Life is like a wild horse--Unless you ride it, it will ride you! (from the movie: "Princess of Thieves.")
Sunday, July 26, 2009
C: The Father Who Broke the Mold
July 25 brought to my mind my late father. That's him and me, above. July 25 was his birthday, so it made me think back over his life as I knew it, and recall how much his passing has left a hole in my life.
This last statement would not make sense to the casual observer of my childhood. My father was, in many ways, broken. He was an alcoholic, although he never admitted it. He was the type of drinker who would go quite a while (months) and then we’d have a long spell of alcohol-induced craziness. It was never expected by us—always blindsided us—even though, over the course of time, you’d think we’d come to expect it always.
I was firstborn—the “fixer” of the family. I remember when I was twelve we were gearing up for our annual trek to the beach, and excitement was high. The plan was to leave during the morning, driving until we were tired, staying overnight on the road and finally the next day reaching the beach. About 9ish my father got the bright idea that we needed an ice chest to ice drinks down for the road. He left to run purchase one. We did not see him again until he showed up inebriated about 8:00 that night. Can you imagine what the day was like for my mother and for us two kids? When he didn’t show after a couple hours, we knew in that sickened gut place what was happening. And, remember, there were no cell phones.
I remember him coming home that evening and me, in my alpha-child rage, ordering him to bed to get some sleep because, hangover or no, we would be pulling out at dawn the next day for vacation. My poor mother was so dashed and hurt that she just seemed to sit in numbness while I ordered my father around. He, probably feeling some guilt, let me, and we did, indeed, drive to the beach the next day. I remember Dad that morning as I shook him awake for the drive. He was sluggish and reeked of alchol smell; not in good shape.
Being kids, my brother and I lived only in the moment. As I remember it, the vacation went just fine for us. We ran up and down beaches, played in the water and ate the seafood we craved and could never get during our childhood years in our inland city. But what must that week have been like for my mother? I can’t even begin to imagine. I've posted this picture before, but here's what our family looked like on the outside. My sister came along about ten years later. The drunk-before-vacation episode is only one of many, many alcohol-related episodes my father foisted on his family, and I won’t even go into detail about the many women in his life. My mother finally got her craw full and divorced him when I was about 16. Three weeks later he married wife number two, to whom he was married when he died in 2006—after having divorced and remarried her about five times (we’ve lost actual count).
So, I rest my case: he was broken.
Having said that, he had some good qualities. I believe he loved us kids. He had a hard time staying “on task” in the parenting department, but he did sporadically try to show us his love and, hungry as all kids are for parental approval/attention, we lapped those episodes up. With my father it was feast-or-famine indications of love. Either we didn’t hear from him for weeks on end and he could not seem to pay his meager child support or he brought us a new car…kind of a schizo life, as I think back.
Another thing about him is that he was incredibly smart and gifted. He was the first in either side of my family to attain a college degree and then he went on to become a lawyer, footsteps in which both my brother and I followed, and now my eldest niece is taking the bar exam this week. (And my prayers go with her—she’s gonna make it just fine!). He could build houses; he could plumb and wire them. He bought me horses and taught me everything about them. He could garden beautifully and cook. He was just a genuinely talented jack-of-all-trades. In so many ways he broke the mold.
And he was eccentric—beyond eccentric. Take these examples of real life:
He invited us over one evening for catfish. We got there, sat at the table and were served catfish. Period. No slaw, no French fries, no tea to drink, no nothing else. Just fried catfish, and plenty of it. UMMMM. I had to ask for a glass of water with which to wash it down. This also happened another time with chicken…
Christmas was another hit-and-miss with Dad. Some years we did not get even an acknowledgment that it was a holiday (although we always gave him a present and would dutifully trek the couple hours to his home for some semblence of festivities). And then some years there would be lavish displays, but odd ones. How about when my brother and I each got an entire, beautiful, expensive set of luggage—two Christmases in a row. It’s like he and my stepmother thought, “That luggage went over so well last year, so let’s just do it again!” Never mind that my brother and I were poor as church mice and did not travel. We sure had enough luggage for it, should we decide to take the grand European tour.
One Christmas he and my stepmother showed up unexpectedly at our Christmas Eve celebration, where all my siblings and my mother had gathered. Dad had at first declined and then, at the last minute, hopped in the car. On the way they had stopped at a store bought presents, although no time to wrap them. We were shocked--Dad had foregone buying anyone anything for several years, so all the little grandkids (five of them ranging in age from 8 to 2) gathered around with sparkling eyes, realizing that PawPaw had presents! One by one, the presents were pulled from the sacks and handed out--to each adult. There was nothing, not so much as a candy cane, for the children. Amazing...
He build his dream house, and it was a beauty. It was way bigger than he and my stepmother needed, and he was able to incorporate everything in that house that he wanted. You know, like the side-by-side commodes in the master bathroom? I never could quite get this. I suppose it was so that he and she could do their morning constitutional together and easily pass the parts of the newspaper back and forth…too much togetherness for me. I've only seen this style of toiletry one other place: that would be barracks-style prison.
The eccentricity was not his, alone, I’m afraid, for it did not stop with his death. A year or so before he died, their beloved dog, “Duke,” had to be put down after years of loyalty. My stepmother was particularly moved by his passing, and had his remains cremated and stowed in beautiful mahogany urn which was kept at her bedside (she being as loyal to Duke as he was to her).
When my father died, my stepmother had him cremated without so much as asking our opinion and without any service whatsoever. She put dad in the urn with Duke, as there was plenty of room. We kids did hold a memorial service for my father, and my stepmother was kind enough to lend us the urn with Duke and Dad in it for that purpose. Surreal.
Since that time we have little contact with our stepmother, but we have heard through the grapevine that she decided to put Dad in the veteran’s cemetery. My question is this: Is this some kind of fraud, because I simply do not believe Duke was a veteran…
I’ve thought over my father’s life a lot these past few days, and V, who knew him most of her life, urged me to write about him. I do miss him now that he’s gone and, in a lot of ways he added richness to my life in addition to pain. As an adult I have come to understand that his behaviors, hard as they were on his family and inexcusable as they were, sprang from some insecurity or emptiness within him, and I am sad for that.
You will probably hear more about this character in this blog...he is rich fodder for posts. C
Mid-sized city, Somewhere in the South!, United States
We are "C" and "V," two baby-boomers who have been through thick and thin--50+ years of best-friend togetherness.
C is a divorce attorney, separated from her husband of 40(!) years--at age 59 he ran off with a thirty-year-old-never-married-mother-of-two and has now fathered another--and we're not even divorced! A very hard time for C.
C has one grown son--no daughter-in-law or grandchildren yet! (Drat!)
V works in a community based instruction program in a public school, helping special-needs students learn life skills. Mother of three, grandmother of five!
For 50+ years we've laughed together, cried together, and we've learned a lot! We love, love, love writing and want to share with you! Please come share, too!
Check out our posts under the label "Stickhorses" for more, but suffice it to say that these cowgirls started their lives together riding stick horses. Stick horses have come to symbolize the power of dreams and imagination for C and V--besides, we love cowgirl spirit!
You and the mother of the man who done you wrong are going to raise chickens together? I love it. I hope you become international stars in the chicken-raising world, and when you (and his mother and your chickens) are famous, I hope he comes crawling back, pleading with you to take back his poor miserable, not-famous self. You go, girl!
Thank you, thank you, thank you! On to International Chicken Stardom!! C
YET ANOTHER STUPENDOUS COMMENT!
SimplyJoolz (see our blogroll for link) said these kind words about the travails of C:
I love this story -its like a well written novel. I can't wait until the part where C kicks the useless husband between his hanky and his small change pocket! Lol!
It's coming, Joolz! C
PS - thank you all for your comments. They so give me a lift--often just when I need it!
C's SINGLE AGAIN POWER
Below is a list of things I'm learning to do--wish I'd started years earlier! It feels so good to list my "Power Accomplishments" for you, and I'd love to hear about yours!
Replacing the back fireplace refractory panel. Who knew?
Jacking up the front porch with my new, red, hydraulic jack!!
Learning to shoot and getting my Conceal-and-Carry license! (Power rush!!)
Purchasing tires...all by myself!
Buying and installing (!) the lawn tractor battery! Again, not rocket science...
Putting a new end on a ruined looooong extension cord. One prong was missing, and we replaced the plug-in. (Who knew you could do this??) I feel so, well, powerful!
Cleaning Tractor Air Filter
Dealing with fire ants--boy, are those suckers tuff!
Gettin' that utility pole installed.
Ordering gravel (SB 2!)
Replacing hydraulic hoses
Learning about the lawn mower (engine stabilizer!).