I tried my hardest to think of a title that would be suitable for a father’s day edition, but I really couldn’t find anything that seemed to encapsulate everything I wanted to say as much as “Wendell.” Wendell is a tall man, with a heavy winter coat, and a winning personality. He has a man’s man exterior, with a ladies’ man’s heart; once upon a time, I saw him skin a deer with a Marlboro Red in his mouth, and he enjoys nothing more than a ribeye steak. He prefers Remington over Browning, was once in the newspaper for pitching a no hitter, and is the only male member of our family in his generation to never have a mugshot. The only thing that I’ve ever seen break him is the death of my grandmother, shellfish, and Rachel McAdam’s performance in The Notebook. He’s kind of a legend.
Upon meeting him, you would probably guess that Wendell and I aren’t the most compatible in the world. In response, I would say that you are wrong. I’m not really sure how to explain it, but in the most generic of ways, there’s really no better hero in the world for a young boy than his father. Regardless, of all the embarrassing things that have happened to me throughout the course of my life, he’s apart of at least seventy-five percent of them. When I tried to think about what story I would want to tell about him (that he wouldn’t kick my ass for), I couldn’t settle on one. I thought about doing a comprehensive evaluation of him, but that doesn’t quite capture the particulars in a way that I would like. I’ve categorized him into three major personas: the huntsman, the warrior, and the Chik-Fil-A fanatic.

I didn’t kill this deer, but Pop made me get dressed for the picture
so that I would feel better about myself.

Ever since I was just a wee little Justin, it’s been pretty commonplace for there to be some kind of bloody animal laying around our house somewhere. It was my duty, as the second man in command, to eventually be the deer-winner. There would be a day in the future that I would be responsible for blasting an animal away and bringing it home. My training started early. Pop and I would take yearly ventures into the woods, most of them I would try to talk my way out of with a suspiciously convenient stomach ache, to bag my first deer. It was never anything to do with the killing of an animal; I liked eating them way too much to complain about that. It was more about that I had to get up at the crack of dawn and spend the morning in the freezing cold. Oftentimes, I would fall asleep, and sometimes I wondered if I would freeze to death out there. I would be the Leonardo DiCaprio and Pop would be Rose. My frozen pubescent body would be found somewhere around Douglas Lake, where he would put me once I became a camouflage popsicle.
But my favorite Wendell is not one that I found in the woods; it’s always been badass Wendell that gets cut off on the highway and throws an open Diet Dr. Pepper into a car full of disrespectful college kids. Warrior Wendell kicks butt and takes names. This past Thanksgiving, Pop called me gay in front of our family and friends. I announced, “So what if I am?!” He then announced, “I wouldn’t be surprised!” Some would say that it’s our thing, in addition to quoting terrible movies, discussing music, and evaluating poetry. (I’m not kidding.) The thing is… it’s always been okay for my dad to call me gay or weird or chunky. It’s a whole other story if someone else does. That’s why when a boy was bullying me online, Pop made me get in the car with him and show him where the boy lived. Me, being the social disaster I was in seventh grade, couldn’t imagine a more devastating blow to my already floundering reputation. Warrior Wendell would not back off. About three Thor punches on the door later, the boy’s father answered. Dad would go on to tell him what a “little prick” his son was and how he shouldn’t even be allowed to have a computer. I would stand behind him having a party in my head, throwing all kinds of gang symbols and whatnot, while on the outside, I’m sure I looked like I was about to shit my britches. The ride home was almost completely silent, until Dad offered to take me to Sonic for a milkshake. “Don’t you ever let anyone make you feel less than you are, Justin. You hear me? What kind of milkshake you want?”

Wendell at the beach.

The relationship between a father and a son is a bit of a double-edged sword. I never really recognized all the amazing things he’s done for me until I was much older. We never appreciate those around us at the moment we should; all that we can do is try our damnedest to love them enough to compensate for the times we took advantage of them. The moment that Pop and I really started becoming as close as we are now was when I auditioned for American Idol. We decided to travel down to Charleston, South Carolina for the auditions… or rather, for Chik-Fil-A.
We got there late at night and we were starving, so we stopped by a Chik-Fil-A. Wendell had never had it, and he wasn’t too fond on the idea of fast food chicken for dinner. It only took a couple of bites, and I saw a changed man. We stayed in a sketchy motel, filled with avid AI hopefuls practicing throughout the night. Pop and I agreed that I should “save my voice.” We went back to Chik-Fil-A that night, then went to the beach. I didn’t make it very far in the auditions, and naturally, I was kind of pissed about it. We took off from Charleston in silence. Even when Pop stopped at Chik-Fil-A on the way home and bought ten more chicken sandwiches for the road, we still didn’t speak. It was until about an hour into our trip home that he looked around and said, “Justin, don’t worry about it. That shit’s a set up; you could see that from the stands… want a chicken sandwich?” I burst out laughing. “Dad, why did you get ten chicken sandwiches? You know there’s a Chik-Fil-A at home, right?” He looked around puzzled, “No there’s not.” I looked back and smiled, “Yeah, there is.” He looked forward as if he couldn’t believe that this magical chicken kingdom existed in Knoxville. “Oh.” He took a giant bite out of his sandwich and kept driving home.
Honestly, I really don’t know how we ended up together. We’re kind of like The Gilmore Girls, with a lot more profanity and dead animals. Actually, maybe we’re more like Duck Dynasty. I can’t be too sure. But if there’s one man I could have on my side for The Hunger Games, it would be Wendell. I mean, the man throws hatchets for God’s sake. Past all the Chik-Fil-A sandwiches and deer hunts, I’ve never had a bigger advocate in my corner. There’s really no person in the world that I would rather be like, and without him, I would legitimately have no excuse for acting the way that I do. We never got out and played ball, but he did teach me how to skin a squirrel in five minutes (and for the record, that’s slow). And when you have a dad that knows how to change the oil in a car AND knows all the words to every song in Burlesque, what more can a boy like me ask for?


4 thoughts on “Wendell.

  1. Watching your dad walk you and Casey into school is one of my fondest memories from my semester interning at SDMS. He's a giant among men. For sure.

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