When I was twelve, I told dad I’d never go hunting with him again. “Hunting is a manly sport, and the oldest sport in history,” he’d tell me. It’d usually come with an entire speech about how I didn’t appreciate history, didn’t honor my elders, was so cushioned in my existence that I didn’t have to worry about being drafted into a war, and could fancy playing such non-contact sports as basketball.
“Like hunting has any contact to it? It isn’t even a sport!” I’d rage at him.
I went on to play basketball and became very involved at church. Dad’s absence there made it more inviting to me. In time, God too became an argument between us. He was sure to inform me of his knowledge on the subject, yet would resist my every effort to evangelize to him.
“Why don’t you put down that Bible of yours and read some Tim O’Brien stories?”
When I was thirty, I called dad and asked, ““Wanna take me hunting with you this Sunday?”
The void between us played to my favor, and we were walking in a field that Sunday morning. After fifty or so aborted attempts at a word capable of starting dialogue, I was left with only one glorious question to break the silence, “Can I tell you about Jesus, dad?”
Dad didn’t think the question was very glorious and said through a scowl, “Ya know son, you never could hunt because you talk too much.”
“I know,” I admitted, “but, we’re only walking to the tree. Can we talk while we walk?”
Dad turned to face me.
“Alright, fine. I know all about your Jesus. He doesn’t exist, son. People need him for sure. People who want to talk too much, and people who need an answer for all the pain in the world. But, I’m a silent hunter, and I don’t pretend there is an answer. That a good enough talk for you?”
I was stunned, but the training from my adolescence was quickly recalled and I countered, “But, dad, he’s everywhere and he is the answer.”
“Son, you’ve never been in a war and haven’t lived long enough to let the reality of this world set in.”
“He’s everywhere, dad.”
A buck with glorious antlers clumsily walked into dad’s eyesight. Dad held a finger to his lips for me. He raised his rifle and took aim. The gun cracked and the buck fell, but not as I’d expected. Dad shot him through the front legs, hitting both of them with one shot, and the buck lay face down in the mud, kicking with its back legs and spinning nowhere fast. Dad’s face grew angry. He aimed again. Boom! The back legs now disabled.
He jaunted towards the buck. I raced to follow. At twenty feet, he stopped, aimed…boom! Through the neck, but not in the right place to kill the buck, only disabling his head movement. The buck hadn’t made a noise. Its eyes raged with pain and the last moments of life - its black pupils shifting wildly in its still head.
Dad was an excellent marksman, and I realized in his calculated cruelty that this was the first time since the war, and probably before it, when using his gun wasn’t a sport.
He raced closer. I couldn’t follow. He stood over the buck and aimed.
Dad looked at me, rifle still fitted into his shoulder.
“Dad…Look!” I pointed. Dad looked.
The buck was bleeding from the root of its antlers. The blood was pouring down onto its face and racing into its wild eyes. The horns looked as though they were no longer protruding from the buck’s skull, but piercing into it, like giant thorns. I dropped to my knees.
“Dad. It’s Jesus. He’s wearing a crown of thorns for you!”
Dad raised the gun again. His trained finger began to shake. He held still over the buck for what seemed an eternity, and the buck held his stare perfectly.
Dad fell to his knees and dropped his rifle by his side. He froze but for the shivering, and wept in prayer. Eventually, he shuffled on his knees towards this sacrifice. He picked its motionless head into his lap and stroked its face, wiping the blood from its eyes. He pulled out his six-inch blade and properly slit the beasts’ throat. The buck was mute. Dad whaled in agony, covered with Christ’s blood.
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