My Father: A Relationship In Revolt
Prelude To A Father And Son Relationship
I want to start this article to say that it is the most difficult article that I have ever written. Words about your father should be respectful but still be honest about your relationship with him. Not easy to do 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 been able to share 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 others about their dads to discover similar comparisons. I also have read many articles from those who freely discussed their lives growing up with a difficult father.
The similar thread through all these discourses is that they were latently “respectful”. It seems that bitterness seems to subside over time. But there is a wistful longing that communion between the “head of the house” and one of his children could have been a lot better.
Where Do I Start?
I don’t remember spending much time with him as a child. I guess it’s because I didn’t want to. He always seemed to take his anger out on me. Since I was the oldest child, I usually got the blame. I am not sure why that was, but it always bothered me.
I tried to do things with him, but we had nothing in common. Most of the time I wound up exploring my world without his presence. It was a scenario that probably worked out for the best on my behalf. Most of my learning curve came from figuring out things on my own.
He made me nervous when I did things in his presence. I got in trouble experimenting 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.
Non Bonding Relationship
His world was not really with his family, so to speak. Friends, parties, and his own pursuits dominated his life. He transitioned from being a football star in high school into a short stint in college. From there it was enlistment into the marines near the end of World War II.
After that he became an actor in Hollywood which took us to California. There, his relationship with my mother centered around her doing things that he wanted. And that went for the rest of us. A sort of “failure to bond with his wife or children” was the result.
I remember him taking me to meet “his” father. Having become blind for a long time before I met him, it was a brief and lackluster encounter. I was later told that the relationship between the two was very strained. Maybe that was the precursor to our failure to connect with each other.
Many times in our lives we failed to even make contact or speak to one another. Sometimes the period of time that elapsed turned into years of silence. He was always wanting me to do something for him or telling me what he was going to do for me, 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 became an adult, there were times I would retaliate with harsh words. When I had enough of his controlling demeanor, I would yell or say something that caused our relationship to reach terminal status. That overpowering conflict affected those around us.
Working his way through 4 marriages, the disastrous result was even further alienation. It was very difficult for me to embrace women who essentially meant nothing to me. He had his convoluted reasons for divorcing my mother, and I tried to accept them to keep the peace. But when new wives of his kept showing up, allegiance to any one of them was virtually impossible. My indifference showed and he resented that. More conflicts ensued.
He finally did make an attempt to discover some sort of bonding endeavor to bring us together. It came after he observed my sincere desire to spend time with him following a disastrous accident. For the first time in our relationship, I felt God’s intervention.
He was asked to join a group involved with riding a special float built to participate in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. It was designed to have 3 sections made to resemble an alligator. Somehow, safety of the passengers was not a primary issue. The float had no guard rails installed.
In the parade, he was bending down to pick up some trinkets. Suddenly the vehicle lurched forward and he was thrown off. He landed under the vehicle and in the path of one of the tires of the float. He was run over by the wheel crossing over his chest and then it drug him down the street. He should have been killed but somehow he survived. A miracle, to say the least!
I was in California when my sister, Cindy, called and told me. I immediately made plans to go out and be with him. I helped with his healing process while I was there. In that process, we sort of began to find a bit of a symbiotic relationship. While with him, we began to talk. Maybe we could find something to do together and put the past behind us.
Possible Resolution That Failed
He 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. Not working out too well, he 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 idea 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 union. Money was being made and the houses were selling. Nevertheless, there were dark clouds 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 5 years were needed to recover. We didn’t.
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 funds to survive dried up.
He, of course, blamed me for its demise and I accepted such as was the case. He called and said he was ashamed of me. It was his turn this time, and he cut me off. Another 4 years of non-communication was the result.
Final Years Of Tolerance
My siblings were affected by this conflict. After his last wife died, I felt it necessary to make contact with him via a letter, asking them to monitor his reaction. He consulted with my brother-in-law, Wayne, who advised him to allow for reconciliation. I knew it would be very difficult, but he agreed.
We met and rehashed over many unresolved issues. It was an awkward and strained meeting, but somehow past sins were seemingly made right. He was now getting old and starting to fade. This was my last chance to give an “honor to my father”.
I was required to give a report to all after this encounter. I could only say that the meeting went okay, 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 still strained relationship.
From them on, it was touch and go. He often continued to say things about me in front of others, or embarrass me at family gatherings. His alcohol intake became my enemy. More apt to spout off about my wrongdoings after a few drinks, he was careless about saying hurtful things. I, however, was determined to stay the course.
I did not want to engender any more retaliatory outbursts. He was in his 80’s and time was running short. It was time to salvage anything that was left to our re-acquaintance. When my mom died and left each of her children a sizable inheritance, my biggest chance to at least make up for the past 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 assist with his existing income. I didn’t know how long I could keep doing that, but it really helped to 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 as to 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, with my brother Chris, stayed with him until he passed away right before our eyes. It was a difficult moment to witness the death of one of my parents.
I took charge, after that. With Chris’s help, we arranged for his cremation. I handled his final expenses, and planned for a memorial for all to attend. I held his ashes in my hands as the family gathered to spread them out over open waters at a favorite retreat that he wanted to retire to, but never did. It was the end of an era for me.
This has been a very strenuous essay for me to write. I wished our relationship could have been much better. I realized it was not all his fault. A lot of it was mine and I am not sure I was a much better father in my beginnings being one. Over time I have learned from the mistakes made from our father-and-son ordeal. Not doing the best job at it, I have tried to improve my own relationship with my wife and kids as the years have gone by.
Men, as a rule, can be hard. There are egos to deal with, the strain of making a living, and the influence of the outside world. Priorities get in the way of time with a wife or son or daughter. His life was one of always searching for his deserved place in this world.
My desire to stand against him or 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 allowed him to share his thoughts with me in the matter. It was possibly the one thing we finally had in common.
He is gone now. I will miss him, but not the conflicts. I will try to ponder only the few good times we had together. He will always be remembered. May he Rest In Peace!
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