The Weird and the Strange XII: Dent Sheffelbein

Words: 1095

Rating: G.  Suitable for all audiences.

{Disclaimer: The name Dent Sheffelbein was chosen arbitrarily.  I know no person named Dent Sheffelbein, and any similarities to anyone named Dent Sheffelbein are purely coincidental. This story Dent Sheffelbein is a work of fiction.}

Dent Sheffelbein

One thing that can be said of Dent Sheffelbein is that he knew the rules.  Another thing that could be said is that Dent Sheffelbein was out of sorts, when there were no rules to apply.

Some could say that Dent’s confusion was borne of the fact that he was well into his eighties, and he like all humans– regressed back into the cocoon of life where life had been clear to him.  While I didn’t know Dent in his thirties, and for much of his forties, I can tell you that confusion plagued him for much of his life.

“I don’t know how you can see the world so clearly,” he said one day.  “The world has always been so muddled to me.”  

How difficult must it be to admit such a thing to a person so much younger than you, and a person that you’ve mentored for so long?   Once I recovered from the purport of that question, I viewed the question he asked against everything he did and said throughout his life.

Dent spent much of his life attempting to avoid the responsibility of decision making.  He was always looking for rules to guide him.  He was always looking for someone, anyone to clarify matters for him so he wouldn’t have to solely rely on his limited resources to make life-altering decisions.

The man had both of his parents die on him before he reached nineteen years old.  He was set adrift in a sea of confident people on the rise.  He lost his rudder in life when his Dad died in a boating accident.  Life came up and told him that he had better start dealing with all the abstracts of life, because no one was going to help him through the chaos and confusion of life.

Dent’s dad had presumably given him the rules on what it took to be an adult, but once adulthood was slammed into his face, he realized he hadn’t been listening close enough.  He realized he had been a normal, rebellious teen that lived with the idea that his father was full of beans, and before he could turn around and see the fruit of fatherly advice, his father left him.

The Korean War was a blessing in disguise for Dent.  As so many lost souls that sign up for military service, the strict rules of the military provided Dent direction in life.  It gave him purpose and structure.  He could be nothing more than a number that followed direction in life as a military soldier.  He could avoid taking responsibility for the decisions of his life in the military.  He could be adrift in the sea of life without consequences when others ordered him to row and steer in a particular direction, and he could do what everyone else was doing without the introspection independent decision making procures.  Conformity is expected in the military, and Dent liked doing what was expected of him.  He liked the rules.  It helped him fit in.  In the military you are, largely, a faceless cog in the wheel.  You can do things to better your standing in the military, you can stand out, but you can also fall back into the ranks with the other faceless numbers that have as much idea about how to go forward as you.

Dent chose the latter.  He never wanted people looking at him for any reason.  To seek such attention was anathema to Dent.  Odd activity leads to one being called an oddball.  It leads to people looking at you and seeing all of your warts.  Why would anyone consciously pursue that?

When I proposed that Dent write a few things down about his life for his legacy, for his Grandchildren, he returned:

“When I die, I just want to be forgotten.”

Returning from the Korean War, Dent stood in a line of soldiers that were being assisted by a job service that had been employed to help soldiers locate an employer based upon their skill set.  The assumption being that the soldiers already knew what they were going to do, and that they just needed assistance with locating an employer suitable to their needs.

Like most of us, Dent had no idea what he wanted to do.  He had given it some thought, but life came up and distracted him from thinking about it too much.  It was now crunch time, and all these people before him seemed so confident in their decision making.  Dent felt confused and vulnerable, and he had no one to consult.  He didn’t have a father, and he forgot to seek advice from those few influential characters that surrounded his life at that point.

“What did you select?” Dent asked a man before him that had filled out his application with confidence.

“Tool and Die,” the man said.

“Is that a good profession?”

“You get to work with your hands,” the man returned.  “I like working with my hands, and I could never see myself sitting in an office eight hours a day.”

Dent decided that the man looked like a man that knew what he was talking about, and he had a well thought out rationale that would suit Dent, so he signed up for Tool and Die.  He would remain in this profession, no matter how tedious the work, for the next thirty-eight years.  The profession had rules, and there was little-to-no room for creativity.  There was also no confusion about what a Tool and Die worker did.  He knew what to expect each day that he went into work, and they knew what to expect of him.  The rules were easy to learn, and the profession gave him structure and purpose, and he sank himself into his work to such a degree that he didn’t think he could do anything else.  Tool and Die didn’t call for thinking outside the box.  You arrived, you did the work, you ate lunch, and you went home.  Rules, structure, purpose, lucky to have a job, and now you’re a man by most definitions.

Dent fell backwards into a situation that provided him a wife and a kid.  This provided Dent an urgent need to gain some clarification about life, because he knew that kid was going to ask.  Dent knew conformity.  He may not have known too much about life or how to succeed within it, but he knew how to fit in.  He knew how to avoid wearing the wrong clothes and saying the wrong things.  He knew how to go to all the right places and practice certain principles in life.  This kid may have grown to believe that much of these ideas were screwy, but the kid had to learn these ideas before he came to such a conclusion.  Dent taught that young kid everything he knew about how to get along in the world, and that kid took that foundation of logic and went forth into nonconformity.  Dent was horrified by this for much of his life.  He never wanted a kid of his to become an oddball, but that kid could’ve never been an oddball if he didn’t know the rules, and Dent knew the rules … Even if he was confused by most of that which fell outside it.

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