Tuesday, April 05, 2011

My Father

This is going to be a tough one for me. Today is the thirteenth anniversary of my Father's death. He passed away in his sleep while I was at Texas Motor Speedway for a NASCAR race. Dad had Parkinsons, and his days of independence were coming to a close, even as he denied it. I couldn't take care of him - not and have a full time job. The time I had to lay the Heimlich Maneuver on him was a clue, as was reports from the neighbors about his poor driving.

But, no matter. We say he died on April 5, 1998, because that's what everyone agreed was the probable date - on a Friday. He wasn't found until Sunday.

But, that isn't really what I'm gonna talk about. My Dad loved me and I know it, but overall we just didn't get along much. Neither did he and my mother or sister. Mostly, he could be a selfish, inconsiderate bastard.

I grew up fetching tools and such for him when he had to tinker on his equipment. This was not an easy task, since he had no habit of putting them up when he was done. So, in order to find what he wanted, I really had to keep a running inventory of where he might have used certain tools and which pickup, tractor, or spot on the ground he might have left them. Often, he'd tell me where he "knew they were," but he'd forgotten and was wrong. I'd get my butt chewed royally for not being fast enough, and when I'd finally find them - perhaps miles away (not that uncommon when he left them on implements left at remote fields), there was never an apology. Nope, still all my fault.

He did the same crap with the rest of the family when it came to his personal items, most commonly his billfold or checkbooks. He'd be unable to find one of those items, and call for all of our attention. We had stolen/moved/buried under a bunch of stuff/ whatever his billfold. "It was right here ten minutes ago, by God, because that's where I left the God Damned thing!"

I generally was the one who went outside to look in the pickups or tractors. I'd get yelled at, too. "I told you I left it right there! What the Fuck are you going outside for?" I'd say something non committal and go on. Usually, it would be in the seat or on the dash of a pickup, or somewhere in a tractor cab. Sometimes, it would be on the ground where he'd been working, or on top of equipment. As thick as it was, I'm sure it got uncomfortable sitting, so he'd take it out of his pocket.

And, after I'd taken it to him, more often than not I'd get a grunt of acknowledgment. Apology? Nah, not so much.

Women were supposed to be barefoot and pregnant, and subservient to their husbands. Children were to be seen and not heard. He was living in the 1800s. Money got tight when Sis and I were little, so Mother went back to teaching. Our parents shared a checking account. Mother would deposit her paycheck, and then use the money for food and clothes. Dad would spend the money on important things, like his model airplanes. Overdrafts came in the mail, with bitter fights. It was all my Mother's fault. She was blowing money. Mother opened a separate account at a different bank (she didn't trust the local bank, for good reason, but that's another story). The overdrafts still came, but she wasn't spending from the shared account. Dad managed to do that all on his own. Apologies? Uh, no.

In his defense, he never did hit us. He'd threaten to, but never follow through. He wasn't an alcoholic or skirt chaser, either. Dad was a fairly respected person in the community, because he was a different person in public. But, at home, he was the king, by God, and you'd best not forget it.

Speaking of model airplanes - he got into the radio controlled variety in the early seventies. Radio sets were expensive. One of his excuses to do this was "This will be a father and son activity." Did I give a rat's ass about his planes? Not so much. Did he ever ask me if I was interested? Nope, he was, so that was all that mattered. He'd give demonstrations at organization suppers and the like, and one of his favorite things to do was to say: "I started this hobby wanting it to be a father and son activity. Well, it didn't work out" in a sad tone and look accusingly at me.

I was far more into cars. I had to work for him during the summer, but he really didn't have enough for me to do, so I didn't make very much money - unlike most of my friends, who got jobs with the bigger farmers and got a lot of hours every summer. Dad did buy me an old pickup, but it wasn't entirely altruistic - he used it as a tax break. It wasn't mine - his name was on the title. He promised me that we'd fix it up - drop a V8 in it, get it painted and so on. Any work or improvements that actually got done were out of my pocket - wheels, bucket seats and other interior mods. He helped me put the bucket seats in after they'd sat outside most of the summer and my Mother jumped him about finally getting that done. I'd have done it, but I couldn't weld the brackets that needed fabricated. I was also restricted because he wouldn't let me do much - he'd told me he was gonna help. So, I couldn't do anything at all. Mother chewed his butt - one of the few times she actually tried that - and had him shamed and in tears. Not because he was wrong. Nope, she was being a controlling bitch.

Mother finally had enough and divorced Dad. She asked for a cash settlement rather than splitting the farm in two. All she wanted was enough to live on to get a start in Oklahoma - taking some classes to bring her teaching certificate up to date. Of course, according to Dad, she'd lose in court because by God she was supposed to do what he said. She got what she wanted. Years later, when he was carping about it, I jumped him. He was talking badly about my Mother, and I was tired of it. How would he like it if I continually called his Mother the names I heard? Plus, just what century was he living in? She could have taken half of the freaking farm and he was bitching about the piddling settlement she got? How insane was he?

That cooled his jets for a while. I was much older then. I had to deal with his abuse until I got big enough and old enough to threaten to kick his ass.

I was living with him at the time, so he wasn't all bad. One Saturday, I was off work, and after sleeping in, was eating cereal for breakfast and watching cartoons. Totally relaxing. My Grandmother called and announced she was going to come out to visit. This always put Dad in a tizzy. Oh, the house is a mess and we just have to start cleaning now, so it will look good when she gets here. Well, she knew there were two bachelors living out here, and she knew we were no housekeepers, and frankly, she didn't care. Dad didn't think so, and lived in fear.

So, he started hounding me to get up off my ass and help him. I put him off. That lasted about fifteen minutes until he was back. I put him off again. The next time he came back at me he was screaming mad. I got up and started helping him, but I was slamming things around and acting pretty pissy. This didn't set too well. He started chewing me out about my attitude. Looking him right in the eye, I said in a falsetto voice: "I just love getting my ass chewed for bullshit. It makes me soooooo happy! Please yell at me some more so I can reeeeeeally enjoy it."

Yep, I was pushing back. He definitely didn't like it, and he cocked his fist clear up by his ear. I could have popped him twice before he got done with that ludicrous windup, and I told him: "If you hit me, I'm gonna hit back. Think about it."

He dropped his fist and went back to picking up magazines and such. Later, he tried to corner me and said: "Don't you threaten me like that again, son." I asked him who was threatening whom, because he had his fist cocked and ready. I repeated that I was not going to take a hit without hitting back.

That incident had a lot of repercussions in our relationship. It took a lot of arguing down the line, but he started treating me as an adult. He'd crab about how I wasn't showing him respect, and I'd tell him he deserved a certain amount, but the respect he wanted had to be earned. Behaving like a two year old was hardly earning respect. I'd remind him of the billfold incidents and asked him why he deserved respect for that bullshit. He never seemed to have an answer for that, and fell silent.

Now, let me reiterate, he wasn't always like that. My father took me hunting, fishing, to races on Saturday night, tried to protect me from asshole football coaches, and so much more. On the days I visit his grave, I still cry. I miss him and loved him. It just wasn't easy at times, especially when these kinds of memories bubble up and stink up the joint.


threecollie said...

People are so complicated...I am sorry for your loss and thank you for sharing your relationship. Take care.

Cedar View Paint Horses said...

Thanks for sharing this. My dad died when I was 13. I never got the opportunity to experience what you did. Cherish it, even the bad parts.

wv: shiess. "Shiess, stop being so sappy!"

Anonymous said...

You ain't the only one Jeffro. My father was much the same and sadly so am I. I cringe when I think back to some of the ways I treated my sons. Thankfully we all grow up and today I have a good relationship with all of them. But when we get together for very long, we can sure rub on each others nerves, but I think we all understand better, especially now that two have children of their own. If you are a praying man, pray for your father and yourself. Just the act of writing this out probably has done you a world of good.

I admire your guts for doing so.

Lisa Paul said...

WHew! That was a pretty brave post. But kudos to you for remembering the good along with the painful.

drjim said...

Sorry to hear of your Dad's passing. I was pretty close to mine, at least until I got up to about 20 or so, and then we started butting heads!

Laura said...

You see their flaws but love them just the same.