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writer, editor of the anthology WHEN I FIRST HELD YOU, creative writing teacher, and co-host of Pete's Reading Series in Brooklyn

Wrestling With My Father


Brian Gresko | Longreads | June 2018 | 14 minutes (3,488 words)



When I was a child, it seemed my dad only touched to hurt. Hugs were scarce, and cuddles not an option for “big boys.”

My family ate dinner early, and when I was about 8 and my brother 4, we would beg Dad to wrestle after we cleared our plates. Most evenings he said no, choosing instead to do push-ups and sit-ups or, more often than not, watch the news. But occasionally, according to some calendar our childish minds couldn’t fathom, he agreed, and we’d take up position in the living room.

In our corner at the foot of the steps, my brother and I would huddle, ready to rush him. This was our only move. Swarm, then clasp our tiny bodies to his great one, hoping to drag him to the ground with our weight. A kind of violent embrace.

My dad, on his knees in sweats, gigantic mitts at his side, had a variety of assaults, which he would announce with monstrous growls.

The Scissors! Lying on his side with me between his thighs, he squeezed downward, crushing me in the middle. I was sure my insides were going to come out of my mouth or into my pants. My mom, dishes done, passing us on her way up the stairs, would chastise him. “You’re going to give them hernias!”

The Claw! With fingers splayed, he grabbed my chest, digging into the flesh as if he could rip out the heart, still beating. “No, Dad, no!” I screamed while my brother, tenacious as fuck, pummeled him from behind till Dad swatted him onto his ass. Then the claw would rain upon him, and I’d be at Dad’s back, trying futilely to rescue my wailing brother. Later, the bruises formed constellations around our nipples.

The Steamroller! Instead of pinning us, Dad would roll his whole body across ours, back and forth, again and again, the only time I recall touching parts of him like his thighs or his back or his hair. The force of his mass would mash us against the carpet, giving us rug burn, knocking the wind from our lungs.

Forget screaming“uncle”: with us trapped under his knees, Dad commanded we beg our mother for help. As the pressure built, we’d holler at the top of our lungs for her, the game no longer so fun. Sometimes she came to the top of the stairs, crying. “You’re hurting them!”

“Oh, lighten up,” he’d say. “We’re roughhousing.”
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