by Brant Maggard
My old man was a grizzly fellow with fuzzy, wavy hair and a salt and pepper mountain-man beard. (Now it’s mostly salt.) He doesn’t have any vocal chords because of a car accident back in the 50’s, so when he speaks it’s this real raspy whisper that only adds to his mystique. If there is one thing this man loves (other than his family), it’s Hap Ki Do, the Korean martial art of harmonious energy. If I really look far back, I can remember the musky, black uniform, the perfectly tied black belt, and the jet-black hair with little snowflakes of white. I also remember his cold, silver, metal cane. The cane is one of the main weapons of Hap Ki Do utilized in offensive strikes and defensive throws. Ironically, for all of the complicated techniques, he used a medical cane like you’d find in a pharmacy because its large handle made throwing easier.
Occasionally, my old man would take me into the basement to teach me Hap Ki Do. It was important to him that he pass along his martial style and a love for the martial arts in general. Though I liked the martial arts, I had pretty bad depression and found that I just didn’t have the energy to do much of anything except go through the motions, if that. I learned basic techniques and a few cool cane maneuvers, but I never practiced and so I was sloppy. It would hurt me to know that my old man was trying so hard to get me to learn what he loved, but I just wasn’t perfecting it. His transmission was imperfect and I was the reason why. I ought to have been like that cane. I ought to have been strong-willed, perfectly aligned, and positioned just the way my old man wanted.
That cane didn’t stay straight, however, and it was by my own fault. In seventh grade I, like many children, liked to show off, and I loved parlor tricks. I brought the cane with me to demonstrate one of these tricks. I told two people to stand on the shaft while I held the handle. I lifted them with ease (remember the simple machine “lever” we were taught in elementary school?) and told a third person to stand on it. I still easily lifted them, but the cane bent in the middle from all the weight. I brought the cane home and put it back where I got it, never mentioning it again. My father never made reference to the crick that had developed in his perfect cane.
I still see that cane almost everyday I’m home, but now it’s because my father is recovering from cancer and needs it for support. I watch him as he slowly moves his way across a room with that crooked cane. That crooked cane, that imperfect transmission, helps him walk around the house. That crooked cane, that imperfect technique, gives him the support he needs to keep moving. That crooked cane, which I still use to practice Hap Ki Do, is exactly what my father needs. Sure it isn’t the same cane that he had in class, when I presented it back to him it wasn’t as shiny and strong as he might have hoped, but it still supports him. Maybe it isn’t the cane that my father had hoped it would be, it isn’t a symbol of geometric and martial perfection, but it’s still his cane. Maybe the cane I saw wasn’t really my father’s cane at all; my father’s cane wasn’t the work of perfect craftsmanship; it was a cheap hunk of metal for people with problems walking. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be the son I thought I had to be, maybe I was just what my father needed. Maybe I shouldn’t mind being a crooked cane.