Dear Old Dad

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I was listening to “Shelter” by Cheap Trick tonight (see below)…

“If I had my father
He would smile
If I had my dad
He’d be so kind
If I had a dad
He would tell me I was good
Oh, if I, if I
If I had a dad
Had my dad”

…went the final verse. And so the memories came, memories of dear old dad.

Dear old dad.

He returned from the war to see his new child in the arm’s of his wife. He took one look at her, and how this baby, me, had changed her body, and the first thing he asked was if that weight was permanent. From that moment forward, so says my mom, dad hated me.

Dear old dad.

And our relationship was never much better. I don’t remember much about him throughout my early childhood, I know he missed my first steps and first words. Dear old dad was off fighting the war. Dad thought the whole war was created by the government to get kids hooked on drugs, but he thought it was wrong not to answer the call and serve. He fought an immoral war, dear old dad.

I never could understand dear old dad.

When I was young he used to sneer at me in disdain when I, a precocious child, embarrassed him in front of his friends. And he hated the ice cream cones I ordered when we went to Stoddard’s, and I would have to listen to the toxic sap of his derision as I sat awash in guilt and self-loathing throughout my attempt to enjoy my simple ice cream under the downpour of his seething contempt. I used to want sprinkles or that hard chocolate shell on my ice cream cones. He would sit in the front seat and repeat with a whiny sneer: “You always have to have something special,” always putting all his hate in every syllable as he spun and whined the word “special” through the bile he held in his mouth in my name. He was relentless.

Ice cream with dear old dad.

We’ve been estranged now for, dear heavens, a decade or more. Not a single word has passed between me and my old man. He hated hippies, and hated being called “my old man,” which was something hippies did, and he told me never to call him my “old man.” Hippies had spit on my old man when he returned from the war.

My old man.

As a child dear old dad wanted me to take up fishing with him. He was so simply happy at the prospect that I could not say no when he suggested that I spend my birthday money on a fishing pole. Dear old dad wanted to take me fishing. I bought a fishing pole, for us, the problem was, I didn’t want a fishing pole. Yucky worms and stinky slimy fish… no thanks. In his way, he tried, poor old dad.

Poor old dad.

He was magical at Christmas. Something in his heart opened wide, and he let go. Like the Grinch, somehow Christmas warmed him, and he loved us for a month or so, dear old dad. He would smile, give, celebrate, and every Christmas I hoped and hoped that he would recognize who he could be if only he would stop himself from crawling back into that hole, that shell of bitterness that was dear old dad.

Twice a year, each summer, when we went into the hills of Pennsylvania for the family reunions it would be the same with dear old dad. All smiles, my old man, fun-loving, charming, a touch of Christmas in the summer. Then… back home, and the same old…

…Dear old dad.

Right back to smug grinning and grunting guy he always was. At dinner my old man, shirtless, would nod or grunt at what he wanted, and my poor mother would translate, “Pass your father the peas.” He’d grunt again or give a side-eye look my way if I had the butter, then mom would speak up again, “Pass your father the butter.” It seemed “normal” at the time.

So I’d wait for Christmas, for dear old dad.

You might remember that I said dear old dad hated hippies, and he pretty much stopped talking to me when he perceived things about me that were hippy-like. One of the songs I heard over and over was from some country turd, and this line from it has been burrowed under my skin like a tattoo: “Kicking hippies asses and a-raisin’ hell.” Yee-fucking-haw!

Oh, dear old dad.

My old man loved music, I have to give him that. From him I learned to be passionate about the music I loved. From him I learned to be selective, and neither of those lessons do I resent. I remember going to the homes of my friends and trying to find their albums. I remember being downright chilled when I realized they had none, or that those two or three albums behind the end-table were the extent of their collections. I couldn’t live like that, then again, neither could dear old dad.

Dear old dad.

One night, after we had misbehaved, mom announced at dinner that dear old dad was going to have to spank us. Dear old dad clapped his hands with glee, and with the same contempt that wound and sneered from his mouth over my ice cream cones, he said how much he was going to enjoy this.

Dear old dad.

That may have been the last time dear old dad spanked me. He put me over his knee, and I placed my head in the palm of my hands, assuming the position of boredom. I had decided not to cry, not to give him the satisfaction of crying. And he, dear old dad, wasn’t going to stop until he won out. My brother, perhaps a lot smarter than me, cried right away and ran off rubbing his rear. I, however, realized that it didn’t hurt, not in the least… so I kept my chin in my hands and waited. Eventually I pretended to cry just so it would stop… I was so bored.

So bored with dear old dad.

Count the words in this piece… more words than dear old dad ever spoke to me in one sitting, and without exaggeration, possibly more words than he ever spoke to me in all the years I knew him.

Dear old dad.

All through my teen and college years, whenever I came up the stairs from my room he would glare side-eyed at me, just so I knew how much he hated everything about me, dear old dad. And God damn if I didn’t stumble over the top step every time. His eyes bored such nervous self-consciousness into me, dear old dad.

Dear old dad.

He was smart, capable, creative, often inspired, but he shoved it all down, preferring to remain “normal,” as he called it. Dear old dad had some notion of what “normal” was in his head, and his strange compulsion to match that ruled his life, and my own as well.

Dear old dad shoved it all down, his creativity, his intelligence, his inspiration and passions, all for sports, all for the the countless hours he spent manning and dominating the TV like a tyrant. He just sat there hour after hour, night after night, hating and denying, and never knowing how much beauty was in him, or how much beauty was in me.

Dear old dad.

Hippies weren’t “normal,” neither were artists, so everything I knew or loved was “weird” somehow, to dear old dad. Hell, I even remember him sneering contemptuously at me when he came home and heard me exploring Mozart, “So we’re listening to long-hair music now,” he said with spite. I guess dear old dad thought classical music wasn’t “normal” either, or maybe he just thought Mozart was a little too “special.”

And oh how my old man hated the Beatles, and hated me for loving them. My old man hated the Beatles in 1964 when he got in the car with his friends and asked why their hair was longer, “We’re going Beatle!” one of his cousins said in reply. My old man hated the Beatles, but never missed “Help” or “Yellow Submarine” when they were aired on TV, and through him I learned to love George Harrison’s album “All Things Must Pass,” ’cause he played it all the time when I was a toddler.

I never understood my old man.

But I love “All Things Must Pass.”

Thanks to dear old dad.

Dear old dad sat in judgment of me, and every friend I ever had. He thought himself upright and morally superior, and he reigned in the glow of his self-appointed superiority. His judgments were the shaft of the final straw.

The night I moved out (long overdue as it was) of my parent’s house, it was dear old dad that drove me away. His mom and dad were visiting from Florida (we all grew up in Ohio), and he was troubled and embarrassed about his parent’s seeing some hippy-this or hippy-that aspect of me. Unlike their son, my dear old dad, grandma and grandpa loved me, so one weekend while they were visiting my aunt, he decided to tell me to either stop doing hippy-this or hippy-that, or I could “find some place else to eat.”

I set my fork down and said, “I’ll find someplace else to eat,” and I walked away from that table and never slept another night in that house with my old man. And all the while I laughed a wicked little laugh inside to know that he was going to have to explain to his parents where I had gone when they returned.

I won that round, dear old dad.

But you were right, it was time for me to go.

Dear old dad, the moral superior, the one who handed down edicts and judgments, he who hated everyone for their weaknesses, was discovered to have been getting blow jobs from his secretary (or something from someone). At first, however much it hurt my mom, I was secretly happy, it was good to know that this brittle husk of a man still had blood in his veins, he was suddenly human in my eyes, but I despised him now more than ever for his hypocrisy.

My old man was a hypocrite.

My old man left my mother, walked out on her after decades of marriage. Went off with his secretary. Of course it wasn’t his fault, he told my mother the divorce was my fault. After all, if she had sided with him over our quarrels (I thought she had), they would have had a better marriage.

Dear old dad blamed me for his infidelity and divorce.

I gave up on dear old dad. I let him go, never wanted to see or speak to him again. I know, I know, a lot of people feel a need to come to peace with their old man, a need to find closure, me… not in the least. Not in the least.

I never want to see dear old dad again.

One evening when dear old dad came “home” to visit my brother, he asked if he thought I’d ever speak with him again. My brother, God bless him, told him it was too late, told him he had the chance to communicate with me for all those years, and he blew it, after all, I had already changed my name.

Dear old dad.

Sometimes I think about dear old dad, and I realize something very terrible… I hate him more than he ever hated me.

And the only thing I hate more than him are the bits of dear old dad that I see in myself. How I hate those bits of my old man.

My old man.

My old man.

My old man.

 

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