Over the weekend, I called my mother to chat a while. We had a good time talking about various things, but it was when we delved into the topic of my father that prompts this current posting.
You see, my father really wasn’t around much when I was a child growing up. My father never seemed to take much interest in us kids. Other than the most banal of small talk, we’ve never really talked, ever. He liked to drink and he liked women. Quite the player. I remember one of the last times we talked, how shocked and disgusted I felt when he bragged about how many women he got pregnant. I remember hanging up the phone and telling my wife in amazement, “God. My father’s a creep!”
He didn’t start out that way. His mother, the faithful wife of the Reverend T.T. Thomas, told me once that my dad was so obsessively fervent about Church and God, that it frightened her terribly. This happened when my dad was five years old, allegedly. She ended up keeping my father at home on Sundays, so concerned she was for his well-being. Or was it hers? I wondered if she somehow felt guilty of denying his soul to the Lord.
My mother says that my father was a dashing as well as a great dancer. I was born a year after they married, six weeks premature. There is an old, tattered photo somewhere of my father pushing a stroller with me stuffed inside it, with a small, handmade sign that read, “The Toledo kid,” attached to the front. There doesn’t exist any other photograph of us together. I fact, that photograph only exists as an image in my memory, for I haven’t actually seen it in decades.
Mt father’s drinking and womanizing led to divorce and my mother’s first nervous breakdown. He never paid child support. He never came by to visit, until years later when he needed a baby-sitter for his new son, Timothy. I remember being perpetually being disappointed with him. Promises and plans dashed and broken without warning, refusing to support my mother, me and my sisters. I never even threw a baseball or a football with him. Did I feel cheated? No, I didn’t know any better. But we were much poorer and had much less to eat after he left.
By the time I matriculated through high school, I had gotten over it. Well, everything except the anger, which simmered low and steady over the years. I willfully ignored him when he arrived at my sister’s wedding. Years out of touch. I had been married with a kid when I left for California to play music when I heard from him next; a sloppy, drunken jabbering about nothing at four in the morning. Outraged, I slammed the phone in disgust.
“Stupid, fucking idiot,” I snarled, trying to go back to sleep.
Years later, I decide enough’s enough, and I bury the hatchet. I also returned home to my wife and young son. We tossed the football around. I didn’t hear from him until years later, after I had divorced my first wife and was about to get married to wife #2. As always, he started out with the standard line of, “I know I wasn’t a good father to you kids, but I loved you.” Yeah, right. It’s okay. Forget it.
When my father was still married to my mother, he had a good job at the hospital as a medical technician before he got fired for his drinking. He also wrecked the new car he had bought during that same time. He bounced around doing this and that before re-enlisting into the Air Force. He was lucky enough to had been enlisted when the First Gulf War broke out. He told me all kind of stories about it.
When he returned stateside, he alleges that he was bitten by a spider, and sometime afterwards, he was unable to walk. He had to use a cane, and then a wheelchair. I was amazed, because I didn’t know there were spiders that could do this sort of thing. I asked him maybe it was something he picked up during the war, but he insisted it was a spider bite that wrecked his legs. This was about three years ago.
Well, mother was telling me this weekend that my father’s girlfriend called my sister with a message that dad was in a really bad way. He wouldn’t or couldn’t stop crying. He felt bad about how he treated us in the past. I guess he knows he’s going to die soon. He just had surgery on his spine, but he still can’t walk. Mother says his body has become literally pickled from all the years of heavy drinking. He cried and cried to my sister how nobody cares about him and that he was sorry he wasn’t a good father and all that. My sister did tell him that she heard from mother that I had asked about him last week.
This calmed him down considerably, my sister said. He stopped crying and was sounding better when she hung up the phone. “Well, ” I said to mother. “I guess I’ll give him a call, then.” I will call my sister and get dad’s phone number, and I will call him. I will probably try to soothe him and make him understand that I forgive him, but he really needs to forgive himself, if he wants to leave this world in peace. I want him to leave in peace. Not because I care. But because he’s my father.