The Family Way

It was because of our son Sanders' unruly behavior that we were forced to send him to the religious cult. Lately he'd been killing far too many animals for our tastes, and we felt action had to be taken. It was a most difficult decision; my wife and I spent several late nights over cigarettes and flavored coffee, examining our options. There was the Hartford Young Men's Academy, but my wife thought living in home with all boys might upset Sanders' brain chemistry and turn him into a homosexual -- and neither of us wanted that. Then there were the new adolescent boot camps we'd seen on Maury Povich. Both Carol and I were intrigued by the idea of going on television, but in the end, I wasn't sure that a week would be enough to curb the boy's habits.

"After all," I told Carol, "he's been through three dogs and a guinea pig this week alone, and the neighbors are going to catch on soon."

So, with damp cheeks, we sent our first and only born off to the religious cult.

When we told them what we'd done, some of our terminally uptight friends made claims about our parenting methods. They even threatened to call the Department of Child and Family Services, until I calmly explained to them the advantages of the cult.

"First of all," I said, "there is no tuition. The members earn their keeps by helping the Supreme Leader peddle firearms to the local gang members, which not only relieves Carol and me of any financial concerns, but also promotes the good old-fashioned Capitalist values a boy like my son should have."

"And then there are the rituals," I continued. "The cult is very strict in its sacrificial practices, and I am confident that under the Supreme Leader's supervision, Sanders will learn that there is a time and place for the butchering of innocent animals."

"And further," I reminded them, "I'm no idiot. What I mean is that I checked into the usual worrisome things, and found that the Supreme Leader only has sexual relations with female children. And it is entirely for the purpose of impregnating them with his divine seed."

Listen: I was Sanders' father. I knew what was best for my own son, and wasn't going to be second-guessed. Besides, from what I'd read about them in the papers, I'd decided I liked these cult members. They seemed to me very dedicated, very spiritual people.

How was I to know what they'd do to the boy? But I still maintain that I don't regret the decision to send Sanders away with them. No sir, my only real regret is that they did the thing which required me to sever my son's affiliation with them and, ultimately, to burn their compound to the ground.

You must understand something about the men in our family: We are left-handed men. All of us. This is a miracle of genetics; a legacy, even. Why, when I was little, if I so much as thought about lifting a crayon with my right hand, it was the brown leather belt and no sitting on my rear end for a week. But when Sanders sent the letter to inform us the spaceship would be coming for his soul soon, I found that his letters teetered slightly to the right -- a phenomenon which could be caused only by his having written the letter with his right hand. Needless to say, I was appalled by the change these cult members had brought about in my son. Carol, who has always understood me when so many others have not, had the gasoline can ready well before I managed to locate the car keys.

Thankfully, Sanders is back with us now, and writing as left-handed as ever. Is there anything in this world half so beautiful as a compromise between two male human beings? You see, my son and I have struck ourselves a deal: He brings me his homework every evening so I can be sure his letters lean the family way, and as his reward, I stop off at the shelter every Friday and get him a brand new puppy.

Oh, sometimes when we see the boy washing his bloodstained hands in the bathroom sink, Carol and I worry that we've gone too far, that we've perhaps strayed a bit from our original purpose in all of this. But then he balls up the hand towel and tosses it into the hamper with that fine left wing of his and we are suddenly sure of ourselves again. Yes, we are parents. Someone should applaud.

About the author:

Justin Hamm is currently working toward his MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. He grows admirable chin hairs, but often finds himself staring into a mirror, giving his feeble moustache a stern talking to. His fiction is forthcoming in Red Rock Review.