LIFE WITH MY FATHER: A RELATIONSHIP IN REVOLT
Prelude To A Father And Son Relationship
I will start this article by saying that it is the most difficult one that I have ever written. Words about your father should be respectful but still be honest about your relationship with him. Not easily done when that bond was very far from ideal.
Sometimes I have felt that I was alone in my feelings about him. But my sisters and brother have shared their own insights with me now that he is gone. They had individual issues, but nowhere near the intensity of conflicts that I had.
I have talked with other men about relationships they their with their dads and discovered similar comparisons. I also have read many articles written by those who freely discussed their lives growing up with a difficult father.
The similar thread running through all these various discourses was that they were latently “respectful”. It seems that any lingering amount of bitterness subsides over time. But there is a wistful longing that communion between the “head of the house” and his forlorn child could have been a whole lot better.
Where Do I Start?
I don’t remember spending much time with my father as a child. I guess it’s because I didn’t want to. He was always taking his anger out on me. Since I was the oldest child, I usually got the blame. I am not sure why that was the fact of the matter, but it always bothered me.
I tried spending time with him, but we had nothing in common. I usually wound up exploring my world without his input or camaraderie to guide me. It was a scenario that probably worked out better for me in the long run because it impacted my learning curve to the extent that I had to figure out things on my own.
He made me nervous when I did anything in his presence. I got in trouble whenever I experimented with things like using his tools, working on the car, or messing with local critters in the back yard. I was infinitely curious about my world but resisted asking him for advice because I knew I would either get lectured or punished for anything I did.
Non Bonding Relationship
His world was not really centered around his family, so to speak. Friends, parties, and his own pursuits dominated his life. He was very fond of drawing attention to himself, and that attitude was nurtured early on by his starring role as a football player in high school followed by a short stint on the gridiron in college. From there it was a non plussed enlistment into the marines near the end of World War II.
Taking stock of his attractive appearance and physical attributes, he longed for a career in the movies. So, he hauled his family off to California and pursued his dream by becoming an actor in Hollywood. Once situated there, his relationship with my mother centered around all the things that he wanted, and that went for the rest of us. As a result of that attitude, he never really bonded with my mom or his children.
When he finally took me to meet his father one day, I got a taste of a relationship that helped make him the way he was. Since the old man was blind by that time, and had been that way long before I came along, it was a brief and lackluster encounter. I was later told by his sister that the relationship between the two men was always very strained and that is why she took care of him as a young lad when his father divorced his mom. That was a revelation that helped me understand why we could never connect with each other.
When I reached adulthood, many long periods went by without us making making contact with one another. Sometimes that stretch of elapsed time turned into years of silence. He was always demanding that I do something for him that was against my wishes or telling me what I should have whether I liked it or not. When I rebelled, outbursts of anger and humiliating lectures were more the norm than the exception.
In later years, as I grew more ambivalent, there were times I would retaliate with harsh words. When I reached the point where I was fed up with his controlling temperament, I would yell or say something that sent our relationship into a death roll. That overpowering conflict created an atmosphere of tension and strife that affected those around us as well.
He had convoluted reasons for divorcing my mother, so I pretended to accept the fact that he no longer loved her while wondering all the same if he ever did. He often told me that her parents forced his hand in marriage and he never stood a chance. But I think his departure had more to do with the fact that he had a wandering eye and devotion was not a priority for him.
Working his way through 4 marriages, the disastrous effect those wife juggling antics had on me was the creation of a greater degree of animosity between the two of us. I simply couldn’t embrace women who essentially meant nothing to me, even though I tried to accept them so that we could keep the peace. But each time a new wife showed up, I found that my allegiance to any one of them was virtually nonexistent. My indifference was apparent and he resented that. So, more conflicts ensued.
He finally did make an attempt to discover some sort of bonding endeavor that would bring us together. It came when I made an unscheduled trip from California to spend time with him in New Orleans following a disastrous accident that should have left him dead. For the first time in our relationship, I felt God’s intervention.
As the story unfolds, it seems that he was asked to join a group who participated in a Marci Gras parade on a special float that had 3 articulated sections fashioned in the form of a large an alligator. Somehow, the safety of the passengers was not a primary concern in the design of the beast, so no guard rails were installed.
During the course of the parade, he was in the process of bending down to pick up some trinkets while the float was at a standstill. Without any warning, the vehicle suddenly lurched forward and he lost his balance and was thrown off the side into the street below. He landed under the vehicle in the path of one of the tires of the float. Before he could move out of the way, the wheel ran over his chest and drug him down the street. He should have been killed, but somehow he survived, which was a miracle, to say the least!
I was asleep in bed when my sister, Cindy, called and told me. Without hesitation, I immediately made plans to go out and be with him. When I arrived at the hospital, he was shocked that I made the effort to come all the way out there and visit him. He was even more touched when I told him I would stay and help out with his healing process while I was there.
As that period of time played out, we sort of bonded with some semblance of a symbiotic relationship. We also had some decent conversations that didn’t include lectures or demeaning rhetoric in the mix. As fate would have it, we discussed the possibility of doing some type of business together so we could put the past behind us.
The Hopeful Resolution That Eventually Failed
Dad was constantly involved in schemes designed to make lots of money. His latest venture included the process of buying homes in the French Quarter that were run down and needed renovating. Since he wound up losing money on those deals, he somehow felt I could do a better job and proposed that I join with him to fund similar projects in California.
The state was booming at the time and homes were increasing in value 3% to 5% per month. Against my better judgment and balking at the idea, I told him I would think about it. My eventual agreement to move forward with the concept turned out to become one of the worst decisions of my life.
The partnership started out well with 2 other participants joining to guarantee a personal loan made from a bank. The first few years were fine and went well for this joint effort. Money was being made and the houses were selling. Nevertheless, there were dark clouds resting on the horizon.
The housing market in California had become way over priced and finally self destructed. I scrambled to plug holes in the dike but failed. Everything went downhill from there. The crisis sent the real estate housing prices into the tank and it took 5 years
Our real estate partnership failed to survive that calamitous downturn. The personal loans had to be rectified, and he and the other partners were left holding the bag. I had to let remaining properties go to foreclosure as survival funds were dwindling and finally dried up.
He, of course, blamed me for its demise and I accepted such, as was the case, when he called and said he was ashamed of me. This time, it was his turn for retaliation, and he cut me off. Another 4 years of communication limbo was the price I paid for letting myself get involved with something like that in the first place. I guess my mind told me that I could have a halfway decent relationship with him if we did something together, even if it was a ill fated business venture instead of a no strings attached coalescence of sorts.
Final Years Of Tolerance
My siblings were affected by this conflict. After his last wife died, I felt compelled to make contact with him via a letter and asked them to monitor his reaction. He consulted with my brother-in-law, Wayne, whom he always had a good relationship with and was advised that advised he should allow for some type of reconciliation. I knew he thought twice before making a decision, but he finally consented and agreed to meet with me.
When I came into town with my wife, she stayed with my mom while I went over and faced him. When he opened the front door, he had an awkward look on his face but invited me in. Then we went and sat in his office for that dreaded meeting. He was cordial, but still rehashed many of the unresolved issues between us. It was a strenuous meeting, but somehow past sins were seemingly made right. He was now getting old and starting to fade. As for me, I felt like this was my last shot at “honoring” my father.
After this dubious encounter, all my siblings anxiously awaited a report and called me afterwards. I could only say that the meeting went okay and that we had reconnected amiably, but I knew better. I still faced the fact that I would have to grit my teeth and make the best of a disagreeable mindset that still smoldered beneath the surface .
From them on, it was touch and go. He often made debilitating statements about me in front of others or embarrass me at family gatherings when he had too much alcohol in his veins. More apt to spout off about my wrongdoings or lack of certain character traits after a few drinks, he was careless with hurtful jibes. In spite of all that, I was determined to stay the course.
I did not want to engender any more retaliatory outbursts. He was in his 80’s and his life was fading away, so I felt it was time to make the best of this solemn period of re-acquaintance. When my mom died and left each of her children a sizable inheritance, my biggest chance to at least make up for past infractions had arrived.
After her estate was settled, I made the bold decision to help support him. I let him know that I would be sending him $1,000. a month to help subsidize his existing income. I didn’t know how long I could keep doing that, but it really did help heal the wounds of the past. However, something was still missing.
Through the years, I was compelled in the back of my mind to embrace the 4th commandment of God: “Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother”! It was an issue I wrestled with for most of my life. I had failed to honor him as an unconditional precept to that requirement right from the beginning. And it showed!
When he contracted cancer shortly thereafter, I asked my sister, to keep me posted on his condition. She did so, and when the end was near, I left my home in South Florida to spend time with him in New Orleans. He was permanently committed to a hospital bed by then and I, along with my brother Chris, stayed with him until he passed away right before our eyes. Watching him die was a difficult moment for me. Even with all the agony I went through being his oldest son, it hurt me inside when I realized I would never see him again.
I took charge, after that. With Chris’s help, we arranged for his cremation. I handled his final expenses, and made plans for a memorial a few weeks later so everyone he knew could pay their final respects. Later on, I held his urn in my hands as the family gathered to spread his ashes out over open waters at a favorite bayside destination where he planned on retiring to, but never did. It was the end of an era for me.
This has been a very thought provoking essay for me to write. As I penned my last few words on these pages, I wished that I could have jotted down more positive notes about our life together on planet earth. I realize that a lot of the shortcomings were not all his fault. A lot of them were mine and I am not sure I was a much better father in my early years of being one. Over time, I have gradually taken advantage of the lessons learned from the mistakes made during this long gone father and son ordeal. Not doing the best job of it back then, I have made significant strides with improvements in my own relationships with a resilient wife and neglected kids as the years have gone by.
With that said, I have found that most men men, as a rule, can be hard on their kids, and probably even their wives, for that matter. There are egos involved, the strain of making a living, and the influential pressures of the outside world. Priorities get in the way of time with a wife or son or daughter. My father’s embraced the mantra of someone who had a continuous desire to find his deserved place in this world.
My brazen stand against him and what he stood for only fanned the fires of a passionate relationship. Knowing what I do now, I would have worked harder at making things better between us. Maybe I was so much like him, I could not see what it would take until it was almost too late.
Near the end, he did show a strong sense of belief in God and the concept of Salvation in Jesus Christ. Since I embraced that belief myself, I let him share his thoughts with me in the matter. It was possibly the one thing we finally had in common.
So he is gone now and I will miss him, but not the conflicts. I will dwell on the few good times we had together. He will always be remembered. May he Rest In Peace!
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