Riding Life!

Riding Life!
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

24 comments:

Vickie said...

C, I'm so sorry for your loss of not only your father's person, but for the losses you suffered as a child. It's amazing how families can look so perfect on the outside and yet there is turmoil beneath the surface. I'm glad you do have some good memories of him tho. I hope you can try to remember those good qualities and times with your family and your dad, and release those bad ones. I'm sending up a prayer for you...

Janera said...

C, I am so glad I've found your blog. You inspire me because you are an overcomer: authentic, original, and wise. You are able to give your father respect and love and forgiveness; able to see his gifts as well as his flaws; able to see that his weakness can make you strong.

beautiful.

Barbara said...

C, It seems are father's came from similar molds. The difference would be that when my father would have had the brainstorm to go get a cooler he would not have had the courage to come back that night. He would have been gone for a week. It happened many times. While my stepmother put up with the abuse for 25 more years she at least had the insight to know he was not coming back and would leave for vacation without him. She did that on one particular 2 week vacation and he did not show up for the vacation until the last two days of our trip. Like yourself I do recognize my father had many good qualities and had no control over his defects. I have gathered from your blog that you have overcome many things and remain positive. I do enjoy keeping up with your journey thru life and how you keep an open mind.

Pat - Arkansas said...

Dear C and V... thanks jumping over from Kate, A Country Girl, to visit my blog. I do appreciate your visit and that you left a comment so I could find you here.

Your blog is amazing, and I've very much enjoyed reading your beautifully written posts. Both of you are excellent writers. Even the more somber/sad events are wonderfully told. I look forward to many more visits.

addhumorandfaith said...

C -- This breaks my heart, but I'm impressed with how you have apparently handled it.

I had an older sister who had many similarities to your dad, except, as far as I know, her drinking wasn't as extreme, but she was diagnosed as bi-polar. Was he? My big sis was the most wonderful person in the world to be around when she was "up" -- fun, creative, interesting, generous -- but, when she was "down", you d.i.d n.o.t want to be around her.

It's wonderful that you can treasure your dad's best traits, while being realistic about the bad ones.

addhumorandfaith said...

btw, I DID have to laugh out loud when I read about your step-mother mixing your dad's ashes with the dogs! Obviously, she was/is an interesting person too!

KathyB. said...

Thank-you for writing and posting this . It gives me a lot of comfort to read other life stories that should you write a book or produce a movie about , people would not believe you! I have often opted not to write some of my experiences with my Mom because where do I start, what do i end up with, and it doesn't sound believable! You did a great job!

Like you, I am ambiguous about my parent , because there were good times, and I don't believe they intended to be bad, and God allowed us these very parents, who helped fashion us into the people we are today. How WE choose to behave is up to us...but our parents remain with us, if only in thought and our genetic code, for the rest of our lives.( and our descendants too)

P.S. Not to make this too long, but both my Mom and her father had alcohol problems and after a lot of thinking and observation about both of them, I don't think alcohol was their problem,( it became one) but it helped them cope with whatever was....and exaggerated already bizarre behavior. Maybe I will think on the best way to say this later. This is way too long.

KathyB. said...

I forgot to add, it sounds like your father might have had some mental disorder that alcohol allowed him to cover or forget....my Mom and Mother-in-law both suffered from mental illness, but MIL , who is bi-polar, has never resorted to alcohol...she has been extreme, but not drunk and extreme!

So is Duke named on the cemetery plaque too?

Rue said...

I'm sorry he's gone, because although he had a sickness, it seems he did love you. My mother's mom on the other hand had the same sickness, but did not love her. It's a long horrible tale, but full of funny stories when she looks back, because all she can do is laugh at the antics of an alcoholic. Try watching a woman passing out in her food every night at dinner? LOL Anyway, thank you for sharing your story C.

xo,
rue

Anonymous said...

Dee from Tennessee

I know where you're coming from...

Linda Lou Rogers Averitt said...

c I love reading your blog......sad and yet hs so much humor!! Glad you and your brother and sister turned out so well:) You need to wrtie a book, you can hold my interest and that is hard:)

Little Lovables said...

That is truly an amazing story. My father is gone as well, and we had a rough childhood too but because he had major health problems.

It takes years to heal sometimes, but I think it is healthy for you to write about it and come to terms with it. The side by side toilets are amazing!

I wonder, had this happened in this day and age, if some good counseling and anxiety/depression help/meds could have helped him?

Thanks for the story!

joolzmac said...

My husbands father was much like yours. It was only in the last few years of his life that my husband had much of a relationship with him. He had re-married and his new lady kept him from self destructing. I am glad he was able to make peace with his dad before he passed away suddenly.

Joolz

jan said...

Your account of the holiday reminds me of my grandparents, who were also careless gifters. After my father died, we didn't see much of his side of the family and they didn't seem much interested in us. (we were 2 and 4 at the time he died) Anyway, starting when we were about 8 and 10 we both got manicure sets. For four years in a row...

Leslie said...

I like how you tell your stories. Your Dad was an interesting character. Unfortunately, I can relate to the Christmas part. But, Two toilets? That is funny!

Country Girl said...

My father was an alcoholic as well, but the odd thing was that we never knew it until he was 70 years old and had been hospitalized for a broken hip. He began to suffer DT's. I guess our mother knew it, but he was a quiet drunk, a nice drunk.
He never touched another drink again after that and I know it was hard for him.
How difficult your childhood must have been at times. I was glad, though, to read of your father's good qualities as well.

Iron Needles said...

Found you through your comment on my sister's (Just-a-mere)blog. Very powerful post. I've put you in my reader and will be back for more.

Vee said...

Oh dear heavens! That was the funniest piece of writing I've read in a long time. I had to share it with my grandmother who laughed right along with it, too.

I'm glad that you have made peace with your father's brokenness. It's not easy to have a broken parent, I know.

Kari (GrannySkywalker) said...

I'm with you...it's not easy having a broken parent and it's heartbreakingly sad to know that one so smart and loving could have been damaged in such a way as to make it hard for them to relate to their own children.

Very good story - thanks for sharing it.

Kari

Lanny said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. Hope you come by your chicken desire someday.

Bz said...

C, Thank you for the comment/compliment you left over at my place. Nice to hear. While here, I read a couple of posts ....and got a lump in my throat reading your post about your dad.... just ... wow... we all have our memories about growing up. I so worry, hope, and pray that my husband's and my daughters memories will be good ones. I enjoyed your candidness.

Susie Q said...

I am so, so blessed that you found yor way to my blog and left a comment. Now I am able to visit you here and be inspired, entertained and delighted by you and your writing!
This was truly a beautiful post...

Queenmothermamaw said...

Your story is so similar to mine it is almost unbelievable, the similarity that is.
QMM

Leigh of Bloggeritaville said...

C, that was such an intersting post! I hate that as a child you had to be an adult at times. So hard for a child. BUt I am also glad you can find the joy, and the many laughter in those experiences in his late life. The memorial gave me a good chuckle. I would love to read more, a most interesting life and great documentation of it all.
His behaviors only makes me think it was learned, perhaps one of his parents acted in the same way? Do you know? Or perhaps he was hurt somehow as a child and this was his way of covering pain. Or suppose I am overanalyzing things...which is in my blood. LOL. But in any case, I do hope to read more.
On a much different note... thank you, my friend, for comment you left on my "positive" post. It made my day! Thanks for dropping by Bloggeritaville!

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