack. “But dad its our last day why don’t you spend time with the kids?” No answer. He begins to tear up the side planks and I begin to help him. Once again I am thirteen and in my old room where I threw a shoe at my brothers face, he went to Sunday school with a huge welt on his face, I went to Sunday school and it hurt to sit down. The floor of my brother’s room has rotted out. The weight, tension and humid heat of Houston Texas has worn down the body down to the bone “I cant talk to him we have nothing in common” my brother says “we just run out of things to say.” I try to prove my brother wrong making conversation as we work but as soon as I absent mindedly bump the wall helping him move the bed he curses under his breath. The old flames of memory rekindle to my fathers days where he would burn his eye lashes reading all night about the Lord and the blessed men burning with the sanctity of the Word. But with old age the flame smolders, like cool orange ash, too cold to cook anything of worth. But with great speed he tears up that floor, destroying it to rebuild it once again.

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10 thoughts on “Tearing Up the Floorboards (SOL)

  1. Jonathan – a moving, powerfully-written piece. Your descriptions alone strike me deeply, partly for their vivid imagery and sensory detail, but also because my husband is a pastor, and so is our oldest son. I understand much of what you write here. The energy, the ashes, the faith, the grappling. A man who made his way with an iron will. Your admiration for him and his industriousness comes through. We humans are so complex. Today, I note, is Ash Wednesday. I am glad your father is coping well with COVID; and that you are writing “to understand and to know.” Write on 🙂

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  2. This is such beautiful, poignant writing. I’m left wanting to know even more about your dad- having a sense of his strength and also of the fear he instilled at times. I think fathers can be so complicated. Your sounds like a huge influence in your life. I hope he has a full recovery from COVID 19.

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  3. I hope your father gets well soon. The fact that he has not had many symptoms is very encouraging. I hope it continues that way. There were so many beautiful phrases in this writing. “My father, the impenetrable instrument of God, smoldered into a gentle simmer.” –I can just picture this taming of his spirit. This is beautiful writing about a complicated relationship, but I can feel the love here too.

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  4. Tearing up the floorboards is a metaphor that you could extend as you continue to write about your father. He sounds like a complicated man. I wonder if you continue to ask him questions if he will answer with truthfulness. I have bought a subscription to Storyworth for my father. They send a question each week and we will get a book by the end of the year. I am seeing his writing each week and find he is manipulating some of them to write what he wants to write and avoid the things he doesn’t want to recall. We’ve had some good conversations about the process. Keep writing. Collect it.

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  5. Oh, Jonathan, I am so very sorry to hear about your father. I pray that his experience with COVID continues at a mostly asymptomatic pace. My parents, who are both 85, have just received their first doses and I am truly grateful. I do hope you continue to write your father-related memories, for better or worse. Complicated, indeed. Peace, my friend.

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  6. Jonathan, what a powerful piece of writing. Fatherhood–as you know–is a complicated thing, and it’s so easy to find oneself in a place that is beyond explanation (as a father or a son). This is not my personal experience, but I’ve known many men who have a goal of doing things differently than their own fathers did. Love as He loves us. I’m hoping and praying your father continues to be asymptomatic. Thank you for sharing this.

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  7. Here’s what I love about your post, Jonathan. The relationships we have with our mothers and fathers? It’s complicated. It’s complex. And it’s really messy. And somehow as children – even grown children – (especially as grown children!) we have to find a way to reckon those things we most admire with the things that have broken us in one way or another. You do such a wonderful job of honoring your father’s strength and conviction, all while acknowledging the very real things you are still working to understand and know. Thank you.

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  8. I enjoyed this piece about your father and can relate to how dads, especially Hispanic dads, tend to cope and communicate through work. I think you have good foundation for future pieces, especially how you learn more about him through the tasks that are meaningful to him. I hope he is well soon.

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