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Man of the House

When Brenda arrived at the hospital with her younger sisters, their mother was waiting for them. She took them into the surgical waiting room and informed them about Danny’s condition. “Danny will be in surgery for a few more hours,” said Mrs. McDonald. “He has some internal injuries as well as several broken bones. The doctors think that he will be okay, but it wouldn’t hurt to pray for him.”

As the six of them held hands and prayed, Mrs. McDonald thought back to the phone call she had received hours earlier. Her twelve year old son had been involved in fight with an older boy, and during the fight, Danny had been pushed into the path of an oncoming car.

It was hard for Anne, raising six children by herself. She lost her husband to cancer two years earlier and she had to work two jobs to make ends meet. Her family included Brenda who was seventeen, Tanya-fifteen, Lisa-ten, Rachel-nine, Jenny-seven and her only son Danny who was twelve.

When they finished praying, Anne told her daughters to sit quietly while she checked on Danny’s status. After she left the room, her children began talking about how worried they were about Danny. Everyone, that is, except for Tanya. “This is all Danny’s fault,” she said. “We are stuck in this waiting room because Danny decided to pick a fight with a boy twice his size. Well, he finally got what he had coming to him.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Brenda.

“It was bound to happen,” said Taya. “It was only a matter of time for others to discover that he was gay, and he got pounded.”

“I repeat,” said Brenda. “What are you talking about? Danny isn’t gay, and how can you talk about him like that when he is fighting for his life?”

“Are you kidding?” asked Tanya. “Look at all of the signs. He likes to cook, clean house, do the laundry and he plays with dolls. He never dates girls, but he is always surrounded by them at school, instead of hanging around with other guys. He has a drawer full of fashion magazines in his bedroom. I’m surprised that someone didn’t beat the crap out of him long ago.”

Anne had returned to the waiting room and heard what her daughter said about Danny. She walked over to Tanya and slapped her across the face. “Don’t you ever talk that way about your brother again,” she said. “You have no idea what you are talking about.” Then, Anne left the room before she did or said something that she would regret.

“What’s your problem?” Brenda asked Tanya. “Why are you saying those mean things about Danny? What did he ever do to you?”

“Well for one thing,” said Tanya, “he is a big tattletale. One night last spring, I snuck out of the house to meet a friend. It was after two o’clock in the morning when I got home. As I was sneaking back into the house, Danny was awake and he saw me. I made him promise that he wouldn’t tell Mom, but he did anyway and I got grounded for two months.”

“He didn’t tell Mom,” said Brenda. “When Mom got home in the morning from her night shift, she saw the muddy floor and your muddy shoes and she knew that you had been out of the house while she was at work. She cleaned the floor and your shoes. The next morning, she made you feel so guilty that you confessed and tattled on yourself. Mom told me how she found out, but she made me promise not to tell you.”

Tanya felt a little awkward and embarrassed and tried to put the focus back on Danny. “Why do you always defend him?” she asked. “He is strange and weird.”

“You’re wrong,” said Brenda. “Danny is the smartest, bravest, most caring boy that I have ever known. You have no idea how much he has sacrificed for all of us. For several weeks, he helped me study for my SAT’s. That’s why I scored do high on my exam. And because of his excellent computer skills, he found several scholarships for me to apply for that I would never have found by myself.”

Before Tanya could respond, Lisa began defending Danny as well. “Do you know why I am so good at basketball?” she asked. “It’s because Danny has been working with me so much. Also, because of him, Robby asked me out to a movie.”

When Tanya gave Lisa a puzzled look, Lisa explained. I told Danny that I really liked Robby but I didn’t know if he liked me the same way. Danny is in the same class as Robby’s sister. He asked her to discretely find out if Robby liked any of the girls in his class. When Robby told his sister that he thought I was cute, she encouraged him to ask me out to a movie. Now, Robby and I are very close.”

“If Danny is so good at basketball,” said Tanya, then why doesn’t he join the basketball team?”

“Because of everything that he does for us at home,” said Rachel. “I’m only nine years old, but I see everything that he does for us. He loves all of us very much and he cares about us. Last year, some boys in my class told me that I was fat and began teasing me. I got very upset but I wouldn’t tell anyone what was bothering me. Danny finally convinced me to tell him what was bothering me. When I finally told him, he insisted that I wasn’t fat. He told me that he could help me to feel better about myself trough diet and exercise. Now, I run with Danny every morning before school and since Danny does most of the cooking, he has been teaching me how to cook and how to choose the healthier foods. I hardly ever eat junk food anymore and I have a lot more energy. I feel great about the way I look and I have Danny to thank for that. So don’t say anything bad about him.”

Tanya still refused to listen to her sisters, and she refused to change her mind about him. “How many twelve year old boys play with dolls?” she asked.

“Yes, Danny does play with dolls,” said Brenda, “But, first of all, he only plays with them when he and Jenny play together and secondly, he has helped her deal with Dad’s death.”

“Yeah,” said Jenny. “Danny found an old ugly rock and he painted the word ‘cancer’ on it and when we play together, the dolls are super heroes who fight the cancer so that it won’t take away any more people.”

“Danny does a lot more around here than you think,” said Brenda. “Since he is so smart, he finishes his homework and studying quickly and then cleans the house, does the laundry and cooks dinner so that Mom isn’t so stressed all of the time. He also does the yardwork, chops firewood for the fireplace, rakes leaves, shovels snow, tends the garden and takes care of the chickens.”

Tanya was not willing to concede defeat so easily. “If Danny is so perfect,” she said, “then why did he pick a fight with a boy who was older and bigger than him?”

Brenda didn’t want to tell Tanya what started the fight, but she realized that she had no choice, but to tell her sister the truth. “When you came home last night, Danny saw how upset you were,” said Brenda. “He overheard us talking and when he heard you tell me that Jack made you feel uncomfortable and that he disrespected you, he got very upset. Today, after school, he went to the high school to confront Jack. I tried to talk him out of it, but he insisted on talking to Jack. When Danny found Jack, he heard him telling his friends lies about you. I know this because one of my friends witnessed the confrontation. Danny confronted Jack and called him a liar and demanded that he tell his friends what really happened, that you had pushed Jack away. Jack insisted that he was telling the truth and refused to apologize. That’s when it happened. Danny hit Jack in the mouth and two more times in the stomach. That’s when Jack hit Danny, knocking him into the street in front of that car. Danny was defending your honor and your reputation, Tanya. I don’t know why though, after the way you have been treating him these past weeks.” By that time, Brenda was very angry with Tanya for everything she was saying about Danny. “How dare you say that Danny deserves to be in that operating room fighting for his life? He loves all of us and would do whatever he had to, to protect us.”

Tanya finally realized what her sisters had been saying about Danny was true and all of her anger began melting away and was replaced with shame and fear. “I’m so sorry’” she told her sisters.

Later that night, when Danny was out of surgery and was awake, Tanya asked her mother if she could talk to him. She promised to be nice to him. When she walked into his room and saw how bad Danny looked, she began to cry. She thanked Danny for defending her honor, and told him that she didn’t expect him to protect her.

“I love you,” said Danny. “Nobody talks that way about my family and gets away with it. Besides, I promised Dad.”

“What did you promise him?” asked Tanya.

“Towards the end,” said Danny, “when Dad was very sick and weak, he told me that he was afraid of leaving his family all alone. I Promised Dad that I would take care of all of you and be the ‘man of the house’. It seemed to bring him peace because he knew that I would keep my promise. I love you Tanya. I love all of you and I will do whatever necessary to keep you safe.”

Tanya carefully hugged Danny, so that she wouldn’t hurt him and quickly left the room before she began crying again.

Throughout the next day, Danny’s hospital room filled up with flowers, cards, balloons and stuffed animals. Most of them were from the girls at the middle school that Danny attended. After listening to numerous conversations that day, Tanya learned a lot more about her brother. She learned that all of the girls liked Danny because he didn’t try to be somebody he wasn’t just to impress them. He was polite and caring and he respected them. He held doors open for them and they never heard him curse or say anything bad about others. They loved his sense of humor and his charming personality. They loved that he was so close to his family and that he kept a photo of his family on the inside of his locker. Tanya learned that Danny was friends with almost all of the seventh graders as well as most of the sixth graders and eighth graders. Tanya learned that even though Danny wasn’t on the basketball team, he encouraged them and played basketball with the guys on the team before school and during lunchtime.

That afternoon, while Danny’s mother was in the cafeteria getting some lunch for herself and Tanya, Danny and Tanya were alone in his hospital room. The door opened and Jack and his parents walked into the room. When Tanya saw Jack, she became very angry. “What are you doing here?” she asked. “Haven’t you done enough already?”

“I wanted to apologize to Danny,” said Jack, but Tanya knew that he was only apologizing because his parents were making him.

Jack walked over to the bed and said, “I’m so sorry Danny, no hard feelings?” and stuck out his hand as a gesture of friendship.

“Don’t apologize to me,” said Danny. “You need to apologize to my sister.” When Jack started to apologize to Tanya, Danny interrupted him. “Not here,” said Danny. “I want you to apologize to her in front of your entire class.”

Jack’s parents were very confused. “Why should Jack apologize to your sister?” asked Mrs. Bradley, “You are the one he pushed into the street.”

“You didn’t tell your parents what you said about my sister, did you Jack?” asked Danny. “Why don’t you tell your mom what you told your friends?”

By that time, Jack’s mom was very curious. “Yes, Jack,” she said, “What did you tell your friends?” she asked her son.

When Jack remained silent, his father became very angry. “Speak up Jack,” he said, or you’re off the basketball team.”

“I told my friends that I slept with Tanya,” said Jack.

“Go on,” said Danny, when Jack hesitated. “Tell your mom what else you said about my sister?”

“I said that she would do anything and everything that a guy asked her to do,” said Jack.

“Please continue,” said Danny. “Tell your mother what you called my sister.”

When Mrs. Bradley insisted that Jack tell her everything he said about Tanya, he quietly said, “I said that she was a slut and a whore.”

When Mrs. Bradley heard that, she slapped her son in the face. She told Tanya and Danny that Jack would apologize the next day in front of the entire high school. Jack’s father was so angry; that he told is son to forget about getting a new car for graduation. He told his son to wait out in the hallway.

Besides being Jack’s father, Dr. Bradley was also the oncologist who had taken care of Danny’s father. He promised Danny and Tanya that Jack would never be disrespectful to another woman again. Then, he looked at Danny and said, “I’m proud of you for standing up for your sister and defending her honor. I know that your father would be very proud as well.

After Dr. and Mrs. Bradley left the room, Tanya saw her brother with a new found respect. He had matured a great deal in the two years since their father died. “Dad would be very proud of you,” she told her brother. “I’m so sorry for the way I have treated you and for taking you for granted.”

The next day at school, the high school principal asked all of the students to meet in the auditorium for a special assembly. When everybody was seated, Jack walked up to the podium to address the students. His mother stood behind him.

“I would like to publically apologize to Tanya McDonald for the things I said about her a few days ago,” said Jack. “We went out on a date and the next day, I told my friends things about her that were not true.” Jack did not want to repeat what he had said, but his mother insisted. “I told them that I said about her.” Jack did not want to repeat what he said, but his mother insisted. “I told my friends that I slept with Tanya and that she would do anything and everything that a guy asked her to. I also said that she was a slut and a whore.”

Several students in the auditorium began to boo Jack, both guys and girls. Jack continued with his apology. “Everything I told them was a lie. The truth is that when I tried touching her inappropriately, she told me no. When I persisted, she slapped me in the face and insisted that I drive her home. That was why her younger brother started a fight with me, because I wouldn’t tell the truth about what really happened. It is my fault that he is in the hospital with many broken bones.”

Jack wanted to stop there, but his mother insisted that he continue. “I promise that I will never be disrespectful of any girl or woman again. If any of you girls ever go out with me in the future; which at this point I find highly unlikely, and I am disrespectful towards you in any way, I want you to call my mother and let her know.” As Jack looked out at the students, he could see that several of them were disgusted with him. He felt ashamed of himself and he felt about one inch tall. He was trying hard not to cry.

After Jack and his mother left the stage, the principal addressed the students and told them that he hoped he never heard about any other students, boys or girls spreading false rumors about someone.

After a few more surgeries, Danny was allowed to return home a week later. The doctors recommended that he remain at home for a few weeks to recuperate. The school arranged for Danny to attend class from home via computer, and his classmates visited him often.

When Danny returned home, his sisters told him that they would do the cooking, cleaning, laundry and the other chores that Danny usually did, until he was completely healed. Danny insisted that he still be allowed to help his younger sisters with their homework and read stories to Jenny each night. Mrs. McDonald rented a hospital bed and set it up in the living room, so that Danny wouldn’t have to go up and down the stairs.

The very first night that Danny was home, when his mother helped him get ready for bed, she told him how proud of him and how proud his father would be of him as well.

“I miss Dad so much,” said Danny.

“I know you do, Sweetheart,” said his mother, “We all miss him, but I know that it is harder for you. When I look at all that you have done for this family since your father died, you remind me so much of him.

Over the next few days, Anne noticed that her son was sinking into a depression. One morning, she handed him a DVD. “Your father didn’t want you to watch this until your eighth grade graduation, but, I think that you need to see it now.” Mrs. McDonald put the DVD in the player, turned on the TV and handed Danny the remote.

When she left the room, Danny began to play the DVD. Danny felt a flood of emotions as he saw his father on the television screen and heard his voice for the first time in two years. His dad told him how proud he was of him and apologized for not being there for his graduation, and all of the future events in his life. He told Danny that he would be watching from up in Heaven and would always be watching over him. He also told Danny that he loved him very much.

Danny had not shed any tears after his father died. He felt that he had to remain strong for his family since he was the man of the house. By the end of the DVD, Danny was bawling. When he looked up, he saw his mother and sisters standing in the doorway and they were all crying as well.

“I miss him so much,” said Danny. “There have been times when I needed him here to talk about guy stuff.”

“I know,” said Anne. “But, I know that he is listening, so when you need to talk, go ahead. He will hear you.” Then, she offered some advice to her son. “Just because you are the man of the house, that doesn’t mean that you can’t cry or show your emotions,” she said. “Your father cried many times over the years. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

Later that night, Danny asked Tanya who she was going to the Spring Formal with. The dance was a few weeks away. It was a dance for the sophomore class. Tanya told Danny that she wasn’t going because she didn’t have a dress to wear and that “the dance was lame anyway”.

A moment later, right on cue, Mrs. McDonald walked into the room carrying a garment bag. When Tanya opened the bag, she saw a beautiful blue gown. She thought that it was the most beautiful dress she had ever seen, and she ran upstairs to try it on. When she returned to the living room wearing the dress, her mother and sisters told her how pretty she looked. Danny told her that she looked very beautiful, like a royal princess.

Tanya asked her mother how she could afford the dress on their tight budget. Mrs. McDonald pointed to Danny and said, “It was all Danny’s idea. He even paid for it.”

“Remember those fashion magazines that you found?” asked Brenda. Danny bought them to give him some ideas for that dress. He designed it and did most of the work on it. Mom and I helped him a little bit. Tanya thanked Danny and told him that it was the most beautiful gown in the world. Then, Danny handed a small box to Jenny. When she opened it, she saw a miniature version of the dress just the right size for her Barbie doll. Tanya and Jenny both hugged Danny and thanked him over and over.

One week before the dance, Tanya was asked to the dance by a boy in her class. He wasn’t a jock, or real popular, but he was polite and respectful, cute and Tanya accepted his invitation. On the night of the dance, when the boy came to pick up Tanya, Danny had a little talk with him. Danny told the boy that if he mistreated his sister in any way, that he would pound him. The guy heard what Danny did to Jack and he promised to treat her with respect at all times.

That night, a new tradition began. Over the next several years, all of Danny’s sisters brought their dates home to get Danny’s approval. Eventually, he would walk each of them down the aisle at their weddings in place of their father.

Because Danny was so smart, he also helped all of his sisters prepare for their college entrance exams. He had been helping them study for exams for several years. They all ended up attending college on scholarships.

Danny himself received perfect scores on his SAT and ACT exams. That, plus his very high GPA, earned him several scholarships to schools around the country. Danny chose an in-state school thirty minutes away from home, so that he could live at home and guide his three younger sisters into college and beyond.

Danny gradually earned a PhD in both Chemistry and Mathematics, and later accepted a teaching position at the same university that he had attended. When Jenny was in college, Danny began dating, and at the age of thirty, after all of his sisters were married, he got married to a first grade teacher that he met at church. His sisters threw them the biggest wedding that the town had ever seen, to thank him for taking care of them for so many years as man of the house.

Danny set his mother up on a blind date with an older widowed professor that he worked with, and they got married on his mother’s sixtieth birthday. Before the wedding, Danny told the professor that if he didn’t treat his mother right, that he would have to answer to him.

After the wedding reception, Danny drove to the cemetery to visit his father’s grave. He told his father that he had kept his promise and that each of his sisters and his mother had a new man of the house to share their lives with and that he would be the man of the house for his wife and future children. He told his father that he loved him and he would never forget him.

The End

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